Make that two first-round picks from Duke headed to the Big Apple.
First came quarterback Daniel Jones, taken by the Giants at sixth overall in the NFL draft. R.J. Barrett has done him one better in a different sport.
With the third pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks took the 6-foot-7 Ontario native. And with Zion Williamson going first overall, it marks only the second time in Duke history that a pair of former Blue Devils have been selected in the top three, and the only time that one of them was the top overall pick.
The selection was certainly easy to characterize as a no-brainer. Barrett scored the second-most points any Duke player has scored in a single season, on a team littered with NBA talent. He entered his freshman year as the top recruit in the nation, and while the buzz surrounding former teammate Zion Williamson quickly outpaced that of the Canadian, the consensus remains that Barrett is a savvier scorer and playmaker.
Barrett impressed as a workhorse at both ends of the floor. He played the third-most minutes and produced the fifth-most points in the country. In his lone season as a Blue Devil, Barrett averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Awards piled up for Barrett after the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. He earned spots on the All-ACC first team, All-ACC freshman team and a host of All-America teams. He also received votes for ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, but finished second in both to Williamson.
The world watched Barrett mature as a basketball player throughout the year. Early in the season, the freshman missed five shot attempts in the final minute in Duke’s loss to Gonzaga in the final of the Maui Invitational. Late in the season, though, Barrett hit a clutch layup to put the Blue Devils up three against Wake Forest and put back a missed free throw from Williamson for the game-winning bucket in Duke’s second-round victory against Central Florida. He also marginally improved his free throw shooting throughout the year, finishing at 66.5 percent.
With Williamson and Barrett now off the board, only wing Cam Reddish and center Marques Bolden from Duke wait for Adam Silver to call their names.
The Maple Mamba joins a young core of Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, in addition to former Blue Devil Lance Thomas. New York finds itself in desperate need of the Duke star’s playmaking ability, having finished the season at a league-worst 17-65 while scoring the third-fewest points per game. The Knicks also shot the lowest field goal percentage and dished out the fewest assists in the NBA.
Barrett and the Blue Devils played one game at Madison Square Garden this past year, a 69-58 Duke victory against then-No. 12 Texas Tech. Barrett missed all seven attempts from beyond the arc in that game, in addition to committing six turnovers against the Red Raiders’ rugged defense. He did, however, score 16 points en route to the primetime win. Expect head coach David Fizdale to immediately plug Barrett into the starting lineup, barring injury.
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