With the landscape-changing news that Marvin Bagley III will reclassify to the Class of 2017 and commit to Duke, this allows RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson to have a 1-2 battle for the Class of 2018. The term I have paired with Marvin Bagley III is a generational player. Many people feel the same about RJ Barrett. It is also hard to ignore all of the jaw dropping highlight tapes floating around of Zion Williamson earning nicknames such as “baby Lebron”.
With Bagley III now in the Class of 2017 and RJ Barrett recently reclassifying from the Class of 2019 into the Class of 2018, it leaves a compelling matchup with RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson. When RJ originally reclassified he was ranked as the number two player behind Marvin Bagley III with Zion Williamson at number three. It seemed Bagley III would hold onto that spot strongly, but now I feel like the one two gap has decreased. Let’s breakdown each of their games to see if RJ should hold the number one spot for the Class of 2018.
Both players are solid defenders. Zion seems to be more of an explosive athlete which I believe will allow him to be a better man-to-man defender as time goes on. Barrett with a 6’10”-6’11” wingspan allows him to play the passing lanes allowing his teams to get out in transition. Zion tends to show more a knack for weak side blocks displaying that explosive athleticism. Even with Zion weighing 30lbs heavier at the same height of 6’7″, Zion tends to move his feet more quickly adding another reason why I believe he is the better man-to-man defender. Not saying that Barrett isn’t a good man-to-man defender because his length and athleticism himself allows him to stay in front of multiple positions.
While both have the capability to guard positions 1-3, Zion shows more of a capability to play power forwards on the defensive end when needed. Zion with his physical stature allows him to hold his position. Barrett at 200lbs isn’t a small guy and I expect him to be 215-220 by the time draft time comes around for him. With Barrett’s length and Zion’s explosiveness, I expect them to be guys averaging 1.5-2 blocks a game in their most likely one and done season in college. Both translate well on the defensive end, but personally, the defensive end is where I want young superstars to really engage in for their development. Zion’s conditioning which I have talked about before worries me on defense. We all know that defense is a want-to mentality and being in shape is a huge part of that.
Barrett and Williamson have the tools to be great defenders. I have mentioned before how strongly I feel about Zion’s defensive potential. I think it could be scary. RJ shows an alpha mentality as well that I believe he will take pride in his defensive play. Keeping an eye on their defensive development will be key in my eyes. This is where in the future either player could separate themselves when it comes to draft talk.
We all know that both players can score the ball effectively, but let’s breakdown the matchup offensively. One aspect that stands out to me immediately is that RJ is the better shooter. When I say this I mean he is the better spot up shooter and the better off the dribble shooter. Zion goes games without taking a mid-range jump shot because of how superior his athleticism is paired with a grown man’s body. This worries me because on the college and then onto the NBA, he will have to display a consistent jump shot with guys being able to match up athletically much better. RJ already seems to shoot the ball better from the mid-range and behind the three point line. With the game evolving behind the three point line this also more lanes for RJ’s teammates to work with.
Many people underestimate Zion’s IQ for the game due to how athletic he is, but he understands the game which I believe is the process of him developing into a good playmaker. However, RJ seems to be the better playmaker at the moment. RJ fits the mold of a point forward more than Zion at the moment. I do believe each hasn’t nearly reached their potential when it comes to being a playmaker, which both have the ability to do.
I love how both get to the rim. RJ is more crafty with his moves around the rim, while Zion tends to show off his explosiveness ending in more dunks at the rim. I don’t believe either win on this sub topic. It is more of a what is your flavor type of situation. Do you want someone who can flat out bully their way to the rim and finish over the top of defenders aggressively or do you like a more finesse style of game using crafty athleticism and length to finish over the to? They both finish well when contact is delivered around the rim. I also believe that RJ will close the disparity in weight when he steps on whatever campus is lucky enough to get him.
When it comes to having the better first step it’s a draw again. It is the same thing in my opinion. Do you want the explosive blow by or the elongated first step that many defenders can’t make up on? This will be another aspect to see who develops more in as time goes on. Zion wins when it comes to the post game comparison. This shouldn’t be surprising since he doesn’t rely on his jump shot too heavily. RJ is more effective pulling up from mid-range where he seems comfortable doing so off the dribble.
While both are supreme players, RJ, in my opinion, deserves to be the number one prospect for the Class of 2018. RJ seems to have more of an effect on his teammates when it comes to winning games. He took a 19u Canada team with no other NBA prospects to a gold medal in a win against Team USA. This was the first gold medal for Canada in basketball! This has to show you the kid is special. In the gold medal game against guys like Cam Reddish and Immanuel Quickly, RJ had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. Numbers like these are tough to put up in international play.
While the gap isn’t far between the players this effect that RJ has won me over for him being the top player in the Class of 2018. Zion seemed to disappear during stretches of games this summer which a player of his dominance should be affecting the game in some form or another. RJ seems to come out the gate aggressive which I enjoy seeing while keeping his teammates involved. It will be fun to see the impressive numbers each put up in their up coming senior seasons. We at Basketball Society will keep a look at this competitive matchup as the Class of 2018 rankings continue to unfold.