When it comes to scoring, Rowan Alexander Barrett Jr. isn’t shy. In his first collegiate game, RJ dropped 33 points and 6 assists, and broke the Duke record for freshmen. The Kentucky defenders and Coach Cal were helpless against him. During his freshman season, RJ Barrett had double doubles, a bunch of 30+ scores, and averaged 35 minutes a game, more minutes than number one pick Zion Williamson.
Barrett, at 18, had a lot going for him as far as NBA projections. He already had a NBA body, a scorer’s mindset, a professional mentality, and a knack for rebounds. He absolutely despises losing. His godfather is Steve Nash- Nash bought baby RJ his first crib- and preached to RJ to think like an underdog.
RJ played with Zion and not once did you hear a complaint about RJ taking too much of the rock for himself. Both figured out how to play off one another. Duke was a RJ tutorial for everything that is going to happen to him in New York. He’ll soon discover Duke was the best year of his life.
Because what is going to him in New York is 24 hour coverage and RJ, on most nights, trying to save a bad team. His father played basketball for St. John’s before a European pro career and his mother was a sprinter and long jumper, also for St. John’s. New York is in the family blood. More athletic genes too: one of his aunts won a gold medal in the 4 X 100 relay at the World Championships in 1991. His grandparents were track athletes in Jamaica and his uncle played football. So his talent is earned on both sides of his family. But it is not talent that is the question mark for RJ.
It is the Knicks. And it is New York. The team isn’t loaded with versatility or skill and RJ will be asked to save them at every opportunity and, on some nights, he will, but on most nights he will come up just a little short, particularly as teams play him to take the three by sagging off and giving him space. He shot 30% from three in college and in the pros he’s going to have to prove he is versatile.
New York is a tough town and a lot of players (and coaches) get put through the meat grinder and are spit out. RJ has an advantage as a son of a pro player and head of Canadian basketball. He’s been around the game on the highest levels and has immersed himself in the culture and habits. New York will give him some low moments though. That happens for every rookie. But his background should have RJ rising above it with an even keeled acceptance of fans expectations.
For most of his athletic life, he has been slighted because of his privilege and it is has given him an edge to prove to the cynics he is not just the son of Rowan Barrett. He is more. It is that want-to that will put RJ in a perfect position to get up a lot of shots, drive to the rim, and make plays for himself.
Rookie of the Year is a numbers game. RJ competes 24-7 and the Knicks don’t have much else out on the court that will object to RJ putting it up 20 times a night. RJ has a midrange game and if he is as successful as most think he will be, he may be responsible for reinvigorating the lost art.
ROY is something for all rookies to shoot for but in the grand scheme of things ROY doesn’t always mean the first step to greatness. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Damian Lillard won ROY. But so did Emeka Okafor, Tyreke Evans, Michael Carter-Williams and Andre Wiggins.
What matters in the NBA is making an impact, leading a team to elite achievement, and not cheating the game. Rowan Alexander Barrett Jr. has the entire package. He has the skill, the desire, and the hunger. But will he get it done in the city?
Optimists say he will, look what he did at Duke. Pessimists have a long memory though. They know the city can crush a kid.