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Duke men's basketball 2018-19 player review: R.J. Barrett

R.J. Barrett, clad in black, tried to make games into funerals for the opposing teams.
R.J. Barrett, clad in black, tried to make games into funerals for the opposing teams.

R.J. Barrett

Season breakdown: There is good reason R.J. Barrett won’t be remembered as the guy who missed the free throw he needed to make and made the free throw he needed to miss in the waning seconds of the Elite Eight. It’s because he made just about everything else.

His triple-double against N.C. State was only the fourth in Duke history. He scored more points per game than Zion Williamson, and his 860 total points are second only to J.J. Redick’s 964 in the Blue Devils’ single-season record books. Barrett scored more than 30 points in five games and more than 20 points in 26 games. But for all the statistical accomplishments by the No. 1 recruit in his class, it will be the moments that linger in Blue Devil lore.

Duke fans will remember Zion Williamson’s lob off the backboard to Barrett against Hartford. Duke fans will remember Barrett’s layup to put the Blue Devils up by three with 20 seconds left against Wake Forest. Duke fans will remember his no-look, between-the-legs bounce pass to Cam Reddish for a three to complete a historic comeback at Louisville. Duke fans will remember his rebound and putback to take the lead in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Central Florida with 12 seconds left.

To be fair, Barrett's play was far from perfect. The forward shot more than six shots from downtown per contest, but converted on only 30.8 percent of them. Barrett’s tendency to force bad shots doomed the Blue Devils against Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational championship game, missing five straight shots in the last minute. His 66.5 percent mark from the free throw line made many games closer than they should have been; in Duke’s one-point win against Wake Forest, Barrett shot just 6-for-14 from the charity stripe.

Though sometimes outshined by his best friend Williamson, Barrett's consistent play led him to consensus first-team All-American honors and a USA Today National Player of the Year award. NBA teams will not undervalue the Mississauga, Ont. native though, as he is safely regarded as a consensus top three prospect.

Results relative to expectations: The pundits produced the hype, and Barrett produced the results to match. Already the Gatorade National Player of the Year and high school Naismith Player of the Year, Barrett scored at will at the college level. The 6-foot-7 forward turned out to be a better defender and worse long-range shooter than expected, but his final numbers nearly match the Blue Zone’s predictions exactly.

Many also expected Barrett and Williamson to fight for the ball, but that didn’t happen. Their friendship blossomed in the national spotlight—a heartwarming tale of hope for any superstar duo. Barrett’s declaration for the draft made for a bittersweet ending and a hopeful beginning.

Stay tuned to the Blue Zone for our continuing player reviews. Previous players previewed include Justin Robinson, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire, Jack White, Alex O'ConnellMarques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.


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