Canada's Best Export
As the regular season dwindles down to its final chapters, the anticipation for the NBA playoffs is all anyone can speak of at the moment. With multiple groundbreaking stories including LeBron’s soap opera in the city of angels to the growing disappointment that is, the Boston Celtics. The league this season has proven to be the most exposed and fan-involved in history. With the ability for experts to rapidly learn new information and within seconds express it to millions of people worldwide, the game has been unravelled for fans and casuals to witness together. However, the end of the regular season marks more than just the scintillating playoff basketball yet to come but also signifies the time in which the rest of the NBA begins to prepare for perhaps the most important night of the year; draft night. Although the night when the draft takes place is the most important day for the young players and their families as well as fans alike, it is the event that precedes the draft that holds all the significance. The draft lottery takes place a couple weeks after the NBA Finals have been settled. The event is televised to announce the order in which the teams will choose their prospects.
This season the NBA will hold one of its most highly anticipated draft lottery in the history of the league. Many would qualify such hype and exposure to the highly touted, 5-star recruit, who happens to be ranked not only as the greatest prospect in college basketball but the most anticipated talent since LeBron James. Zion Williamson is everything he’s perceived to be and more, however perhaps the biggest difference between James and Williamson is that coming out of high school, Zion was not the #1 recruit going into college. The talent-rich superhuman was #2, which begs the question as to who was number one. That would be his current college teammate at Duke and best friend, R.J Barrett. That’s right, a skinny shooting guard from Mississauga, Ontario, out-ranked the guy that's being compared to LeBron James. That in itself is enough to be proud of if you’re a fan of R.J Barrett, but when you examine the man whom he has become, Barrett has shown that compared to both his adversaries and compatriots, he is the most “NBA ready” basketball player in college right now. With his height listed at 6 foot 7 inches tall, and weighing approximately 200 pounds, R.J has been able to secure the body type of a classic great, NBA shooting guard. Sharing a similar body type to the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan is a good start to the overall potential of Barrett moving forward. However, the schematics of his body structure is the tip of the proverbial iceberg of incredible skills and talents this athlete possesses.
Barrett has a natural feel for the game. When you watch him on the court, you can’t help but notice his consistent contributions both offensively and defensively. He has great speed and quickness, and his athletic ability allows him to be ferocious when finishing around the rim. His underrated court vision and ability to dribble the ball could allow him to be even more applicable to the modern game with the trend of “point-forwards”. Another major component of the modern NBA is the importance of the three-point shot. Barrett is a knockdown shooter from beyond the arc, especially on catch and shoot opportunities. R.J converts 38% of his three-pointers and averages 24.2 points game on 48% shooting from the field. His ability to score from beyond the arc and be efficient while taking on a substantial load offensively proves he is built perfectly for the NBA game. In an era where skill and talent overshadow strength and physical attributes, a player like R.J Barrett would thrive under such conditions, allowing the game to approach him quite easily.
The leap from college to the NBA is a significant step forward in competition and experience that perhaps isn’t mentioned enough, however, players who resemble similar strengths as Barrett, have proved to be quite successful in the NBA beginning from their rookie years. Players such as Jayson Tatum, CJ McCollum and Kyle Kuzma have all excelled since they have been drafted, all of whom rear a similar scouting report to Barrett offensively. Truthfully, Barrett is touted to be better than all three of the athletes that I just mentioned. With the assistance of many social media hype beasts, athletes today are celebrated more than they’ve ever been. The wild jungle that is social media, can be used as a mechanism to carefully build the stock of an athlete over the years, or even overnight. However, online societies are a double-edged sword. Perhaps as quickly and meticulously one can be built, one can fall very hard on their face as well. Social media has always been perceived as a digital world, where you can connect with your friends and keep up with your favourite athletes. However now, social media is a lifestyle, one that is able to consume an athlete’s entire career if he/she steps out of line or does not live up to the illustrious “goat status” these online societies have built for the athlete. Barrett however, is placed in an interesting spot going into this years NBA Draft. He is a five-star recruit who has built a strong scouting report, his IQ and body is already estimated to be ready for NBA action and his potential made him the undisputed #1 player in North America just one year ago. For many young athletes, that type of hype would make them the most sought after rookie going into the draft. This means interviews every day, shoe deals, commercials and most importantly, the pressure of knowing an entire city depends on you to single-handedly flip the fortunes of a multi-million dollar franchise when you only went to college for one year. However, the satisfying reality for R.J Barrett is that he will enjoy the fruits of his hype and would be a great, franchise changing pick for any team. Except, he will not bear the pressure of limitless expectations set for him, by the same fans who expect every number one pick to be the goat.
The pressure that comes with being a Zion Williamson or a LeBron James can in many cases, hurt an athlete’s confidence and evidently destroy their careers. An example of this theory coming to fruition can be portrayed in the cases of Anthony Bennett, Makrelle Fultz, Kwame Brown, and to an extent, Andrew Wiggins. Not every number one pick can have both the physical and mental strength of a LeBron James, and carry any expectation put on them by media and fans. Although I'm not attempting to argue that Barrett does not possesses such mental abilities, my argument does claim that its unquestionable that regardless of the players threshold for pressure, the ability to not have that pressure, allows players to excel in a smoother fashion. This is an opportunity that does not present itself very often for young athlete’s that are perceived as the best fit for the professional level, in their draft class. Not for R.J however, he will have the luxury of passing those responsibilities to the consensus number one pick in the scope of the entire league, and that is Zion Williamson.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Barrett’s story is that once upon a time, the thought of a top recruit, let alone a potential franchise-changing superstar, could come from the cold, icy streets of Toronto. When you witness R.J play, when you see him speak to the media and interact with his friends and family, you can tell he carries the very values that bred him into the man he is today. Toronto is more than a city, it is a feeling. Barrett has shown that the pioneer’s of Canadian basketball was only the beginning of a movement that has brought young NBA talent like Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and R.J Barrett to the centre stage of the basketball universe. It is up to our youth to carry the flag of Canadian basketball into the future and continue to build teams that could seriously compete with the best in the world.
Although the beginning of that movement started with the Dallas Mavericks drafting Steve Nash from British Colombia, it will be born once again the day R.J Barrett, Canada’s greatest export, hears his name called in this year’s NBA Draft. Truthfully, nobody really knows what type of player R.J is going to become, all we as fans can do is analyze and assume. However, although I haven’t always had confidence in Canadian basketball, my commitment and confidence in Canadian athletes, will never waiver. For now, though we wait, for the young Canadian king to claim his throne on top of his draft class and assert his domination into the professional game.