Coming into 2019 Summer League, the debut of Zion Williamson was highly anticipated. After Williamson played nine minutes total, the hype shifted to RJ Barrett.
The third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Barrett was the only one of the top six picks to play in more than one game during Summer League. With the New York Knicks failing to sign any big-name stars, it's imperative for Barrett to flash some potential of stardom. If Barrett develops into an integral piece, that can only help the Knicks evolve into a more legitimate destination for future free agents.
In five Summer League games, Barrett averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He really struggled at the beginning of Summer League, but gradually improved with strong performances in the final two games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards.
Is Barrett ready to make noise in his rookie season, or is there bust potential?
Attacking the rim: Barrett's physicality on drives stood out during Summer League play. Barrett used a strong upper body more than athleticism on drives to finish over the top of contested shots. He's going to have to work on touch around the rim and counters to teams taking away his left hand, but the early signs were positive.
Potential to be a free-throw magnet: Barrett got to the free-throw line with regularity, attempting 30 free throws. He shot 62.5 percent from the line this summer.
DeMar DeRozan is a player that has built a strong NBA career despite lacking a consistent three-point shot. DeRozan has established himself as a quality mid-range jump shooter, but a key to him making four All-Star teams is his ability to get to the free-throw line.
If Barrett can be a steady free-throw shooter and one that gets to the foul line, then he already has one of the keys that can unlock his game as an elite scorer.
Rebounding: Barrett had at least 10 rebounds on three different occasions and came close in another game with eight. He was effective on the defensive glass and consistently aggressive.
Though the Knicks don't have the roster makeup that would allow him to play the power forward currently, Barrett's future could see him play the four sporadically in small-ball lineups. Quality defensive rebounding is a key to being able to play small.
Inconsistent jump shot: Barrett shot just 24.1 percent from three during the five-game stretch. Though his outside shot improved modestly in the final two games, Barrett still has a ton of room for improvement. A 31% three-point shooter in college, Barrett will need to improve that aspect of his game to become a true difference maker in the NBA.
Though he got to the free-throw line with regularity, Barrett shot just 60 percent from the free-throw line in Summer League. In his one season at Duke, Barrett shot 66.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Quickness: Barrett used brute strength on all of his drives. He failed to create separation off the dribble with quickness and speed. In today's NBA, switch-heavy defenses rule the league. Can Barrett take advantage of a center on an isolation switch? Can he attack closeouts? These are important questions for his future development.
Defense: Barrett was beaten several times on backdoor cuts. His switching was not crisp,- and there were multiple times that other Knicks defenders had to cover up for mistakes that he made. He does get a pass considering nearly every rookie struggles adjusting to defense in the NBA.
Jury Still Out
Passing and decision making: Barrett had his moments as a passer, racking up 21 assists throughout Summer League play. While he wasn't the most willing passer, Barrett seemed to make a better effort finding center Mitchell Robinson on the pick-and-roll and finding teammates on the weak side for skip passes. The Knicks could use some more consistent passing, seeing as they finished last in assist rate in the NBA this past season.
Assist-to-turnover ratio was a problem early on for Barrett as he had two assists to 10 turnovers in the first two games. Barrett finished strong, recording 19 assists with just four turnovers in the final three games.
Summer League is in its own way a bizarre chemistry experiment. A team is made up of a few key draft picks groomed for the future, paired with auditioning free agents who may never play in an NBA game.
It's a tough way to make a judgement on whether a player of Barrett's ilk is a future star or a pretender. The sample size is small and the game play is different compared to a regular season game. Barrett's struggles in the first two games were pronounced, but his modest improvements were positive signs as well.
Coming into his rookie season, Barrett has his flaws. His growth and development will be a huge factor in New York's upcoming season. With New York potentially staring at another season out of the playoffs, there's added pressure and focus on Barrett's development.
Still, Barrett is just 19 years old and there will be growing pains as he adjusts to the speed and style of play in the NBA. With an inconsistent jump shot, it will surely take time for him to reach his full potential, but he has some tools that could allow him to develop into a cornerstone.