Sitting at 3-14, the Cleveland Cavaliers are firmly in the doldrums of a fullscale rebuild. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton has looked brilliant after joining the starting lineup and has been cementing a case for Rookie of the Year honors. But Sexton is only a part of the Cavaliers rebuild and with such a rough start to the season, fans naturally have begun looking towards collegiate basketball to see who will be wearing wine and gold next season. With the Cavaliers possessing the best odds to land the first overall pick right now, there are two freshmen playing in Durham that should command Cleveland fan’s attention.
Thanks to the talent of both R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, Duke is the presumptive favorite to win this year’s NCAA Championship and the season is less than ten games old. They are both also the presumptive favorites to be the first two picks in this year’s upcoming NBA Draft. When watching both of them play, it is easy to see why their NBA potential stands above everyone else. Barrett’s skillset is a mix of Jalen Rose and Michael Redd as a left-handed, playmaking shooter. Williamson’s game is a mixture between Charles Barkley and a freight train, with scary athletic talent and unlimited potential in today’s modern NBA. With Cleveland likely going to have to pick between both Barrett and Williamson – who exactly should they commit their future to?
With Barrett, the Cavaliers would be making the safer pick between both Duke stars. Barrett is by far the best player on an extremely talented Duke squad, with averages of 22.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Athletically, he is head and shoulders above the competition and can blow past most collegiate-level defenders with relative ease. Barrett also can use his athletic gifts to defend multiple positions as well, which is a beyond valuable commodity in today’s NBA. As mentioned before he is also an adept playmaker and has actively embraced a point-forward role in Duke’s offense. The biggest hole in Barrett’s game is that he is sometimes a streaky shooter, connecting on only 36.2% of his attempts over his last four games. Thankfully though, as Barrett continues to grow the streaky shooting should also subside.
If Barrett were drafted by Cleveland, he would fill an immediate need for the Cavaliers. Ever since LeBron James left Cleveland to join the Los Angeles Lakers, the team has had a glaring hole at small forward. Cedi Osman, J.R. Smith, David Nwaba and even Rodney Hood have all seen time at the three for Cleveland, but none have been able to fill the void left by James. Barrett still would not fill the void either, but he would give Cleveland much-needed stability at the position. Barrett’s unique skill set would also compliment Sexton nicely with both his playmaking and shooting. Drafting Barrett would also allow Cleveland to either slide Osman to shooting guard or as Barrett’s primary backup, as Osman has started to show he is more like Matthew Dellavedova then the Turkish LeBron James. Barrett’s NBA-ready skillset would make an immediate impact with the Cavaliers and should have an All-Star caliber career.
Williamson, meanwhile, would be a pick based solely on superstar potential for Cleveland. Williamson is an athletic phenomenon who has bullied whoever is defending him on a nightly basis. At a thick 6’7″ and 285 pounds of pure muscle, Williamson has taken the college basketball world by force thanks in part to his rim-shattering dunks. Even with his girth and power, Williamson also possesses guard-like agility and uses his physical gifts to make an impact all over the floor with averages of 20.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. But, even if he is built like a Greek god, Williamson does have some slight flaws in his playmaking ability and his perimeter shooting. Nevertheless, he has shown potential with both though averaging 2.2 assists per game and attempting two three-pointers early into this season. As Williamson continues to grow, his game and draft stock will rise as well. By the end of the collegiate season, Williamson may be too hard for Cleveland to pass on during the NBA Draft.
Were Williamson to call Cleveland home, it would be entirely on the Cavaliers to help him succeed. Compared to Barrett, Williamson will need a bit more time to grow accustomed to NBA life as right now his game is predicated on overpowering opponents with his athleticism. If he were to do so, Cleveland would have a once in a generational talent on their hands. Williamson has such a unique skill set and would be able to play three through five for the Cavaliers. This would allow the Cavaliers to be creative with their lineups and also a fastbreak that features Sexton, Osman and Williamson would be too much for any opposing NBA defense to handle. Williamson is already fairly polished as a prospect but is only scratching the surface on his ability. If Williamson were to reach his full potential, he could easily become a player similar to James, someone, he has drawn comparisons to already. He has MVP-like potential, and if he lands in Cleveland it falls squarely on them to help Williamson get there.
While Barrett, Williamson’s teammate, is Duke’s best player, he may not have better long-term potential. Much like Shaquille O’Neal or Ben Simmons, perhaps Williamson’s best is yet to come at the highest level in the NBA. This is why if Cleveland has to pick between both Blue Devils, they should lean towards Williamson. Barrett is the safer of the two picks and will without a doubt have a stellar NBA career, but it would be remiss of Cleveland to not select a one of a kind prospect like Williamson. His combination of athleticism and speed is unparalleled, and the more Williamson refines his game the greater he will become. The Cavaliers should firmly be on the road to Zion, and all of the bad basketball fans will suffer through this season will be worth it in the end.