Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Murray State’s Ja Morant were two of the top players in college basketball in 2018-19. And they are expected to go in the top three of the NBA Draft behind Zion Williamson on Thursday night.
Barrett may not be a true point guard like Morant, but both are offensive creators. Let’s compare and contrast two of the most exciting young prospects in the game.
Here were Barrett and Morant’s per-40 minute numbers this past season:
The scoring and rebounding numbers were similar, but Morant had a huge edge in assists and efficiency. It’s worth pointing out that Barrett played in the ACC, while Morant played in the Ohio Valley. Barrett saw much tougher defenders on a nightly basis.
Regardless, Morant had the statistical edge.
Barrett has the size advantage. The former Duke star is listed at 6-7, 202 pounds, while Morant checks in at 6-3, 175. Barrett isn’t bulky, but he’s wiry; he’s not going to get bullied by anyone on defense, and he’s able to overpower smaller defenders and slither his way around behemoths. Barrett is a good athlete, not a great one. But he’s a more functional athlete than most 6-7 guys. That’s why there were so few college defenders who could stay in front of him.
Morant is a phenomenal athlete. The Russell Westbrook comparisons may be a tad premature, but you can see why they exist. These dunks are ridiculous:
Morant can jump out of the gym. So, this is difficult to evaluate relative to Barrett. Just because Morant is a better athlete doesn’t mean he has more valuable physical attributes. Barrett’s size allows him to guard four positions; Morant can hound point guards and most shooting guards. But, fair or unfair, height and build matter. Barrett has the body of a modern star.
He gets a slight, slight edge here. But this area is a plus for both guys.
Slight edge: Barrett
Here’s where the level of competition comes into play. The numbers were similar, but we have better context as it pertains to Barrett because of the defenders he faced.
The concerns with Barrett are real. He shoots too much from the outside, and he’s not that great of an outside shooter. Barrett was barely above 30 percent from 3-point range but heaved 6.5 of them per game.
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But the guy is 6-7 with a wicked handle and plus speed. It may not sound sexy, but he can get to his spot just about any time he wants to, against any player. Jarrett Culver is a fellow likely top 2019 pick. Barrett just disregards him here.
Barrett is at his best when he builds up a head of steam and is looking to force contact. He’s James Harden-like in his ability to draw fouls; he got to the free-throw line 6.7 times per game. Here, Barrett goes 1-on-2 against Texas Tech in transition. Most players would pull this ball out and set up the offense.
Not Barrett. His combination of size, agility and body control is special, and he goes through two defenders for the easy lay-in:
Barrett might have been the best driver in the sport, but he’s a little too into his jump shot. He’s flawed, but his issues are fixable. You can’t teach the stuff he does.
Morant is a phenomenal scorer too, and he’s actually pretty similar to Barrett in style. He physically overwhelms foes with his speed, so he gets to his spots with ease. He’s an average shooter, but doesn’t take as many 3s as Barrett.
Morant is outstanding with both hands, as you’ll see on this nice lefty scoop finish:
There’s one thing Barrett has on Morant that is hard to ignore: the ability to bully smaller defenders. Both guys will dust your average 6-6 wing. But you’re toast if you try slotting a 6-3 point guard on Barrett. That guy has a chance on Morant.
With everything else so similar, that’s the deciding factor here. Barrett gets a marginal edge.
Slight edge: Barrett
Morant’s best attribute. He almost tripled Barrett in assists, and his vision is uncanny. How many point guards would even think to make this pass?
This one is sweet, too:
Morant assisted 51.8 percent of Murray State’s buckets that weren’t his own, which led the country. He’s a truly special passer and makes everyone around him better.
Barrett can be a good passer, but this is probably the biggest weakness in his game. He knows he can usually score even with two defenders on him, so Barrett falls into hero-ball mode far too often.
Take this play against Gonzaga, for instance. This isn’t a terrible shot, but when you’re a ‘meh’ 3-point shooter and Zion Williamson has a mismatch, it’s not great. Jack White is also wide-open in the corner, but Barrett fires a pull-up 3 anyway:
Morant has a clear edge here. Barrett will whip a few passes per game that leave you wishing he’d do so more often; if anything, Morant needs to be more aggressive.
Morant is great at guarding his position. He averaged 1.9 steals per game, and his smarts and speed on offense translate to the defensive end. But Barrett’s inherent versatility is hard to ignore.
Duke switched positions one through five against Virginia in one February ACC game, and Barrett held up well while carrying the offense. You probably can’t run that kind of scheme with Morant in the lineup; he could stick Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, but what happens when he gets switched onto De’Andre Hunter? Barrett is solid in a normal man-to-man defensive scheme, too, but switching is becoming more and more popular at the next level.
These guys are such offensive focal points that they can’t expend 100 percent energy on every defensive possession. That’s understandable. But Barrett has more utility, and that gives him the edge here.
It’s so, so close. Again, it’s hard to compare based on the difference in competition. Morant’s numbers were better, and his highlight plays had more sizzle.
Morant is miraculous. But he has limitations, and he’s not a nuclear shooter like a Steph Curry. Barrett makes routine plays look so easy that he’s taken for granted, and he can do just about everything there is to do on a basketball court. You can’t say that about a lot of guys.
Give us Barrett by a hair, even if he’s likely to go third on Thursday night.
Slight edge: Barrett