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2019 NBA Draft: RJ Barrett's coast-to-coast game went around the world before fueling Duke's title hopes

2019 NBA Draft: RJ Barrett's coast-to-coast game went around the world before fueling Duke's title hopes

WASHINGTON – The legend of Duke freshman RJ Barrett began years ago and gained momentum in a country far, far away.

The top college basketball recruit for the 2018 class honed his skills in Mississauga, Ontario. Part of the rise of Canadian players that watched Vince Carter soar for the Toronto Raptors and British Columbia’s Steve Nash become a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, Barrett flashed his cut-above game in middle school.

That’s when fellow Canadian Nickeil Walker-Alexander first became aware of the player who would go on to set the Duke freshman single-season record for points, with a chance for more. 

Walker-Alexander, Virginia Tech’s leading scorer, recalled attending a tournament in Ontario to watch his young cousin. One of the other kids stood out. The one who along with Duke teammate Zion Williamson garnered NBA Draft buzz all season, and has fans hoping their team receives lottery luck.

“The same, but just not as developed,” Walker-Alexander said of Barrett’s prior work one day before the fourth-seeded Hokies and the top-seeded Blue Devils meet Friday in a Sweet 16 matchup at Capital One Arena. 

“Pretty dominant for his age,” Walker-Alexander continued. “Scoring and affecting the game. Way more athletic than kids then. I think he was dunking.”

Barrett, a savvy 6-foot-7 wing threat with natural scoring skills and winning traits, improved exponentially from there by the time others outside of North America took notice.

At the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship in Egypt, Canada stunned a Team USA squad coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari. The game’s best player was a 17-year-old Barrett, who had 38 points and 13 rebounds despite being two years younger than most on the court.

The scoring surges haven’t stopped. Neither has Barrett’s knack for producing in the most significant moments. 

His putback off a Williamson missed free throw in the final seconds of Duke’s 77-76 win over Central Florida Sunday saved the Blue Devils from being on the wrong end of one of college basketball’s greatest upsets.

“Just confidence,” Barrett said Thursday of maintaining poise in the pressure-packed spot. “At the end of the game, you're not thinking about anything else but winning. And that's why we're able to make those game-winning plays.”

The scoring, smarts and steadiness are among the reasons why Barrett is a likely top-3 selection in June’s draft. 

Williamson generates the most attention for his otherworldly athleticism, but Barrett leads Duke with 22.8 points per game while ranking second in rebounds (7.7) and assists (4.1).

The Wizards, who currently have a 23.1 percent chance of landing a top-4 selection in June’s draft, could certainly use more playmaking beyond two-time All-Star Bradley Beal. Though Barrett projects as a two-guard, his size and passing game would allow the coaching staff to play him with Beal. 

Barrett and another freshman, Cam Reddish, provide the Blue Devils with offensive pop from the wing.

“They can score and they are really good players, so it’s not enough to say my hand was up,” Walker-Alexander said of defending Barrett and Reddish based on their battles in ACC play this season. “You’ve got to make it uncomfortable.”

Watch Barrett and Williamson remain calm late in close games, or smile with ease on the podium with dozens of reporters and cameras focused on them. Uncomfortable doesn’t seem like a vibe familiar to either player.

“[Zion and RJ are] not in uncharted territory here. They’re very mature,” Duke assistant Nate James told NBC Sports Washington. “They understand the camera is always on them. They’ve been thrown in pressure situations almost since they became ‘Zion’ and ‘RJ,’ They’ve adapted to the spotlight. … Everything that you possibly think off that could get these guys off their game was thrown at them, and they’ve responded. It’s the new normal for them.”

Barrett’s game is not without concerns. He enters Friday shooting a mere 31.3 percent on 3-point attempts and 66.2 percent from the free throw line. Defensive struggles were evident chasing around UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins, who scored 32 points against Duke. 

At one point, Barrett and Williamson were contenders for No. 1 pick status. Now Williamson has soared to the top, and Murray State point guard Ja Morant passed Barrett in the eyes of some evaluators. 

There’s just no denying Barrett’s know-how or desire to dominate. 

“His aggression on both ends of the floor. His will to win,” Reddish said of Barrett’s impact beyond the numbers. “Whether it’s a shooting competition or a game or practice, he loves to win.”

Two future first-round picks, including Maryland’s Kevin Huerter along with Reddish, were on that 2017 Team USA squad most assumed would triumph. The U.S. won the gold medal in 2013 and 2015.

“The reality was, one kid really went crazy, and then the rest of their kids did what they did, so hats off to them,” Calipari said after the loss. 

That kid started showing his wares years ago north of the border and across the globe. NBA teams are banking on him thriving for years to come. Duke hopes such future talk doesn’t become Barrett's main focus for a few more days.

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Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal has been snubbed yet again.

First All-NBA, now Beal was not even included in the NBA 2K20 top 20 rankings, which were released on a livestream on Monday.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard topped the rankings, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and James Harden. 

