IT’S nothing new to see the Duke Blue Devils land a few big-name high school recruits. We’ve seen head coach Mike Krzyzewski do this multiple times throughout his illustrious career so far, but this year is something different. One by one, Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, the top three freshmen entering the college ranks this season, pledged their allegiance to the Duke ‘Brotherhood’, an unprecedented haul, even by Coach K’s lofty standards. As impressive as this team looks ‘on paper’ and viral highlights aside, what do each of these star-studded teens bring to the table as they look to etch their names in history?
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BEFORE any of the trio committed to Duke, Coach K landed floor general Tre Jones (the younger brother of Timberwolves guard and Duke alum Tyus), who should feature as the team’s primary playmaker. He might be a great player in his own right but it will be tough to stand out given the fame of his fellow freshmen. If Jones isn’t handling the rock then chances are the team will lean on Cam Reddish’s playmaking abilities, with a talent to create shots for others one of the big strengths for the 6′ 7″ wing.
PHYSICALLY Reddish has the tools to become a really great player in the league with the versatility to play a number of roles for Coach K this season. He can defend all five positions and score well enough, but his playmaking ability could be the difference for this Duke team. With the other two superstar freshman likely to dominate the scoring load, someone has to slot in as the third guy and if Reddish can keep his ego in check then a national title could be up for grabs for the Blue Devils.
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THROUGHOUT his high school career Reddish developed a bit of a reputation for coasting through games, lacking the coveted killer, competitive instinct. An attitude adjustment might emerge now that Reddish isn’t clowning on high schoolers and it could be the difference from him becoming a great college player or one of the best players in the country. If Reddish wants to be classified in the latter category, then his 3-point shooting will need to be on point as well, with Duke lacking overall in that area. Of the three, Reddish might be the best deep threat, however, he usually excels with the ball in his hands as opposed to catch-and-shoot scenarios.
HIS fellow teammate R.J. Barrett, who was the No. 1 overall recruit according to ESPN, also has a knack for being a streaky shooter from distance. With almost identical measurements to Reddish, Barrett carved out a reputation for himself at the prestigious Montverde Academy, which has housed notable NBA names such as Joel Embiid, D’Angelo Russell, Luc Mbah A Moute and Ben Simmons in recent times. The score-first wing, who originally hails from Mississauga in Ontario, seems set to be the alpha dog for this squad and will be relied upon nightly to get buckets, much like Marvin Bagley a year ago.
OF all three guys, Barrett seems like the safest choice for NBA execs, with the highest floor as a future NBA player. As it stands he probably has the best chance of being the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft come June. Barrett is a proven winner with a well-rounded game that saw him snag a bunch of awards in the lead up to his collegiate career. From winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award to being named the MVP of the FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup, Barrett has been making a name for himself amassing over 350K followers on Instagram. Not bad. Unless of course, your name is Zion Williamson.
EVERY casual basketball fan has most likely heard of Zion, with his 1.8 million followers on Instagram growing by the day. Built like a vending machine full of dynamite Williamson shocked the world by committing to Duke, turning his back on nearby schools South Carolina and Clemson. Many of us are eager to see what he can bring to this Blue Devils lineup, aside from all the above the rim antics. Coach K has described him as one of the most unique player’s he has ever seen with Zion lacking the traditional height of most power forwards (Williamson stands at just 6′ 6″) and struggling to showcase a perimeter game similar to most small forwards. That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful though, with Zion possessing unnatural agility for a man of his size. His nimble feet and ferocious athletic traits have many NBA scouts foaming at the mouth over what Williamson could become one day.
SIMILARLY to Charles Barkley, Williamson doesn’t give up a lot of chances on the boards, despite his lack of size. Impeccable timing on the glass and the ability to protect the rim could see Zion develop into an undersized five for the Blue Devils and provide them with an anchor in the paint. However, if Williamson really wants to break through and impressive scouts he needs to find some consistency (and arc) on his jumper. He has shown solid signs in Duke’s preseason games, but a sub 20% shooter from deep and sub 65% free throw shooter leaves cause for concern. As exciting as his athleticism is, Zion currently weighs in at 275 pounds (roughly the same as 6′ 11″ NBA center Andre Drummond) with some scouts trepidacious about his long-term health given the extreme stress his style of play puts on his lower body.
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SO now that you understand what each of these top recruits is all about, how do they all fit together? The answer at the moment is awkwardly. All three are a similar height but posses vastly different games and it will be up to Krzyzewski to put them all in a situation to succeed. Despite their similar measurables, there is a blueprint for success with this team if they can regularly knock down shots from outside and find a stable rotation sooner rather than later.
GIVEN the depth in the ACC this year though, it’s tough for me to see a scenario where they emerge as legitimate title contenders, especially if they take a while to find their mojo. However, having three players on the same roster who are destined to hear their name called early on draft night makes almost anything is possible.
IF I was an NBA GM I’d probably have them ranked in the same order they were ranked when they were recruited (real original Fry) with Barrett at the top followed by Zion followed by Reddish. That being said there is the opportunity for any one of these guys to stake their claim as the legitimate No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Regardless of who goes one, all three are destined for stardom in the pro’s next year, so enjoy them in Duke blue while it lasts.
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