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2023-24 Toronto Raptors Media Day

Player Preview: Scottie Barnes is the franchise’s direction

The question of what this team’s direction will be this season lies in the hands of Toronto’s next superstar.

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

With great power comes great responsibility.

Wow, am I really kicking off the preview of the Raptors’ most important player with a quote from (Uncle) Ben Parker?

Why yes, yes I am, for no other reason than.....Scottie Barnes is just AMAZING!

Great Power

When Darko Rajakovic was introduced as the new head coach of the Toronto Raptors, he addressed the gaping hole left behind by Fred VanVleet’s departure by stating Barnes would be handling the ball a lot more, “Sometimes you need to make a small step back to take a huge leap forward and we’re really hoping for Scottie to have a breakout year for us.”

The words “leap” and “breakout” get thrown out a lot with young players. In fact, those same words were attached to Scottie last season. Barnes, of course, had an outstanding rookie campaign which ended with a Rookie of the Year award. Averaging 15.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.1 steals would be solid numbers (only 19 players averaged 15/5/5 last season) for most sophomores......except Barnes averaged very similar numbers, 15.3/7.5/3.5/1.1, in his rookie season! Whether he subscribes to the ‘sophomore slump’ or is confident in his ability to develop players, Darko doesn’t appear to be mincing words when talking about Scottie.

“We’re going to run plays through him so he can get in the actions. Is that on-ball screens? Is it off-ball screens? Is that dribble handoff] or pick-and-rolls? We’re gonna try to put the ball in his hands as much as possible for him to playmaker.”

This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Scottie Barnes is only 21 years old. As talented as he is and how great he could become, he’s being set up for success because this system relies on all five players on the floor playing on a string. If the ball is humming along as Darko envisions, the offense will look as smooth as Spain’s tiki-taka.

Great Responsibility

With every day that passes without a trade from the Raptors front office, the fanbase grows more and more anxious about the team. It’s a question that gets asked more than any Pascal Siakam or O.G. Anunoby-related trade discussion: what direction are the Raptors taking?

Should they have ponied up for Damian Lillard and pushed all their chips in now while the East’s power struggle was in flux? Or do they see what’s right in front of their face — a play-in team that lost its floor general — and start the teardown/rebuild process by trading Siakam and/or Anunoby away?

The question was actually answered over two years ago when the Raptors drafted Scottie Barnes! He is the future of the franchise. He is the core piece that every Raptor is going to mold their game around. He is the direction of the team!

In a recent post by Michael Grange, he mentioned two players whose games Scottie could mimic his around: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green. It’s easy to see why. Scottie has the build, length, and strength to bully his way to the basket like Giannis.

The Draymond comparison is also apt. Just as Green is the glue that binds the Warriors’ offense, Scottie’s pass-first nature and court vision have led to many easy baskets for his teammates.

Also worth noting is when Giannis and Draymond made their respective “leaps.” Giannis made his leap in year 4, getting Most Improved and making his first All-Star team. Draymond also made his leap in year 4, making his first All-Star team (the season after Golden State won their first championship of the Curry/Klay/Dray era).

The elephant in the room is the All-NBA player who shares the same position, requires the ball just as much (if not more), has a similar downhill style of play on offense, and **gulp** is currently without a contract next season! While Scottie has the keys to the Raptors’ future, Pascal Siakam is still the driver of the team’s success this season. How will these two co-exist in Darko’s 0.5 offense?

The starting unit (6, depending on where you stand with Dennis Schroder and Gary Trent Jr.) has fairly defined roles, outside of what Scottie and Pascal bring to the table.

Jakob Poeltl will see a lot of touches in the high post, a la Marc Gasol. Scottie will be handling the ball a lot. O.G. Anunoby will be cutting to the basket or awaiting a kick out beyond the arc. Schroder will use his speed to get into the paint and kick-start the offense. GTJ will use his shooting as a threat to keep defenses from hoarding the paint.

Here’s where that “great responsibility” kicks in. In addition to developing at an individual level, while learning a new system, Barnes has to show enough maturity and leadership to meld with Siakam AND prove the trust that’s been given him from the front office is warranted.

There’s a reason Masai Ujiri would not make Barnes available for the Kevin Durant sweepstakes last year. There’s a reason Ujiri would not make Barnes available for the Damian Lillard sweepstakes this year. There’s a reason Rajakovic has spoken the most about Barnes, not Siakam when discussing his excitement for this group and the upcoming season.

Scottie Barnes is the present and future of the franchise. Where he goes, the Raptors go. If he grows into the Giannis-Draymond mega-unicorn that his potential dictates are in the realm of possibility, the only questions asked will be about why anyone doubted this front office. If last season’s performance continues this year, despite a new coach and system that caters to his abilities, then not even the Amazing Spiderman can save Masai and Bobby.

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