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Joe Boozell | | March 29, 2019

Zion Williamson vs. R.J. Barrett : Who's the more impactful Duke basketball freshman?

Williamson and Barrett get real in Katz interview

Despite the fact that Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett are teammates, they'll be compared to each other now until the NBA Draft.

They have different styles. But let's try to answer a simple question that will lead us down more complicated paths: who's been more impactful?

Let's break it down by examining several key categories.

*Editor's note: This story was originally published Nov. 24. We've updated it with the latest stats.


Here's a side-by-side comparison of Barrett and Williamson's stats this season:

Barrett vs. Williamson
Barrett 22.7 7.4 4.0 0.4 0.9 44.8 33.5
Williamson 22.4 9.2 2.3 1.9 2.3 68.3 29.2

Williamson has the edge in most categories, and the vast differences help illustrate how different their skill sets are. Williamson scores far more efficiently, but he's also not creating as much offense for himself or teammates. He's a more impactful defensive player and rebounder. Barrett, meanwhile, shoots a lot (probably the biggest knock on him so far) but also generates open looks for his teammates.

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While efficiency is all the rage these days, it takes talented shot creators to help off-ball players achieve said efficiency. Williamson has been better statistically so far; there's no denying it. But that factor shouldn't be overlooked.

Edge: Williamson

Team stats

Perhaps the most telling metric between these two: Here's how Duke has fared with these guys on and off the floor. Stats are via SportsReference.

Barrett vs. Williamson team
Player Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Barrett 113.4 92.8 20.6
Williamson 135.2 83.1 52.1

The biggest point Williamson has going for him. Duke struggles mightily on both sides of the floor when he's out of the game. Barrett helps Duke when he's playing, but the Blue Devils generally fare just fine without him.

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An important disclaimer: it's important not to read too much into on/off-court splits. They take several games to regulate. With that said, the difference here is massive, and it has to be taken into account to some extent. A possible explanation behind these numbers: Tre Jones is an awesome point guard who can run the team, while Cam Reddish is a similarly-sized wing to Barrett who can replicate a lot of his skills.

There's no one like Williamson. On Duke, or in college basketball. He's a defensive monster who also scares defenses. Jack White has been solid thus far, but it's a clear downgrade when he replaces Williamson. The gaps will narrow as the year goes on, but keep an eye on these splits.

Edge: Williamson


Probably the toughest category to evaluate between these two. It's all about what metric you consider most important. Barrett's raw scoring average is better, but Williamson is far more efficient.

Will RJ Barrett be one of Duke's next stars?

The worst thing about Barrett thus far has been his shot selection, but that's fixable. He can score from all three levels; Barrett can get to the rim as well as anyone and knows how to finish once he's there. He's becoming more and more confident with his pull-up 3 and is a nifty ball-handler for his 6-7 frame.

Barrett needs to eliminate most of the pull-up, midrange jumpers from his arsenal. It's the worst shot in basketball, and he takes a lot of them. Besides that, Barrett has a ton going for him in this department, and he's been really good lately.

Williamson hardly misses, and that's a testament to him. The only shot that's better than an open 3-pointer is a dunk, and Williamson certainly knows how to do that. He's an impressive straight-line driver, with more wiggle than most anticipate. He's an excellent offensive rebounder, which is another efficient source of offense.

MORE: Zion Williamson dunk tracker: Watch all his top dunks of the season

It just depends on your preference. As a Duke fan, you'd rather have a possession ending in a Williamson shot than a Barrett shot. But Barrett's creativity also helps Williamson and the rest of his teammates; Williamson can drive and kick a bit, too, but it's not really his game.

Barrett gets a slight nod here because of his offensive versatility. But it's really, really close.

Edge: Barrett


As previously mentioned, Barrett has an advantage here. It's in the assist totals, and Barrett is better as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll actions.

MORE: college basketball home

That said, he should probably look to playmaker more than he currently does. He falls into hero ball mode too often, as we saw against Syracuse and Gonzaga. Williamson has solid vision when attacking a closeout, but he's not really a point forward like Barrett. He's also turnover prone.

Edge: Barrett


The dunks are dazzling, but this is the part of Willliamson's game that doesn't get enough credit. He just wrecks people on the defensive end, as you'll see in this six-block performance against Army:

He can get a bit foul-happy, but Williamson is a stud in just about every facet of defense. His feel is underrated, and we know all about the physical attributes. Williamson is an outstanding rim protector who's also more than capable of switching out onto ball-handlers.

We talk a lot about multi-positional defenders. Some guys can hang with positions one through five. Williamson doesn't just hang with them; he disrupts them.

Some irony here: Barrett falls in the former category, which means he's a good defender. He's intuitive, has good size and is a plus athlete. But he's not scaring people like Williamson. He's a big reason why Duke's defense has been so good.

Edge: Williamson


Williamson has been better, and not just because of the highlight-reel plays. He's incredibly efficient on offense and a total terror on defense. Barrett could be a Naismith winner most years, and there's a certain value he has as a shot-creator that Williamson can't match. But he needs to drastically improve his decision making.

Williamson gets the nod.

Edge: Williamson

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