College basketball has a pair of exhilarating, hard-to-comprehend wunderkinds, and they’re on the same freaking team. R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson are Duke’s — and the nation’s — top-two prospects, and they’re NBA-ready right now.
Barrett, a 6’7 scoring-minded guard with a 6’10 wingspan, and Williamson, a 6’7 brick unit with an otherworldly leap, are able to get anywhere they want on the floor, and proved it in a dominating 34-point win against the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats. That in itself deserves a pause as we recognize how much more talented they are than the world’s next-best team. Barrett scored 33 points on 13-of-26 shooting, and Williamson scored 28 on 11-of-13.
On one play in the second half with the game approaching a blowout, Williamson caught a block, went full-steam towards the bucket, and threaded the needle to a cutting Barrett for an and-1. That was the moment that sent college basketball into a state of euphoria.
With all the hype top prospects get coming out of high school, it’s difficult to shock fans coming out of the gates. But both did, giving fans of tanking NBA teams a taste of what could be coming their way.
Zion is way more than just the dunking guy
We won’t stop hearing about the 1.8 million Instagram followers Williamson’s amassed with each high-flying slam through the hoop, but that’s not what makes him so special. Williamson takes the same explosiveness he uses for 360 dunks and channels it into energy conducive to winning basketball games.
If combining 285 pounds of pure muscle with Zach LaVine’s lift and Draymond Green’s do-it-all zest seems unfair, it’s because it is. A strong lefty, Williamson may never need to use his right hand at the college level because he can hop-step into the paint whenever he pleases, absorb whatever feint contact brushes against his steel core, and finish off the backboard.
Scoring is SO easy for this kid. It’s also obvious how hard he’s worked on improving his lone weakness: three-point shooting. In fact, his first career field goal was a deep-range swish. The shot may have been the same flat-footed one we’ve seen him take over the years, but it was fluent.
Zion Williamson's first shot at Duke: A swish from the 3-point line. pic.twitter.com/PFIIJDb4a9— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) November 7, 2018
His efforts were replicated in every other aspect of the game, too. Williamson has owned the spotlight ever since he could dunk, but he isn’t too good to play defense, and he actively looks for teammates cutting to the hoop. He had a steal, a block, and two assists to show for it.
Barrett is the wing slasher the NBA craves
Barrett looks like the complete opposite of the physical wall Williamson is. He’s a thinner, lankier 6’7 with arms to get in passing lanes, shoot above defenders, and most impressively, take you off the dribble. He’s every bit Williamson’s foil and perfect complement.
Barrett, too, has owned the spotlight for life. Steve Nash’s godson first made his mark on national platform after he dropped 38 points on 12-of-24 shooting to upset Team USA in the 2017 U19 Basketball World Cup. (That American team featured talents like the Thunder’s Hamidou Diallo, the Wolves’ Josh Okogie, the Hawks’ Kevin Huerter, and Barrett’s Duke teammate Cameron Reddish.)
Yet against Kentucky in his college opener, when we all knew what to expect, he still amazed.
Barrett connected on 3-of-7 threes, got to the foul line eight times (only making four), and found impossible ways to finish around the rim. Getting into the paint and drawing contact may be his biggest strength, but his ability to finish through it is what separates him from the rest.
RJ Barrett really yelled "AND 1!" as he finished this and barrel rolled pic.twitter.com/wwgV7d6TzH— ESPN (@espn) November 7, 2018
It’s time for your teams to tank
Last season’s draft was stacked with talent in the top-7 or so with no clear No. 1 pick, rewarding some of the middle-tier losers like the Mavs with Luka Doncic and Hawks with Trae Young. In 2019, there are two players worth throwing an entire season away for: Zion and R.J.
So, Wizards, maybe it is time to trade John Wall. Cavs, Kevin Love needs some rest after surgery. Knicks — keep doing you! Even with NBA Draft lottery reform flattening the odds of the absolute worst teams picking at the top of the draft, it still helps to be terrible.
Get your helmets on, it’s time to tank.