It’s only right that Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett begin their NBA careers by facing off against each other in Las Vegas Summer League. The first showdown of the former Duke stars will take centerstage when Williamson’s Pelicans and Barrett’s Knicks face off on ESPN during Day 1 in Vegas.
It feels like Williamson and Barrett will be linked throughout their pro careers after drawing so many headlines together in college. This isn’t the start of a new Beef History — Zion and R.J. are pretty much best friends, which should make their head-to-head meetings even more fun.
In a perfect world, maybe Zion vs. R.J. becomes the Gen-Z LeBron vs. Carmelo. The two aren’t exactly equal talents on the court, but both have the competitiveness, showmanship, and personal history to make every matchup a must-watch. Please don’t forget how much fun those early James-Anthony battles were.
Williamson and Barrett are on the cusp of a new chapter. This is how we got here.
Barrett was actually the No. 1 recruit in high school, not Zion
Barrett and Williamson were both household names even as high school players, but for two very different reasons.
Williamson was the mixtape superstar who had Drake wearing his jersey as he racked up millions of social media followers. Barrett was considered the superior prospect as the battle-tested Canadian who destroyed everyone in his path on his way to becoming the No. 1 overall recruit in two separate classes.
Barrett was nearly the unanimous choice to be the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft in early mocks. It was a status he occupied until the moment Duke opened its season, when Williamson’s supernova talent truly came into focus.
Zion and R.J. had an unforgettable season at Duke
Williamson and Barrett came together to deliver the most emphatic opening statement possible to begin their college careers. Duke was actually a one-point underdog in its first game against Kentucky, but R.J. and Zion blitzed the Wildcats for 61 combined points to give John Calipari a 34-point loss that would go down as the largest defeat of his career.
Barrett and Williamson would go on to dominate the entire season, with Barrett putting up historic numbers as a freshman in the ACC and Williamson sweeping the national player of the year awards. Duke would get the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament despite Williamson’s widely publicized knee injury. That’s when things got real.
Duke survived a scare in the round of 32 when UCF missed a shot at the buzzer to pull the upset. It survived again in the Sweet 16 when Virginia Tech missed a point-blank shot at the buzzer to tie. The Blue Devils would finally meet their match against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, as Barrett got the ball down the stretch and came up just short.
Now Zion and R.J. are ready for the next chapter
The Knicks and Pelicans will only play twice per year, but those are games you can already circle when the NBA schedule comes out.
Barrett is going to get every opportunity to be the lead dog for a Knicks team that projects to be one of the NBA’s worst. Williamson should be an instant star, especially with a suddenly strong team around him after free agency. Williamson should have a bigger impact and his team should be much better, but don’t be surprised if Barrett’s raw numbers are again slightly better.
It’s been a delight following Zion and R.J. to this point. We can’t wait to see what comes next.