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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | January 22, 2019

College basketball film study: Duke's R.J. Barrett vs. Murray State's Ja Morant

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Duke's R.J. Barrett and Murray State's Ja Morant are two of the top players in college basketball.

Barrett may not be a true point guard like Morant, but both are offensive creators. Let's compare and contrast two of the game's best.

Stats

Here are Barrett and Morant's per-40 minute numbers:

Barrett vs. Morant
Player Points Rebounds Assists FG% 3FG%
Barrett 28.7 8.2 4.9 45.5 30.9
Morant 27.0 6.6 11.8 54.4 34.2

The scoring and rebounding numbers are similar, but Morant has a huge edge in assists and efficiency. It's worth pointing out that Barrett plays in the ACC, while Morant plays in the Ohio Valley. Barrett sees much tougher defenders on a nightly basis.

Regardless, Morant has the statistical edge.

Edge: Morant

Physical attributes

Barrett has the size advantage. The Duke freshman is listed at 6-7, 202 pounds, while Morant checks in at 6-3, 175. Barrett isn't bulky, but he's wiry; he's not going to get bullied by anyone on defense, and he's able to overpower smaller defenders and slither his way around behemoths. Barrett is a good athlete, not a great one. But he's a more functional athlete than most 6-7 guys. That's why there are so few college defenders who can stay in front of him.

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Morant is a phenomenal athlete. The Russell Westbrook comparisons may be a tad premature, but you can see why they exist. These dunks are ridiculous:

Morant can jump out of the gym. So, this is difficult to evaluate when comparing him to Barrett. Just because Morant is a better athlete doesn't mean he has more valuable physical attributes. Barrett's size allows him to guard four positions; Morant can hound point guards and most shooting guards. But, fair or unfair, height and build matter. Barrett has the body of a modern star.

He gets a slight, slight edge here. But this area is a plus for both guys.

Slight edge: Barrett

Scoring

Here's where the level of competition comes into play. The numbers are similar, but we have better context as it pertains to Barrett because of the defenders he's faced.

The concerns with Barrett are real. He shoots to much from the outside, and he's not that great of an outside shooter. Barrett is barely above 30 percent from 3-point range but heaves 6.5 of them per game. He missed 16 and 22 shots, respectively, in Duke's two losses this season.

But the guy is 6-7 with a wicked handle and plus speed. It may not sound sexy, but he can get to his spot just about any time he wants to, against any player. Jarrett Culver is one of the best defenders in the sport. Barrett just disregards him here.

Barrett is at his best when he builds up a head of steam and is looking to force contact. He's James Harden-like in his ability to draw fouls; he gets to the free-throw line 5.9 times per game. Here, Barrett goes 1-on-2 against Texas Tech in transition. Most players would pull this ball out and set up the offense.

Not Barrett. His combination of size, agility and body control is special, and he goes through two defenders for the easy lay-in:

Barrett might be the best driver in the sport, but he's a little too into his jump shot. He's flawed, but his issues are fixable. You can't teach the stuff he does.

Morant is a phenomenal scorer too, and he's actually pretty similar to Barrett in style. He physically overwhelms foes with his speed, so he gets to his spots with ease. He's an average shooter, but doesn't take as many 3s as Barrett.

Morant is outstanding with both hands, as you'll see on this nice lefty scoop finish:

There's one thing Barrett has on Morant that is hard to ignore: the ability to bully smaller defenders. Both guys will dust your average 6-6 wing. But you're toast if you try slotting a 6-3 point guard on Barrett. That guy has a chance on Morant.

With everything else so similar, that's the deciding factor here. Barrett gets a marginal edge.

Slight edge: Barrett

Playmaking

Morant's best attribute. He's almost tripling Barrett in assists, and his vision is uncanny. How many point guards would even think to make this pass?

This one is sweet, too:

Morant is assisting on 56 percent of Murray State's buckets that aren't his own, which leads the country. He's on pace to have the highest assist rate of the KenPom era. He's a truly special passer and makes everyone around him better.

Barrett can be a good passer, but this is probably the biggest weakness in his game. He knows he can usually score even with two defenders on him, so Barrett falls into hero-ball mode far too often.

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Take this play against Gonzaga, for instance. This isn't a terrible shot, but when you're a 'meh' 3-point shooter and Zion Williamson has a mismatch, it's not great. Jack White is also wide-open in the corner, but Barrett fires a pull-up 3 anyway:

Morant has a clear edge here. Barrett will whip a few passes per game that leave you wishing he'd do so more often; if anything, Morant needs to be more aggressive.

Edge: Morant

Defense

Morant is great at guarding his position. He's averaging 1.8 steals per game, and his smarts and speed on offense translate to the defensive end. But Barrett's inherent versatility is hard to ignore.

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Duke switched positions one through five against Virginia on Saturday, and Barrett held up well while carrying the offense. You probably can't run that kind of scheme with Morant in the lineup; he could stick Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, but what happens when he gets switched onto De'Andre Hunter? Barrett is solid in a normal man-to-man defensive scheme, too.

These guys are such offensive focal points that they can't expend 100 percent energy on every defensive possession. That's understandable. But Barrett has more utility, and that gives him the edge here.

Edge: Barrett

Overall

It's so, so close. Again, it's hard to compare based on the difference in competition. Morant's numbers are better, and his highlight plays have more sizzle. But that's not the discussion. If you were starting a college basketball team today, who would you choose: Morant or Barrett?

Morant is miraculous. But he has limitations, and he's not a nuclear shooter like a Steph Curry. Barrett makes routine plays look so easy that he's taken for granted, and he can do just about everything there is to do on a basketball court. You can't say that about a lot of guys.

Give us Barrett by a hair.

Slight edge: Barrett

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