Evaluating Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish in the Champions Classic

November 7, 2018

By Alan Lu

The main event of the 2018 Champions Classic was the game between Duke and Kentucky.  This featured many elite prospects such as R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, and Keldon Johnson, and it was expected to be a hard-fought, competitive match.  Instead, Duke started out strong and never relinquished the lead, as they took a stronghold on the game and dominated throughout, as they ended up winning by 34.  Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett had really good performances, and several others also played well.  Here are my thoughts on how they fared on this day, and how they may project as prospects for the NBA.

Zion Williamson had a tremendous showing in his team’s lopsided win over Kentucky.  Built like a tank, the super athletic combo forward did a terrific job of scoring the basketball in a variety of ways, and he also excelled as a playmaker, rebounder, and defender as he showed off a strong all-around game.  Williamson did an excellent job of attacking the basket to garner scores for his team.  He has a quick first step to the hoop off the dribble, and he can really explode to the hoop to finish plays above the rim.  He was able to throw down a ferocious dunk to score on a speedy drive, and he also managed to score on a thunderous, tomahawk dunk on the break as well.  He has terrific speed, strength, and body control, as this allows him to score often when going to the hoop.

He also showed a great ability to score in the post.  Williamson has a solid set of moves, as well as very good footwork and scoring touch to get buckets inside.  He used a quick spin move to score on a nifty layup, and he also used a pivot move to score on a jump hook.  Plus, he also was able to use a shimmy shake to score on a nice left handed, jump hook.  He also shot the ball well.  Williamson made a three-pointer early on, and he also used a quick crossover to knock down a pull-up, long two later in this game.  Plus, he also did a good job of scoring on off-ball motion plays as he has a great motor and feel for the game to go along with having elite athletic gifts.

Plus, he also displayed good playmaking skills.  Williamson did a good job of passing and handling the basketball, as he can push the pace in the open court, and he also tended to throw crisp interior passes.  He showed solid court vision as he would throw accurate passes off the dribble.  His lone turnover though came early on as he misfired on an attempt to connect on an outlet pass early on after coming down with a defensive board.  Also, Williamson did a good job of rebounding the basketball.   He was active at crashing the glass as he can swoop in to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he also is a skilled ball handler that can go coast to coast off of rebounds to create transition scoring opportunities for his team.

He also showed off good defensive skills.  Williamson is an active help defender that has solid range and timing on this end of the floor, as he was able to block a shot off of a roll to ignite a fast break, and he also tipped a pass to a teammate to help his team get a steal.  He does a good job of contesting and altering shots to force misses, as he tends to be in the right spots defensively.  However, he was also prone to committing touch fouls, as he would sometimes be too aggressive when defending in the post or on drives.

In general, Zion Williamson had a terrific night, as he showed off tremendous athleticism and scoring skills, but he also displayed a good outside shot, ball handling prowess, and range as a defender.  Duke will definitely be a fun team to watch, as they have three players that would likely be top picks in most drafts, and they will be competing with each other to be the first overall selection in 2019.  Williamson had an outstanding game, as he led the way by scoring 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting, and poured 7 rebounds, and he is a tremendous prospect that is a solid candidate to go number one on draft day.

R.J. Barrett came in the game with huge expectations, and he thrived in the limelight, as he managed to score 33 points, and he also managed to pour in 6 assists and 4 rebounds to help his team cruise to a double-digit victory over Kentucky.  Barrett did a good job of knocking down threes to help his team space the floor.  He can make them from far out, and he excelled as a spot-up shooter when he would hoist up outside shots from long-range.  He struggled a little more to make mid-range jumpers, but he was more effective at pulling up to knock them down rather than get those off the catch in this game.

He also showed a good ability to score on drives to the hoop.  Barrett is a quick, agile player that has a solid set of moves to get buckets inside.  Although his moves seemed kind of herky-jerky, and at times it looked as if he got away with taking too many steps, Barrett was effective in getting where he needs to go with the ball, as he would score on crafty finishes.  At times, he would go in too wildly, but more times than not, Barrett excelled at using his wide range of dribble moves to score around the basket.  Plus, Barrett did a tremendous job of scoring in transition.  He can split double teams when handling the basketball, and he also can finish plays above the rim, as he can do so with authority. 

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Barrett generally threw crisp, accurate passes to his teammates to set up numerous scoring chances, and he also managed to throw a lob pass off the dribble to set up a score.  He did commit a couple of turnovers though, as he occasionally had some trouble creating separation off the dribble.  He was called for a clear out on one play, and he had the ball ripped away from him on another when driving to the hoop in traffic.  Also, he played good defense, as he was able to get his hands on a couple of balls to help his team come away with steals.

In summary, R.J. Barrett had a strong showing in his team’s win over Kentucky, as he showed off great athletic gifts and offensive prowess when he was out on the floor.  He may have looked to score too often, and some of his misses looked to be questionable at times, but generally Barrett proved to be a dynamic scoring wing player that can create shots for the whole team.  In most drafts, he would easily be the favorite to be the top pick, and he still could be.  He does have some competition with his own teammates for that spot in Zion and in Cam Reddish.  Even so, Barrett is a tremendously gifted prospect that has a very bright future ahead of him at the next level.

Cam Reddish had a solid game to help lead his team to a victory on this day.  He excelled as a shooter and scorer when he was on the court, and he also played solid defense.  Reddish showed a knack for making threes to space the floor, and he also showed a penchant for scoring and drawing free throws on left-handed drives to the basket.  He did attempt to score in the post, but ended up badly missing on a turnaround jumper despite taking it over a smaller defender.

