One of the great understated accomplishments of Duke’s 2018-19 team was just how smoothly RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson co-existed. And actually that’s the wrong word: they thrived as teammates.
It might not have been that way.
Barrett has clearly shown an alpha personality on the court and did so at Duke despite Williamson’s vast physical superiority.
But partly because Williamson was willing to defer to Barrett, at one point calling Duke “RJ’s team” and allowing him to express his instincts and partly because the two struck up a genuine mutual admiration society, there was never a hint of tension or jealousy between the two.
There is a great pair of photos of the two. In one, Barrett is celebrating a massive Williamson dunk; in the other, Williamson is about four feet off the ground as Barrett slams one home.
In his rookie season, which was weird for every rookie, Barrett took a lot of criticism, partly because of comparisons with Williamson, who the Knicks really, really wanted.
The third pick behind Williamson and Ja Morant, Barrett seemed like something of a consolation prize, and an uneven season reinforced that perception.
But Barrett did something pretty unusual by his vastly improved second season: he racked up more than 2,000 points, pulled down 500 rebounds and passed out 300 assists before turning 21.
The only other guys who have done that are Kobe, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic.
Julius Randle was vastly improved his sixth season but in the playoffs his limitations showed. Barrett, pretty clearly, is the future of the New York Knicks and he’s just getting started.