Assessing R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker on Day 2 of the Sweet 16

March 30, 2019

by Alan Lu

I was able to take the time to watch Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Duke play against Virginia Tech in a highly competitive Sweet 16 matchup.  This game went back and forth as it was a very close game, but Duke was barely able to pull out the win, as they held on to get a two-point victory to advance to the Elite Eight.  Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett were the standout performers while Virginia Tech had solid contributions from many different players.  Here are my thoughts on how they and other various prospects fared in this game.

Duke’s 6-7 freshman swingman, R.J. Barrett had a tremendous game to help get his team the victory over Virginia Tech.  Though he struggled to make jumpers, he excelled at scoring on quick drives to the hoop, and he especially excelled as a playmaker on the floor.  He did a great job of passing the basketball, as he would often throw solid interior passes as well as passes off the dribble to set up a wealth of scores for his teammates.  He played unselfishly, and he showed off very good patience and court vision to rack up assists for his team.  But sometimes he would throw inaccurate passes, and he would also make some careless mistakes on offense that would lead him to commit some turnovers.

He also did a very good job of scoring on quick drives to the hoop, as well as in transition.  Barrett showed a knack using his left hand to score on smooth layups off the glass, and he can glide past defenders with ease.  He also was able to bank in a pull-up, mid-range jumper to get another score.   He struggled to score on threes or mid-range jumpers in this game, but he did a magnificent job of attacking the basket to get scores in the second half.  He also was able to score off of a curl cut, as he used a pump fake to score on a leaner while drawing an extra free throw.  Barrett also ran in to get the ball in the high post, as he was able to draw free throws quickly late in this game.

Defensively, he looked to be about average.  Barrett was able to get his hands on a pass to get a steal, and he also contested a mid-range jumper to force a miss.  But sometimes he would be too aggressive when contesting shots, which would lead him to commit fouls around the basket.  Other times, he would be out of position, which would occasionally lead him to allow scores to his opponents.

In summary, R.J. Barrett did a great job of distributing the basketball, and he showed off great court vision that allowed him to rack up many assists throughout the game.  He also excelled at getting scores off the dribble when he would look to score in the paint.  He did struggle to knock down jumpers, but his ability to score and facilitate really helped his team in this game.  He showed that he can play outstanding basketball in many different ways, as his strong passing skills complements his strong scoring skills.  Right now, Barrett is a very good prospect as he is a player that has the talent to make multiple All-Star teams in the NBA, and he will likely be a top 3 pick in the upcoming draft.

Duke’s freshman forward, Zion Williamson played very well in his team’s win against Virginia Tech.  He did a great job of scoring in the post, off of drives, and he also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  In the post, he managed to use an up and under move prior to splitting a double team, he used a spin move to score on a powerful dunk, and he would often get strong scores around the basket.  He was able to throw down thunderous dunks around the basket, and he is an agile, powerful player that can use a variety of moves to get past his man to garner scores in the paint.  He also was able to make a spot-up three, as he did a great job of scoring the basketball.

He also displayed average at best playmaking skills in this game.  For the positives, he would pass out of the post to find open shooters to set up scoring chances for his teammates, and he also set good good screens to help his teammates get open for shots.  However, sometimes he would go too fast and out of control off of drives, which would lead him to commit charging fouls, and he also lost the ball on the break once while handing it in transition.

Williamson was able to get his fair share of boards, as he would leap up to get multiple boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played very good defense.  Zion did a great job of blocking shots in the paint, and he especially excelled at doing so when defending in the post.  He also was able to intercept a pass to get a steal, and he also can poke balls away.  He also did a good job of contesting jumpers to force misses.  However, every once in a while, he would be out of position, which would lead him to allow a score.

Overall, Zion Williamson had a strong showing, as he excelled at attacking the basket to garner scores, and he also played great defense to help his team get the win.  He was able to catch a lob pass to score on an alley-oop dunk on the break, and he also excelled as a low post scorer and as a scorer off the dribble.   Currently, he is a tremendous prospect that will likely be the number one overall pick in the 2019 draft, and he has the skills and the talent to be a superstar in the NBA.

Virginia Tech’s 6-5 sophomore guard, Nickeil Alexander-Walker did not have a great game in his team’s loss, but he did make some solid plays at times on both ends of the floor.  He did make an impressive shot block on a pull-up, mid-range jumper to demonstrate that he may have solid defensive upside for the next level.

Alexander-Walker did an adequate job of getting scores off the dribble.  He has a good first step to the hoop, and he can quickly get past his man to garner scores around the basket.  He also ran off the ball to make a quick three off the catch.  However, he also struggled to consistently knock down jumpers, as he had trouble making mid-range shots or three-pointers throughout this game.

He also displayed fairly good playmaking skills.  Alexander-Walker is a good passer that can kick balls out to shooters to set up plenty of scores for them, and he also was able to find a cutter to notch an assist.  However, he also can be turnover prone, as he had some trouble trying to create plays off the dribble.  Sometimes, he can struggle to protect the basketball, as an opponent was able to force a tie-up to almost get him to commit a turnover once.  On another, he was called for a traveling violation when looking to score off the dribble.

He also played adequate defense.  Alexander-Walker had that impressive shot block late in the game.  However, he also committed a bad reach-in foul when rotating to help a blown teammate on a drive, as that led his team to allow a score and an extra free throw on that play.

