Cavaliers: NCAA Tournament will help separate R.J. Barrett and Ja Morant

Duke's R.J. Barrett (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Duke's R.J. Barrett (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a weird season, to say the least. Despite the third-worst record in the NBA, the Cavaliers have learned quite a lot about themselves. Now they wait a few months to add their next cornerstone piece.

As the Cleveland Cavaliers finish out the remainder of their 2018-19 regular season, the organization has some things to be happy about. Regardless of the lack of wins, Cleveland has developed players like Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman quite nicely this season.

That, along with Kevin Love‘s return to full health, are things to be thrilled for. It gave the Wine and Gold the chance to progress their rebuild while also losing games, which is integral for a high lottery pick.

The next step of the rebuild is obviously the 2019 NBA Draft. Due to that, the next few weeks are going to be pretty important to pay attention to.

The 2019 NCAA Tournament is currently in the second round of matchups. Besides the overall excitement of good basketball, it’s known for separating top talents from each other when it comes to draft positioning.

It could do such once again, this time with Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Murray State’s Ja Morant.

Now, most people have Duke’s Zion Williamson as the best player in the country. I, however, do not. That makes this battle between Morant and Barrett a clash for the best prospect in this upcoming draft class.

Nobody expected this when the season began, this particular discussion.

This certainly isn’t an argument of who’s going first overall this June. We all know how infatuated NBA teams are with Williamson. No matter how he pans out in the NBA, he’s going to be a top attraction because of the intrigue around him.

At least for a year or so.

When Barrett arrived at Duke, he was the top-rated prospect in the ESPN Top 100 fresh out of Montverde. The Canadian with a knack for scoring the ball and playing stout defense was coming for a one-year “visit” of the Blue Devils, looking to head to the NBA-level immediately after.

More from Cavs Analysis

He definitely hasn’t disappointed even while Williamson has stolen the television time with his flashy dunks.

Friday night, Barrett silenced his critics with a 26-point, 14-rebound game on 9-for-18 shooting. After a shaky first half, the top-seeded Blue Devils beat down North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Morant has done it all for the Racers. He willed them into the NCAA Tournament by running through his conference tournament, stopping another tourney team in Belmont to clinch their spot in March. He’s averaged close to a triple-double this entire campaign. Heck, he’s had two triple-doubles this season.

The most recent one? His team’s first-round upset of Marquette on Thursday. Morant had 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 16 assists while shooting only nine shots. It was a truly incredible performance, a calculated showing.

Nobody knows how long either guy will be in the tournament. However, the duration of this tournament could separate Barrett and Morant when it comes to who should be drafted first.

Brandon Knight is a calming veteran presence. dark. Next

One assumes Duke’s star power and coaching prowess of Mike Krzyzewski will guide them deep into the bracket. That’s not as certain with Murray State, as the twelfth-seeded Racers are following their star’s lead.

But in an interesting twist, making it to the end this season doesn’t just guarantee hoisting a championship trophy for Barrett or Morant. It may be the difference in how your NBA career starts.