Duke Basketball: R.J. Barrett’s growth is noticeable from start of season

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Duke Basketball freshman R.J. Barrett received much criticism in the beginning of the year, but fans can see his maturation only through the first two months of the season.

There’s no denying it, R.J. Barrett was the subject of much criticism for trying to take over games or even playing ‘hero ball’, especially in the loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Championship of the Maui Invitational.

Since that game, Barrett still constantly hunts his shot — which is a good thing since he is arguably the best player on this Blue Devil team — but he looks for his shot in a much more controlled way.

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The best example of how R.J. Barrett has begun to mature throughout this season is in the win over Texas Tech on Thursday night.

Barrett struggled mightily in the first half — much like the rest of the Blue Devils — but after two free throws by Jarrett Culver to cut the Duke lead to 60-57, Barrett got the ball at the top of the arc, drove down the lane and instead of forcing a shot up where he was doubled team, he dished it out to a wide open Cam Reddish for a 3-pointer, which extended the Duke lead to 63-57.

The very next possession, the Blue Devils ran the same play. However, since Barrett passed to the corner on the previous possession, Texas Tech had to put a body on Reddish and Barrett was able to get a one on one matchup in the paint, which many players aren’t going to stop.

The layup all but sealed the victory as Duke went up 65-57 with just under 2:30 left in the game.

Had this been earlier in the season, Barrett most likely would have forced up that first shot as he was doubled team, which could have lead to a run out for Texas Tech as they could have tied the game with a 3-pointer.

Despite losing to Gonzaga where Barrett tried to do a little too much down the stretch, the star freshman has clearly learned from that experience and it has turned him into a better overall basketball player, which is great news for the Blue Devils.

R.J. Barrett, along side teammate Zion Williamson, were named to the Oscar Robertson Award Watch List as they will try and continue to lead this No. 2 Duke Blue Devil team into ACC play starting on January 5.