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Player Preview: Scottie Barnes’ rapid development instrumental for Raptors success

With Pascal Siakam sidelined with a shoulder injury, Scottie Barnes’ game-to-game development is critical.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve come a long way from draft day.

I, like many of the Toronto Raptors faithful, was locked in on Gonzaga standout Jalen Suggs. All the tools were there. A steady, head strong, two-way lead guard. With Kyle Lowry’s imminent departure, he would fit the vacated backcourt spot like a glove.

When the Raptors selected Scottie Barnes 4th overall, the disappointment of not getting our guy arose.

That disappointment lasted all of 18 hours. Barnes had already won us over in less than a day.

It’s not difficult to root for the 20-year old Barnes. His reaction to getting drafted by Toronto brought smiles all around the war room. One thing that stood out immediately was his infectious energy. Then, an impressive summer league showing later, we were sold. Fast forward a couple of months and he’s the hero that was promised to save us from that cursed season away from home. As the saying goes, trust in Masai.

What we saw:

On and on and on…

What Barnes doesn’t lack in any situation, is energy. On the court, he’s always right in the middle of the action. If he’s not battling with bigs down low, he’s chasing guards under and over screens. If he’s not the one starting the fast break after a rebound or steal, he’s doing his best Pascal Siakam impression by sprinting down the wing.

On the bench, he talks and claps so loud you can hear him from the stands. Scottie Barnes is the Energizer Bunny in the flesh. He just keeps going and going.

However, constant energy with good decisions isn’t sustainable. Most rookies do seem to hit a wall around the 35-game mark. How he adjusts will be important. Will he start to commit silly turnovers due to exhaustion? Get into foul trouble for being, as Kevin Garnett would put it, too hype? What’s the right balance? Barnes will have to adjust to the long season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


Through 5 preseason games, Barnes posted 4 games with over 5 assists. Whether it’s through dribble hand offs, or down in the post, Barnes’ playmaking is much further along than expected. He’s made some great reads in both situations, creating quality scoring opportunities.

In the post, he finds cutters for layups (Gary Trent Jr. and Svi Mykhailiuk have already seemed to make a connection in the regard with Barnes). In a dribble handoff situation, he has the ball handling and physical tools to fake and take it to the rim. With the gravity shooters like Fred VanVleet and Trent can command, Barnes will see himself in multiple 4-on-3 situations. And with his passing at such a high level already, only good things can happen.

Barnes’ feel for the game is not like the average rookie. It’s what makes it difficult for me to manage my expectations. So many rookies play at an uncontrolled pace and force the issue leading to unnecessary turnovers. While it’s likely we will see Barnes make those mistakes during the season, in the preseason he led all rookies in assists per game while posting a 3-to-1 assist to turnover rate. He shows an incredible amount of poise. We just have to see if he can continue to play like this when it matters.

What We’ll Need to See

Follow Through!

Despite being better than advertised as a shooter, Barnes failed to connect on a single three pointer in five preseason games. He’s only attempted eight threes, a little less than two per game. His mid range and short game however, was pleasantly surprising.

While Barnes is destined to take some of the playmaking responsibilities off of Siakam’s shoulders, his shooting will have to be respectable. It’s not realistic to expect 35 to 40% from distance, but more in the range of 29 to 32%. At some point in the season, we could be seeing a lineup of VanVleet, Anunoby, Barnes, Siakam, and Birch. With Anunoby and VanVleet being knockdown shooters, opponents are likely to put their second big on Barnes. He needs to make them pay just enough to where Toronto can take advantage of Nick Nurse’s crazy scientist lineups.

Final Expectations

Scottie Barnes is an amazing prospect. 6’9” and can guard 1-through-5. Impressive feel for the game, excellent decision maker, and great teammate. He could possibly be the best prospect in this draft (my vote goes to Cleveland’s Evan Mobley), a just reward for that disastrous and cursed season in Tampa.

But Barnes is not that guy yet and he has a long way to go. All signs point to continued improvement from the Florida State Seminole, but as of now, just an exciting rookie. Numbers don’t always measure the impact Barnes could have but his numbers could likely fall in between the range of 7.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.5 rpg on 48/28/64 shooting splits and 11/5/5 on 52/32/71 shooting splits. Like I said earlier though, I have trouble managing my expectations. I do hope it’s the second line. It’s unlikely he wins Rookie of the Year due to the opportunities afforded to Houston’s Jalen Green and Detroit’s Cade Cunningham, but with his upside he might win Defensive Player of The Year in 5 years. Or MVP, who knows?

The best indicator of future success is history. The flashes we’ve seen in the preseason, and to a lesser extent the summer league, offer a glimpse into what Barnes is capable of doing. An infectious energy guy with a high motor. A self described 6’9” point guard whose no-look passes emulate an all time great. I, or we, cannot get ahead of ourselves but one thing is certain: It will be a pleasure watching him play this season.