He also showed off adequate playmaking skills.  Reddish is an unselfish player that will make the extra pass, and he can kick the ball out to shooters off the dribble to set up scoring chances for his teammates, but sometimes he can be prone to losing the ball off of drives, as he can struggle to protect the basketball every once in a while.  Reddish played very good defense.  He did a great job of getting his hands on passes and intercepting balls to get steals for his team.  There was one possession where he didn’t get back in transition to allow a score, but generally Reddish is a rangy defender that can get his hands on a lot of basketballs.

In this game, Cam Reddish played very well, as he excelled on both ends of the floor to help his team get the win.  He may not be as flashy or exciting of a player as the other two, but he showed that he can be just as productive and vital to his team, as he had a solid showing against Kentucky.  Reddish is a good all-around, fill in the blanks type of player, and he could be a lock to go in the top 5 on draft day.

Kentucky’s 6-6 freshman swingman, Keldon Johnson had a very good showing in his team’s loss to Duke.  He excelled as a scorer off of drives and cuts, and he also shot the ball well.  He can score relentlessly on aggressive drives to the basket, and he also has a nifty floater that he can use to score inside.  Johnson can score off of curl cuts, and he also can knock down jumpers every once in a while.   In this game, he scored 23 points, as he is an athletic slasher that played well even though his team ended up getting blown out.

Kentucky’s 6-8 redshirt senior forward, Reid Travis excelled as an inside scorer as he showed a knack for scoring on high post drives and on plays around the hoop, and he also drew many free throws off of post plays due to possessing adequate mobility and very good strength.  He also shot the ball well, as he made a corner three and also knocked down a quick mid-range jumper.  In addition, he also managed to score on a drive in transition.

On the downside, Travis was a bit turnover prone, as he was called for setting a moving screen, and he also committed a traveling violation when posting up once.  Defensively, he wasn’t too noticeable, but he did get beat off the dribble to allow a score on one possession.  In summary, Reid Travis had a very good game, and he managed to score 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting.  He was even perhaps under-utilized at times, as he was extremely efficient with the touches he received on offense.  Though he is not an elite athlete and may not possess ideal size to play inside, Travis is a skilled scorer that made buckets in a variety of ways, and he could be an interesting second round prospect for the 2019 draft.

Tyler Herro struggled in the meaningful parts of the game, and for most of the way, he was struggling to knock down jumpers, as he would rush up quick, contested shots that would miss.  But Herro did a good job of rebounding and passing the basketball, and he started to knock down jumpers late in the contest.  He especially had a knack for making pull-up, mid-range shots.  Still, his performance visually seemed to pale in comparison to his box score statline, as his shot selection left much to be desired.  Right now, he’ll need to improve his shot selection, as he looks to be a second round prospect for the time being.

P.J. Washington did not really stand out in this game, and he struggled to make shots consistently, and he especially struggled to score on drives, as he would often miss shots off the dribble too wildly.  He did excel as a finisher around the basket as he scored on an alley-oop dunk and also scored on a dunk in transition, but Washington underwhelmed overall, and he did not stand out any in the non-shooting or scoring related categories.  His lack of shot creation or shooting skills compared to the Duke prospects could make him an overrated prospect, as he probably should be more in the late first to second round range than a candidate for the lottery.

Tre Jones subtly had a decent game, as he excelled as a game manager for Duke.  He continually good passes, and he can throw accurate lob passes to set up scores for his teammates.  He showed a knack for scoring in transition, and he made one spot-up three, but he struggled to score off the dribble consistently.  Defensively, he was above average.  He jumped a pass to get a steal, but also committed a reach-in foul on an opposing ball handler.  In summary, Tre Jones had a pretty good, but not an outstanding showing, and he could be a intriguing player for NBA teams in the second round, as he could project into being a steady backup point guard at the next level.

Kentucky’s 6-3 freshman point guard, Ashton Hagans was able to score on a layup off of a drive early, and early on he made his presence felt.  He did not keep that up, as he faded into the background.

Immanuel Quickley was basically a non-factor in this game, but he did show the ability to draw free throws on drives in transition.

Nick Richards had a terrible game, as he was a turnover machine, and he kept making defensive mistakes in which he would commit fouls and allow scores.  He was unfocused defensively, and he kept setting moving picks and throwing the ball away.  He’ll definitely need to play better the next time, as he simply did not play well on this day.

Marques Bolden had a decent game.  He managed to catch an alley-oop after finding himself open underneath the hoop to score on a dunk.  Another time, he dribbled in from the post to score on a thunderous dunk.  Bolden did an excellent job of finishing plays around the basket, and he also passed the ball well.  He’ll still need to improve his defense, as he was foul prone, and he kept leaving his man open to allow scores, though.  Still, Bolden’s finishing ability, size, and athleticism could enable him to be a potential second round prospect, as he could end up being a backup center candidate similar to current Indiana Pacers’ center, Ike Anigbogu.

For E.J. Montgomery, his performance was a mixed bag.  He did a good job of scoring on hustle plays, as he is an athletic big man that score on tip ins as well as off of cuts.  He also scored on a jump hook in the post.  However, he air-balled a mid-range shot, and he also missed badly on a high post drive attempt.  While he did excel as an offensive rebounder, he was terrible defensively, as he really struggled to defend drives, and he had a proclivity for fouling on those plays in which his team would allow the basket and an extra free throw.  He also was called for committing an offensive foul as well.  Right now, Montgomery is an unpolished big man that still needs to learn the finer points of the game, but he could be a prospect to keep an eye on in the future.

For Duke, Jack White and Alex O’Connell both shot the ball well, and both can space the floor for their team.   Jack White is a hustle player that can score on crafty plays off the dribble as well as off the ball, and he is also a very active offensive rebounder.  O’Connell is a very good spot up shooter that did a great job of making threes on offense.