The NBA R.O.Y. Bet Not Named Zion Williamson
All eyes will be on the No. 1 pick, but his former teammate might be the best bet
It’s easy to get lost in the Zion Williamson hype, and for good reason. The former Duke University product starred in Durham during his one-and-done 2018-19 season, leading to the number one overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft.
While it wasn’t the strongest overall draft class in recent memory, there’s another player (who just happened to play with Williamson at Duke) that needs to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
That’s RJ Barrett.
With Williamson the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year (FanDuel Sportsbook lists him as a -150 favorite) here’s why Barrett deserves more consideration in the discussion, and how the New York Knicks’ latest top draft pick could be a smart bet at +450 odds.
What They’re Saying
There was no surprise among Knicks fans when NBA commissioner Adam Silver revealed the team was selecting Barrett with the third-overall pick this summer. Barrett, for many, was considered the second-best option in the 2019 NBA Draft, only behind his former Duke teammate Williamson.
Considering the excitement around the Knicks offseason before Kevin Durant signed in Brooklyn and other key free agents made stops in other locations, Barrett’s selection didn’t evoke the hype that it necessarily should have. That said, the Knicks know that they have gotten themselves a very talented scorer, and a player that can help the rebuilding franchise for many years to come.
Bobby Portis Jr., who spent his first four NBA seasons in Chicago and Washington, has already taken significant notice of the 6-foot-7-inch Barrett, and the Knicks center has pointed out all the things he’s noticed about the team’s top-five pick.
“He could be a really great player in this league,” Portis Jr. said, via Elite Sports NY. “He scores the basketball well, defends well and rebounds at a high level. Julius [Randle] and I are 24, so we’re still young, but we also have experience.
“We’re not ‘veterans’ yet because we’re still pretty young, but we’ve been around for a little while now. I think we can help the young guys by being around them every day, helping them do the right things and guiding them each and every day. We’re going to show them the ropes and things like that.
“With RJ, I think the sky is the limit for him. He really has unlimited potential.”
Portis Jr. certainly hasn’t been the only one impressed with Barrett throughout his young career though. Knicks general manager Scott Perry was confident the team would be selecting Barrett weeks prior to the draft when the 19-year-old visited the organization.
“He came in and won our building over,’’ Perry said back in June following the Knicks taking Barrett third overall, per the New York Post. “When we bring guys in, we allowed them to spend time with the front-office staff, coaching and medical staff.
“It became apparent he was going to be an excellent fit from a culture standpoint. He did nice things on the court when he worked with coaches. He reaffirmed what we had seen during the college season. We were comfortable remaining in the draft position at No. 3.’’
Diving Into the Numbers
When Barrett inevitably has his ups and downs with the Knicks during his rookie season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. That’s the life of a rookie. However, Barrett is well equipped to handle the pressure of New York after succeeding at Duke during his one-and-done season.
For all the Williamson love coming into the new NBA year, Barrett warrants just as much, if not more, as he looks to become the newest face of the Knicks. The Canada native led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring during the 2018-19 regular season, averaging 22.9 points per game.
Barrett finished tied for sixth in the ACC in assists, averaging 4.1 per contest, while also grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game. It’s easy to get lost in Barrett’s willingness to get to the basket and score, but his ability to facilitate an offense is a tremendous asset for the Knicks.
During conference play last season, Barrett assisted on roughly 25.1 percent or one-quarter of all Blue Devils basket, while his usage rate came in at 32.1 percent. That means Barrett was involved in nearly one-third of all plays that Duke ran, allowing himself to be firmly entrenched in the offense.
Don’t sleep on Barrett simply because Williamson is arguably the most-discussed prospect since Lebron James entered the league over 15 years ago. Both former Duke players will undoubtedly have their chances to score plenty of points for years to come, but the Knicks will need Barrett to provide offense for the team that racked up just 17 wins a season ago.
Every Knicks fan saw what life was like without Kristaps Porzingis, who was shipped to the Dallas Mavericks midseason, and that’s exactly why Perry and the Knicks went out and got Barrett.
His outside shooting can be a concern on a consistent basis, but Barrett showed plenty of signs of being able to knock down a long-range jumper at Cameron Indoor Stadium under Mike Kryzewski. Once Barrett adds to that area of his game, where he shot 30.8 percent from distance during college, he’ll be an even more dangerous threat by spreading the floor.
Another big difference for the Knicks ahead of the 2019-20 season is the experience and depth that the team possesses. One of the few bright spots last season for the Knicks came via the draft when the team selected Kevin Knox from the University of Kentucky.
Building off of his presence, the organization went out and added quality role players like Portis Jr., Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson to go along with young additions Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton, which will undoubtedly give Barrett some quality to mesh with in his debut campaign.
Both Randle and Payton provide the squad with another duo of young talent looking to make an impact in the rejuvenated Knicks lineup, with the former top-10 draft picks both averaging over 10 points per game throughout their professional careers.
Meanwhile, Williamson heads to a Pelicans team that has plenty of veterans, including JJ Redick, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors. That’s also not to mention young stars Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who came to New Orleans this offseason during the blockbuster trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the number of weapons the Pelicans have at the moment, Williamson simply won’t have to be relied upon as much as Barrett. Additionally, the flashiness of New York City certainly puts a brighter spotlight on Barrett as he aims to play a part in the Knicks’ turnaround.
At +450 odds, Barrett certainly garners attention in the Rookie of the Year ballot, and with an improved supporting cast around him from recent Knicks squads, he should be able to find plenty of space on the court to score at Madison Square Garden this fall.
Note: All statistics above were found on Basketball-Reference.com. The advice above represents the writer's personal view and does not reflect or represent BetQL's stance or interest in any way.