In what we're sure was a completely scientific poll, SLAM Gaming asked its followers if NBA2K got the rankings right. And, at least as of post time, nearly two-thirds of participants said no. 

Ahead of Beal in the rankings included Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler. Zion Williamson was the top rookie in the ratings. 

Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game last season. That's clear above Mitchell (23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and Butler (18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game).

The ratings are reportedly determined by a statistically based formula, though that hasn't ever stopped fans from expressing their ire at the game's rating gurus. 

Including John Wall in 2017. 

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Wizards Summer League superlatives: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. were the stars

Wizards Summer League superlatives: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. were the stars

The 2019 Las Vegas Summer League is in the books and this one was much more interesting for the Wizards than they have been in recent years. This year, they had a host of first and second-round picks play for them, as well as some players they recently acquired in their trade with the Lakers.

Here are some superlatives to put a bow on the Wizards' time in Vegas...

Best player: Troy Brown Jr.

Though he only played one game and one quarter before he was shut down with a left knee contusion, Brown was quite clearly the best player on the Wizards' Summer League roster. In his only full game, he put up 18 points and 15 rebounds. Though he only shot 40.6 percent in his brief time in Vegas, he looked like a guy who was advanced beyond the league's level of competition.

For Brown, the question is how much it matters because he essentially did what he should do as a second-year player. It is encouraging and he should draw confidence from the experience. But now he has to show he can produce like that in real NBA games.

Best newcomer: Rui Hachimura

Hachimura only played three of the Wizards' five games and in his first two outings produced uneven results. But his third game was pure dominance, as he posted 25 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He proved a quick learner by adjusting and improving game-by-game.

All in all, it was a solid start to Hachimura's career. He displayed versatility and smarts both on offense and defense. It should give Wizards fan hope he can contribute as a rookie.

Most improved: Isaac Bonga

Many of the players on the Wizards' roster were not returning from last summer, but Bonga showed a nice leap year-over-year from what he did for the Lakers in 2018. Though he wasn't one of the Wizards' best players, he ended up with solid numbers of 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot 45.5 percent from the field in 20.2 minutes of action.

The best thing Bonga showed for the Wizards is his athleticism. He is a full 6-foot-9, yet has the mobility of a guard. He is a long ways away from being NBA-ready, but at 19 years old gives the Wizards an intriguing prospect to stash in the G-League.

Needs improvement: Issuf Sanon, Moe Wagner, Admiral Schofield

It wasn't the best Summer League showing for Sanon, the Wizards' 2018 second-round pick. He only played a total of 48 minutes in four games and shot 18.2 percent with 1.5 points per game. The Wizards were experimenting with his position, playing him both at point and off the ball, and he didn't look comfortable doing either.

Granted, Sanon's biggest strength at this point is his defense, but he doesn't seem to have any NBA-ready offensive skills. Unless he gets up to speed quickly, he will have to become really, really good on defense to make the leap overseas.

Like Bonga, Wagner debuted after coming over in the Lakers trade. But Wagner didn't have the best time in Las Vegas, as he shot just 31 percent from the field and 7.1 percent from three. It was a small sample size of just four games, but Wagner is known as a shooter and didn't look like one in the Summer League. He also had trouble on defense against quicker match-ups.

Schofield, the Wizards' 2019 second-round pick, shot poorly (38.5 FG%, 22.2 3PT%) and struggled to find his role on defense. He has some intriguing qualities, but it might take him some time to figure out how to compete against NBA athletes while lacking height and quickness to play the way he did in college.

Biggest surprise: Jemerrio Jones

Perhaps this should not be surprising because it is what Jones is known for, but his rebounding really stood out. He played only about 27 minutes in three games, yet pulled in 13 boards. That breaks out to 4.3 rebounds in 8.9 minutes per game, or about one rebound every other minute. He averaged 17.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Keep in mind he is only 6-foot-5. Based on efficiency, Jones was the Wizards' best rebounder and he is the size of a shooting guard. He has a lot to improve on before he can stick around in the NBA, but it will be fun watching him grab 15-plus boards on the regular this season with the Go-Go. 

Biggest disappointment: Wizards' opponents

If there was one prevailing theme in the 2019 Summer League it was teams holding out their top draft picks either due to actual injuries or the fear they will suffer one. The Wizards saw this firsthand. They even did it themselves by keeping Hachimura out of two of their games.

The Wizards played the Pelicans without first overall pick Zion Williamson or Jaxson Hayes, the eighth pick, or even Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the 17th pick. They played the Hawks without De'Andre Hunter (fourth pick) or Cam Reddish (10th pick). And the Nets and Clippers didn't have any top draft picks of note.

The Wizards did get to see third overall pick R.J. Barrett and the Knicks in their final game. New York also had Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, as well as Iggy Brazdeikis, who was a Summer League standout. But neither Hachimura or Brown played in that game for Washington.

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