Cavs Tank Watch: Duke’s freshmen trio is dominant, must-watch TV

Getty Images

Throughout the rest of the NBA season, WFNY will do a column every other week or so featuring some of the best talents in college basketball. It’s not that the Cleveland Cavaliers are tanking (at least not yet), but at this point, it’s clear that they will have one of the top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft unless something drastic changes. Throughout each Tank Watch, we will focus on either a specific draft prospect or multiple prospects if they so happen to be on the same college team.

In case you’ve been off the grid through the first week of the college basketball season, the Duke Blue Devils are not only must-watch television but absolutely dominant as well, all thanks to three true freshmen. The hype going into the season was at an extreme high, yet somehow, they’ve already out-performed it, proving that the hype is in fact real.

Against then-No. 2 ranked Kentucky, Duke made it look easy, beating the Wildcats on the opening night of the college basketball season eight days ago, 118-84. The three freshmen had plenty of expectations going into the season and proved that they really are that good, even if it was just one game. The highly-touted trio somehow exceeded those sky-high expectations while combining to score 83 points, almost outscoring Kentucky by themselves.

The trio also dominated Army in their second game of the season, combining to score 75 points, but it was their performance against Kentucky that caught the eyes of everyone in college basketball. Some analysts are already saying that they are the best group of freshmen teammates in college basketball history.

The top-three players in the 2018 recruiting class, Duke’s Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish are also expected to be three of the top picks in April’s NBA Draft as well.

Zion Williamson

The kid is an absolute freak of nature. Known for his highlight videos and dunking ability throughout his time in high school, he somehow exceeded those expectations even in his first college game. Whether it’s his insane vertical, highlight-reel dunks, or the fact that he is 6-foot-6, 285 pounds and can outjump anyone, Williamson sure is something else. He possesses extreme physicality, a unique build for a basketball player, and a degree of athleticism rarely seen prior to the NBA since a guy by the name of LeBron James.

With his athletic ability paired with his ability to jump out of the gym and his size, Williamson is hard to stop on offense. If he can develop a consistent shot, especially from long distance, he will be even more unstoppable. Defensively, he has the strength and size to guard the post and quickness to even guard players on the perimeter. Against Kentucky, he showcased his improved shot, court vision, and ability to dunk the ball from wherever, whenever.

Through two games, the forward is averaging 27.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.5 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game while shooting an insane 81.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc in 27.5 minutes a game. Granted, many of those are in the paint and dunks, but his efficiency through the first week of the season is unheard of for a forward, especially when averaging numbers like that.

Whether it’s defense, offense, out-jumping someone, or being unstoppable in the open court, Williamson truly can do anything.

RJ Barrett

Williamson may garner all the headlines and highlights much of the time simply because of his size and dunking ability, but Barrett shouldn’t go unnoticed. He won’t actually. In fact, some believe that he could be picked before Williamson, who as of right now, are expected to be the top two picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Ranked as the top freshman in the 2018 class, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound shooting guard has the athleticism, jumping ability, and ball control to compete with the best shooting guards in the country. Whether it’s his ability to create for himself or dish it to an open teammate, Barrett showcased his skills against Kentucky, when he and his teammates made it look easy against one of the top teams in the country.

Whether it’s his ability to get to the rim, shoot from the outside, quick first step, change speed or direction, and finish in traffic, he can do it all offensively. His most glaring flaw right now seems to be his inconsistent, flat shot and the fact that he is a very poor free throw shooter for a guard. If he can improve those, watch out.

Through two games, Barrett is averaging 28 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range in 32.5 minutes a night.

Cam Reddish

Seemingly the third wheel of the trio, that shouldn’t take away from how good Reddish is. Much like his other two true freshmen teammates, the 6-foot-8, 218-pound forward has showcased his talent early on in the season, especially against Kentucky.

The two-way wing has the size, length, and athletic ability to compete with NBA wings. Whether it’s his quickness, fluidness, ability to bring the ball up at times, passing ability, creating his own shot, or just being a creator, the lengthy forward has all the tools to be special. Add in his 7-foot-1 wingspan and 8-foot-9 standing reach and that just adds more to his resume.

In order to improve, he seems to have to learn to not settle for outside shots as much, but he will learn that as the season goes on at Duke. He also must improve his shot, just like Williamson and Barrett.

He is averaging 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 3.0 steals per game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from long distance in 27.5 minutes a game.

Following their dominant win over Kentucky, some proclaimed that Duke could beat the Cavs. While far-fetched, given that that’s truly incorrect and the wine and gold would be a double-digit favorite over the Blue Devils, it’s the true freshmen trio that made some people even think about that being true. They really are that good and have already proven so during the first week of the college basketball season.

Whether it’s because you’re a basketball fan, Duke fan, Cavs fan, or something else, I’d suggest tuning into at least one Blue Devils game this season just to see how special these kids are. You won’t be disappointed.

A single school has never been responsible for the first three picks of a single NBA Draft, but Duke has the chance to do just that.1

  1. The closest may have been in 2012 when then-national champion Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went first and second, respectively. []