The NBA Summer League kicks off in Las Vegas tonight with Zion Williamson and R.J Barrett going head to head.
Zion Versus R.J to Get Things Started
Three months ago they were trying to lead the Duke Blue Devils to a national championship. Tonight close friends Zion Williamson and R.J Barrett will make their pro debuts against each other in the Vegas Summer League. This is a highly anticipated matchup considering the hype surrounding these two players. Everyone wants to know how Zion will look against NBA competition although the reality is, not many of these players will make the final rosters come opening day. What fans get to see in summer league is how college prospects adjust to the physicality of the NBA game. Of course this isn’t the same level of competition they will face once the season starts, but it is a good litmus test for what they need to work on in the pre-season.
While Zion will receive most of the attention, it will be interesting to see how R.J Barrett responds. Before they played their first game together at Duke, R.J was the projected number 1 pick, not Zion. Of course that all changed once the world saw what Zion could do. There are still some who believe however that R.J is capable of having a better rookie season than his former Duke teammate.
After the disappointing off season the Knicks had, they need R.J to live up to expectations. That doesn’t mean he needs to outplay Zion but it does mean he will have to show the potential that had everyone thinking he was the best player in the draft less than twelve months ago. In Canada’s semi final win over Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Egypt in 2017, R.J Barrett was unstoppable putting up 38 points on a USA team that featured several players already in college and two that played in the NBA last season. At the time he was 1 month removed from his 17th birthday making him one of the youngest players in the tournament.
That display led most to believe he was the best player in his class. He has all of the tools to win rookie of the year although that won’t be easy considering Zion will be playing on a much better team with a realistic chance of fighting for the playoffs if everything goes right. The New York Knicks on the other hand will be in the lottery again next season.
As for Zion Williamson, you shouldn’t expect him to play heavy minutes tonight. They will let him get out there and get a good sweat going but there are injury concerns considering what happened to him at Duke with the blown out shoe fiasco. What we need to pay attention to with Zion is what position will he play and how will teams defend him. Should be a fascinating game to watch.
When Will the Other Top Picks Be Playing?
Unfortunately, due to varying circumstances, none of the other top 5 picks will be playing in the Vegas Summer League. Second overall pick Ja Morant had minor knee surgery and is being kept out for precautionary reasons. De’Andre Hunter’s trade to the Atlanta Hawks isn’t official yet so technically he is still a Laker until that goes through. Meanwhile Darius Garland put pen to paper and signed a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that will see him earn approximately $16.8 million over his first three seasons with a fourth year option team option worth $7.43 million. The bad news for Cleveland Cavaliers fans is that he will not take part in summer league most likely because of the season ending injury he suffered at Vanderbilt although he has made a full recovery according to reports and will be ready for pre-season action.