Meet Scottie Barnes, the Toronto Raptors’ rising star
By Jed Mabazza, Contributor
After tanking last season, the Toronto Raptors could be right back in the mix with rookie Scottie Barnes leading the charge back to playoff glory.
The Raptors selected Barnes fourth overall in this summer’s NBA Draft out of Florida State University. The selection of Barnes was the first surprise on draft night as many pundits predicted Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs being taken with the pick. The move left many Raptors fans scratching their heads as Suggs seemed to be the better choice, at least at the time.
Based on the first 14 games of his rookie campaign, it’s looking like the Raptors made the right decision. From what I have seen, Barnes is everything the Raptors could wish for because he is an entertaining, high-motor, versatile, uber-competitive and win-oriented rookie. As of Nov. 17, Barnes is favored to take home the Rookie of the Year award as per Kia’s Rookie Ladder.
At the time that the Ladder was posted, Barnes averaged 15.8 points per-game, 7.4 rebounds per-game, and 3.5 assists per-game. He leads all rookies in scoring and rebounds per game. To date, Barnes has scored in double figures in all but one game, all of which as a starter. To no surprise, a statistic tweeted by Sportsnet says “Raptors Scottie Barnes is 1 of 2 players since 1985-86 with 170+ points and 85+ rebounds while shooting 50% or better in first 10 career games.” The only other player to do so was Shaquille O’Neal, placing Barnes in elite company.
Numbers aside, what else makes Scottie Barnes the best rookie in his draft class?
A large part of Barnes’ success is his advanced feel for the game. He consistently displays incredible decision-making on defence, playmaking, and scoring, which is rare for a rookie. Even more impressive is when it comes to his confidence and poise. Barnes plays as if he’s a seasoned veteran. Don’t believe me? Well after playing against the Raptors on Nov. 7, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant said this of Barnes during a post game interview:
“He makes winning basketball plays. A lot of young guys in the league have that fire, but he has something a little extra in terms of seeing the game a little slower. That’s rare for a guy — how old is he? Nineteen, 20? Sheesh. He knows how to play the game the right way, and he’s only going to get better.”
It’s clear that Barnes is exceeding expectations, and here’s how he’s doing it:
Heading into the draft, Barnes’ most notable skill was on the defensive end. At six-foot-nine with a seven-foot-three wingspan and large mitts, Barnes is a disruptive and agile defender who can defend multiple positions.
Already, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has entrusted Barnes with the task of guarding some of the NBA’s best players including Bradley Beal (point guard), James Harden (shooting guard), Jayson Tatum (small forward), Kevin Durant (power forward) and Kristaps Porzingis (centre). Whether it’s stealing the ball, blocking shots, clogging up passing and driving lanes, or contesting shots, Barnes can do it all with a measure of success.
Barnes is a pass-first player with natural playmaking talent. Even though Barnes only averages three assists per game, he has demonstrated, from what I have seen, the ability to make the right reads and often pass to the open man who is either ready to put up a three or cut to the basket.
What’s more impressive is that he possesses point guard level playmaking in a power forward’s body. Fred VanVleet is Toronto’s starting point guard and leader, but when he needs to take a breather, Barnes takes over by directing traffic and dishing out flashy no-look dimes to his teammates. This is another aspect that Barnes does right, making his teammates look good.
Barnes positively contributes to the team’s offence, which is a pleasant surprise for the Raptors considering his biggest weakness after getting drafted was his lack of shot-making abilities. But it seems as though coach Nurse has found ways for Barnes to take advantage of scoring from his most comfortable spots on the floor, either at the rim or the mid-range.
To date, nearly 93 per cent of his shots are being made from the areas he is most confident in. What’s more, an impressive 66 per cent of Barnes’ scores are unassisted two pointers, by far the most of any rookie in his class. This shows that Barnes is more than capable of creating his own shot and is well ahead of schedule to becoming a high-scoring machine.
Barnes will become the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year, granted he maintains this upwards trend in all playing categories. Further, he’s in a better position physically and talent-wise than two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounpo (a player the Raptors had considerable interest in signing before he signed a maximum extension with the Milkwaukee Bucks) when he was a rookie. The mere idea that Barnes could potentially be better than Antetokounmpo after a few years should have Raptors fans excited.
Barnes has shown great improvement in his shooting mechanics as seen in his mid range shots, most of which are swishes. So, if he can develop a consistent jump shot, especially from behind the three-point line, I think Barnes will be a deadly force on offense. The ceiling is as high as Barnes wants it to be, and Raptors fans are in for a treat as the Barnes era takes over.