R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish came into Duke as highly touted as freshmen can be -- all ranked in the top 5 in the country across all publications. The three were expected to showcase their skills for a very young Duke team and show what type of potential the Blue Devils possess against the second-ranked team in the country in their first game as collegians.
They weren’t supposed to be this good.
And you better believe the NBA was watching.
Barrett (No. 5, USA Today Sports photo) showed everyone why he was the consensus top player in the class. The lean 6-foot-7 guard was completely unguardable in transition, showing he can both drive and finish with either hand. When the defense backed off him, he was stroking jumpers with no hitch in his shot.
Reddish was equally as impressive. The 6-8 super-long guard showed off a motor that many thought could be his Achilles heel. He was impressive from long range and showed off his skills on the defensive end with four steals. Oh, and he was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line.
Which brings us to the NBA. The Celtics currently have that Sacramento Kings' pick in their back pocket. And after last night’s Champions Classic, you better believe Danny Ainge looked at the standings and said to himself “6-and-4? The Kings gotta come back down to Earth, right?”
If you haven’t been paying attention, the upstart Kings won five straight games prior to being blown out of Milwaukee and sit squarely in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture in the infancy of this NBA season. The glass-half-empty Celtics fan is probably thinking the idea of getting one of these studs is out of the question. The glass-half-full Celtics fan is probably noticing that the Kings are padding their record with wins over the likes of the Hawks, Grizzlies, and the suddenly imploding Wizards. They will eventually have to face the muscle of the West.
Of course, there’s also a handful of hopeless NBA teams who’s GMs were also likely licking their chops last night as they watched Williamson palm a block and seamlessly turn into a transition opportunity, weaving a seeing-eye pass through traffic to Barrett, who turned it into an acrobatic And-1 finish. And as Duke celebrated what had turned into a 30-point lead, the race to the bottom of the NBA standings was suddenly on.
So for now, we wait for the final 72 games to be played and hope the Kings fall into their normal Sacramento tradition of losing basketball games by the truckload. But until that happens, there’s a large group of failing teams who have their excavators already out as they begin the race to rock bottom . . . or maybe even lower. To the depths of he . . . nah, I won’t even say it.
Anything to get a date with a Blue Devil.
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