A highly scrutinized teenager’s viral quote this week has drawn mockery from merciless NBA followers and triggered a gut-wrenching hypothetical among some Duke basketball faithful.
Last season, you may have heard “lefty” shooting guard RJ Barrett mention his natural right-handedness during interviews. You may have also read what the former Duke basketball one-and-done and current New York Knicks rookie told Marc Berman of the New York Post on Wednesday:
“I’m right-handed with everything. My mom was a lefty. I do a lot of things with both hands. I’ve been told I have a better shooting form with my right, but I’m more comfortable with the left. I started as a kid shooting [with] two hands and gravitated to the left.”
A few of you may have even gravitated to the not-so-kind Twitter reaction that came from the Big Apple, the Bull City, and wherever else disappointed fans of the Knicks or Blue Devils sat in confusion from Barrett’s repeated admission (in light of his present and past southpaw shooting percentages, which we’ll get to in a minute, his comments attracted countless snickers).
Well, if you’re a sensitive-to-pain Duke basketball junkie like myself — no matter if you’ve already thought this yourself — then you might want to shield your eyes from this hindsight conjecture: a right-handed Barrett surely would have given Mike Krzyzewski his 13th Final Four appearance and possibly would have delivered the sixth set of April nets to Durham.
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OK, I recognize certain parts of this flashback may be excruciating. But I feel as if dumping just enough salt on the wound might somehow help some of us take another step toward moving on. Besides, even without Barrett’s recent utterance, the less and less the ongoing Duke basketball season appears on track to end under falling confetti, the more and more all the lingering what-ifs from last season ooze back to the surface.
So in hopes of minimizing future scarring, let’s quickly rip off the bandaid to take a look at the numbers.
At this time last year, months after arriving at Duke as the No. 1 prospect on the 247Sports 2018 Composite, Barrett was certainly far from a bust, as he was on his way to setting the program’s new freshman record with 860 points and finishing behind only the 964 points from a senior JJ Redick (2005-06) for most in a season by a Blue Devil.
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However, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound Canadian required 59 more field goal attempts than Redick to reach his total. In fact, outside of the 713 attempts by Dick Groat during his 1950-51 junior campaign, no other Duke basketball player in history has shot the ball more times in a season than Barrett (702).
The eventual No. 3 overall pick at the 2019 NBA Draft knocked down only 30.8 percent of his 3-point attempts as a collegian while arguably damaging Duke’s potency by launching 6.2 per game (2.5 more than the most frequent long-range shooter for Coach K this season, freshman forward Matthew Hurt, who has hit 40.4 percent).
Overall from the field, Barrett finished his Duke basketball days at 45.4 percent, thanks in large part to his ambidextrous highlights in the lane. In other words, the occasional use of his right hand to cap off drives seemed to have helped keep that mark respectable.
Unfortunately, though, in addition to all his outside attempts, Barrett flung all his free throws (5.9 per game) from his left hand, resulting in a subpar-for-his-position 66.5 percent success rate at the charity stripe. And as we all know, said hand bricked a foul shot with 5.2 seconds to play against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, thereby extinguishing the title dreams of Zion Williamson & Co.
Speaking of Williamson, as I am evidently a glutton for this type of agony, I feel like I must also pour this on: across the final 90 seconds of the 2018-19 Duke basketball team’s five single-digit losses, Barrett went a combined 1-for-13 from the field while Zion, who equaled his buddy’s season scoring average at 22.6 but made a remarkable 68.0 percent of his shot attempts, went 0-for-1.
Moreover, the one time the Blue Devils did allow the eventual national player of the year and No. 1 draft pick to take a decisive final shot, he wound up providing an oh-so-sweet game-winner in the ACC Tournament over North Carolina.
Now, transitioning to Barrett’s stats with the Knicks, the 19-year-old Rising Star is averaging a promising 13.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 0.9 steals. On the other hand, he is shooting a dreary 30.7 percent from beyond the arc, 38.9 percent from the field, and 60.4 percent from the foul line. As harsh as it is to say, it seems hard to believe his right hand could be any less accurate than that, especially when it comes to freebies.
Oops, I almost forgot to mention that New York, at 17-42 and in the midst of a six-game losing streak, is now only half a game above the last-place Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Barrett’s grace period as a newbie is beginning to wear off in the eyes of his new impatient fanbase (a disgruntled bunch, to say the least, due to a slew of laughable front-office decisions that have led to the Knicks missing the playoffs almost 75 percent of the time this millennium).
To no surprise, grumbles about Barrett’s stroke began to pick up weeks ago and are now turning into moans, groans, and bellyaches because of the “right hand” remarks that he may now be regretting (though he needs to grow all the thick skin he can if he intends to stay with the franchise long).
Alright, let’s wrap this up, for RJ Barrett is no doubt a friendly fella, an uber-athletic specimen, an underappreciated all-around talent, and a distinguished member of #TheBrotherhood.
Apologies to those of you Dukies who understandably did not want to read this today, but writing it proved cathartic. Plus, look at the bright side: it doesn’t appear from his words as if Barrett will ever switch to his right hand on jumpers, so we’ll likely never have to know for sure if he would have actually been any deadlier from deep — or from the foul line against the Spartans — meaning we should never have to revisit this torturous Duke basketball what-could-have-been ever again.
Of course, considering how randomly the memory still pops back up to sting this Duke basketball fanatic, I can’t make any promises. At this point, if being truly honest about my feelings, the still-fresh 2019 wound may require a decade or more — or Duke’s sixth natty, whichever comes first — just to properly scab.