Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
RJ Barrett's high school coach, Kevin Boyle, knows NBA talent well. He's coached Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, D'Angelo Russell and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the high school level.
So when Boyle talks about one of his player's NBA potential, his words hold weight; he's not some high school coach blindly pumping up his alumni.
With that in mind, here's what Boyle thinks about Barrett, who played for him at Monteverde Academy in Florida.
"When people talk about Zion Williamson (as the best NBA prospect in the 2019 Draft), with all the respect he deserves and everything he gets, RJ should be in that conversation. It shouldn't be a one-person conversation," Boyle said in an interview with SNY.tv. "…. Arguably, he's the best guy in the draft. I think he has (a legitimate) argument (for that title) and so does Zion. I think these two guys have a legitimate argument as to who's the best guy coming out and who will be the best pro. I don't think, by any means, it's automatic that Zion will be a better pro than RJ. I think that's part of the hype that everybody's in.
"Obviously Zion very well may well be the best player when this is all said and done but RJ also might end up being the best player," Boyle added, before making another prediction that Knicks fans will like to hear (more on that below). "…. Taking nothing at all away from Zion's greatness: to me it should be a discussion for who is the better player. In my opinion, in my mind, it's not a foregone conclusion."
Barrett, a 6-7 wing who played with Williamson at Duke, will almost certainly be the Knicks' pick if they remain in the No. 3 spot. Memphis is expected to draft Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick. So unless the Knicks trade up or down -- or trade the pick ahead of the draft -- you can bet on them selecting Barrett with their first-round pick.
Barrett, whose father, Rowan, played college basketball at St. John's, set Duke and ACC freshman scoring records this season and was named a consensus first-team All-American. He showed strong potential as a ball-handler and play-maker (team-high 4.3 assists per game).
But Barrett shot just 31 percent from beyond the arc. Some scouts questioned his shot selection.
Williamson's other-worldly athleticism helped him leap past Barrett as the presumptive No. 1 pick. But some analysts, including ESPN's Jalen Rose, believe Barrett could one day be the best player in the 2019 NBA Draft.
"Obviously RJ's got to shoot it a little better to be a star-level player but I think he's capable of making plays for other people now a little bit more (than Williamson is)," said Boyle, who correctly predicted in 2017 that Russell would be an All-Star in Brooklyn. "Zion's capable of being a better rebounder right now. I think they're both really good getting out in transition and finishing."
Boyle points out that Barrett, who averaged 7.6 rebounds per game and was the presumptive No. 1 pick entering the college season, handled all the attention heaped on Williamson with class.
"He's never exhibited any jealousy or anything like that… which is really natural for a kid to do," Boyle said, noting that Barrett's college stats are better than the numbers nearly all NBA All Star wings produced in the NCAA. "…. That's rare that guys are very secure with who they are and happy with their teammates and not a little bit jealous."
Williamson and Barrett were close friends, with Barrett celebrating as "the happiest guy in the gym" after a Williamson dunk.
That attitude and approach may serve Barrett well in New York if the Knicks sign top free agents like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
"He still can be a 15 -point guy, 4-5 rebounds, 4-5 assists and I think it would be great for him to learn under two experienced, star pros, if that happens," Boyle said. "Plus, he's a great kid, a great young man, he's mature. Again, how many guys would be mature enough (to handle things well) when you're getting similar numbers to someone else and they're getting 80 percent of the attention?"
Boyle coached Irving at Saint Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. He hasn't talked to Irving about his pending free agency but he believes he'll sign with the Knicks this summer.
"I think there's a good chance in my opinion that Kyrie ends up there," Boyle said, stressing that he was speaking as a fan and not as someone who had inside information on Irving's plans. "…. In my gut, I would think that would work best for him and I would think that (the Knicks) have a really strong chance of that happening. But I have not spoken directly to him and I don't know that to be a fact."
If Irving signs with the Knicks, Boyle thinks Barrett can fit in well with the All Star point guard.
"He can get up the court, he's a good slasher, getting ahead of the ball. Hopefully he can blend well with Kyrie and if they bring someone else that follows him, he can really attack the rim and play off of those two other players," the coach said.
He added that Barrett's selfless approach will help him thrive alongside stars like Irving.
"That's vital when you have star players that you're bringing in. I don't know if everyone in Boston felt that way with Kyrie," Boyle said of the 2018-19 Celtics, who lost in the second round of the playoffs. "Because they were starting to get established in the NBA, starting to have a lot of success the year before. With RJ, he has a great balance with respect and learning. (He'll think), 'Hey, I'm getting better, whether it's (behind) Kyrie or another guy, it's their show right now and I'm learning how to play with him or under them until it's my turn. I think he'll be receptive to that and I think he'll be a perfect complement to those guys."