Overall, Nickeil Alexander-Walker made some good plays against Duke, but his play was middling overall, as he struggled to knock down jump shots in this contest.  Still, he has had a very good sophomore season as he is a smart, skilled player that can make a variety of plays on the floor, and he could end up being a good pick for a team in the mid first round range on draft day.

Duke’s freshman point guard, Tre Jones had a terrific game in his team’s win over Virginia Tech.  In this contest, he did a great job of knocking down spot-up threes off the catch, as he would take advantage whenever opponents would give him ample room to shoot the basketball.  He also was able to score on pull-up, mid-range jumpers, and he also showed a decent ability to get scores off the dribble when looking to score inside the arc.  Jones also threw solid passes off the dribble, and he can throw nice lob passes to set up scores for his teammates on the break.

He also played adequate defense.  He can intercept and deflect passes to make things difficult on his opponents.  However, there was one play where he got beat off the dribble, which led his team to allow a pass that set up an inside score.  On a separate play, he was called for a foul when holding an opponent that was moving off the ball.  Overall, Tre Jones played very well, as he really excelled as a shooter and facilitator to help get his team the victory, and he also defended fairly well.  If he can continue to shoot well from beyond the arc, he could move his way up draft boards, and he could be a solid value pick for an NBA team in the mid first round range of the upcoming draft.

Other Notes:

Virginia Tech’s junior center, Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a good game in his team’s loss to Duke.  He did a good job of scoring in the post as well as off the dribble, and he has good footwork, strength, and shooting touch to get numerous scores in the paint.  He handles the ball fairly well for a player his size, and he can ably create his own shot.  He also would tend to draw free throws off of put backs.  But sometimes, Blackshear would try to force the issue too much, which would lead him to get his shots blocked.  He also was unable to make any of the threes he attempted from beyond the arc.  He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Blackshear generally threw solid passes from the post, and he also can throw accurate outlet passes to set up scores for his teammates.  But sometimes, he would throw inaccurate passes that would sail out of bounds, and he also was called for a 5-second violation for holding the ball too long in the high post another time.

Blackshear did a great job of rebounding the basketball, and he would frequently leap up to haul in offensive boards to help his team on the glass.  He also played adequate defense.  He was able to block a shot in the post, and he also poked a ball away to get a steal.  But sometimes, he would be prone to committing fouls in the paint, and he also sometimes would be out of position when defending in the post.

In summary, Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a solid showing in this game, and he is a mobile big man that can score and rebound the basketball.  Strangely, he has not drawn much draft buzz, but he is a skilled big man that has a variety of skills that could prove to be useful at the next level.  With his ability to produce on the floor, Blackshear is a talented player that could end up being a second round pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA draft.

Virginia Tech’s senior swingman, Ahmed Hill had an adequate showing in his team’s loss to Duke.  He excelled at scoring off of spot-up three point-shots, as he was able to run off of a screen to make one, he also made a corner three in transition, and he also made another spot-up three off the catch.  He also did a very good job of running the floor score in transition, and he was able to catch a lob pass to score on a high-flying, alley-oop dunk.  Hill also scored on a reverse layup off of a cut, but he struggled to score on half-court drives to the hoop. 

Hill also did an adequate job of rebounding the basketball.  However, he did not defend too well in this game.  He tended to commit reach-in fouls when defending opponents off the dribble, and he also ended up being late on a rotation, which led the other team to score on an open three-pointer.  Overall, Ahmed Hill had a solid performance in this game, and he is an athletic swingman that could project to be a 3 and D type of role player in the NBA. 

Virginia Tech’s senior point guard, Justin Robinson played fairly well in his team’s loss to Duke.  He excelled at knocking down spot-up threes, and he also showed an adequate ability to score on quick drives to the hoop.  However, sometimes he would get his shots blocked when looking to score off the dribble, as he can struggle to score against length in traffic.  He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  He generally threw solid passes off the dribble, but he also was careless on some of his passes, as he had several of them get picked off by defenders.  He also may have been fairly average on defense.  He was able to draw a charge off of a drive, but he also tended to cheat too much off his man, which would lead him to allow opponents to score on three-point shots.  Overall, Robinson is a smart, skilled point guard that can effectively run the team, and he could end up making an NBA team’s summer league roster.

Duke’s 6-11 junior center Marques Bolden didn’t really stand out overall, but he was able to make some plays against Virginia Tech.  He played good defense in this game, as he was able to block shots off of drives, and he also intercepted a pass to get a steal.  However, he also tended to be foul prone, as he would commit fouls on drives due to over-aggressiveness.  While he did not take many shots, he was able to score on a step-through move in the post, and he also can draw fouls on strong moves to the basket.  Overall, he was able to make some good plays in this game, and Bolden could be a potential second round pick for the upcoming draft.

Other Notes, Part II:

I didn’t see much of the Houston-Kentucky game, as I was busy watching Duke play against Virginia Tech in the other matchup.  I did catch the tail end of this contest.  The main takeaways from Kentucky’s win was that P.J. Washington was dominant as he provided strong low post scoring skills to help his team get the victory, and Tyler Herro made clutch shots down the stretch, and he was able to knock down a big three to helped his team clinch the win.

For Houston, 6-3 junior guard Armoni Brooks did a very good job of knocking down threes to help his team score on offense, and he has a lot of range on his shot.  6-1 senior guard, Corey Davis Jr. did not have a great game as he struggled to make threes or to consistently score off the dribble, but he is a quick guard that can quickly get his way to the hoop.