The top-ranked prospect in the 2019 high school class according to ESPN, RJ Barrett did not disappoint in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships. The just-turned 16-year-old averaged 28.6 points per 40 minutes and led Canada to a fifth-place finish, behind a 6-1 record that featured five blowouts.
As he enters only his sophomore year at Montverde Academy, Barrett is now already on the radar as the next big phenom out of Canada – suddenly the globe’s hottest producer of basketball talent outside the United States.
Barrett operated mostly as a second side threat, creating his offense against a bent defense out of ball reversals or attacking closeouts. A pet play Canada liked to run featured him running from the weak-side to the top of the key, catching the ball around a pindown screen and taking it to the lane on a straight line drive.
Getting the ball within the flow of the offense, Barrett rarely hesitated and either made the extra pass around the horn or put the ball on the floor quickly off the catch, showcasing an explosive first step that got him around his defender consistently. He also flashed some instinctive cutting, not just simple backdoor but diagonal as his big man posted up as well.
At the rim, he proved himself able to adjust his body in the air and finish around length or through contact, aside from showcasing impressive explosiveness elevating out of one foot and two feet on a couple of occasions.
His touch on non-dunk finishes is only OK at this point of his development – smooth-looking at times and completely missing the rim at others – but Barrett, nonetheless, converted 54% of his 63 two-point shots in the tournament, according to FIBA.com, proving able to finish with either hand.
His top skill, as of now, though, is seeking contact on dribble drives and earning trips to the foul line. Montverde listed him at 185 pounds last season but Barrett appears to have improved his frame over the summer. Looking bigger than most of his opponents, despite the fact he is a year younger than the cutoff age for this event, Barrett was a wrecking ball who earned 14.8 free throws per 40 minutes, though he converted those at only a 59.7% clip.
That foul shooting percentage is a head-scratcher because Barrett looked like a more capable set shooter on live-ball outside shots. Taking those mostly as a standstill spot-up threat, and not at all as a gunner who can be moved around the floor, set his feet quickly and let it fly in a split-second, he hit seven of his 20 three-point shots.
Barrett looks like almost a set shooter, getting very little elevation off the ground, and he struggled some when opponents rushed his release. But he can catch and rise up on one smooth motion and his mechanics look like they only need to be polished, rather than reworked, which is a great starting point.
SHOT CREATION AGAINST A SET DEFENSE
When Barrett couldn’t attack off a catch-and-go or a live dribble, he isolated against his man and the results were mixed.
Barrett is left hand dominant but proved able to drive to his right as well. Aside from being able to just blow by guys at that level with his explosiveness on a straight line, he also flashed a hesitation move and a crossover to go side-to-side as assets to get around his defender and has strength to maintain his balance through contact.
But Barrett’s handle is still pretty loose at this point of his development, as he’s prone to lose possession when the opponent can contain his momentum – averaging 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes in Zaragoza.
Barrett proved himself not only a willing passer on the move but also flashed some advanced crosscourt passing across his body off the bounce on a few occasions. He’s not a legit shot creator for others who can run offense consistently yet, though, as his work in high pick-and-roll wasn’t particularly polished.
Barrett can go downhill operating from the middle of the floor but didn’t show much in terms of playing with pace, making a pocket pass or keeping his dribble alive and going away from the defense packing the lane.
He is capable of making a pull-up three-pointer when he gets to slow-dribble into his shot but stopping on a dime to rise up from mid-range and a teardrop floater are skills he has not developed yet.
Barrett is a sick athlete who is physically imposing for someone his age and can move around extremely easily. A player with his size and tools should be at least an average defender, but in the two competitive games Canada played in this tournament, his defense was unimpressive.
Barrett doesn’t use his strength to contain dribble penetration through contact but when he is engaged, he can keep pace laterally with anyone who tries to drive at him and contest his shot at the rim with his length. Yet too many times Australians and Turks got by him out on an island.
Barrett is also too easily manipulated in the pick-and-roll. He gets on a stance and looks to be putting in the effort but struggles navigating through ball-screens, crashing into the big man and erasing himself out of the play.
His weak-side defense was subpar as well. Barrett face-guards his man in order to try avoiding getting backdoor cut but still lost track of him from time-to-time. He closes out off balance often, giving up a clear path to the middle of the lane for the opponent to attack him off the bounce.
Barrett proved himself attentive to his help responsibilities rotating inside to take up space but despite his athletic prowess, his contributions through blocks and steals were marginal in this event, though he did pitch in with 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara