Welcome To The Scottie Barnes Experience
The Scottie Barnes journey has started out as well as it could've for Toronto, so Nathan and Tyler wanted to sit down and talk about what makes Barnes so special as a player.
Nathan Grubel: When I first learned about Scottie Barnes ahead of the 2021 draft cycle, obviously I was intrigued. A 6'9" forward who could handle the basketball and had the court vision of a PG is an immediate selling point for any scout let alone NBA front office, but his multi-positional defensive awareness and build gelled together for one hell of a package coming out of high school.
Eventually, Barnes played games at Florida State where he came off the bench as a freshman but still found ways to impact the game on both ends. He brought the ball up the floor on offense, created for others, led transition breakaways and made life hell for opposing offensive threats on the perimeter. While he didn't get a ton of opportunities to post up on offense or in turn actually guard more traditional big men down low, given how he's put together physically I was never concerned about either. After all, he may have had questions about how far he could extend his range at the next level but his touch and hands were what mattered to me and both scored well in my evaluations.
All of these wonderful compliments about his game to say I didn't have him as a tier 1 or tier 2 player in my final rankings for 2021. I didn't see that type of aggressive scorer on offense who had the tools to get a bucket whenever he was called upon despite his skill in handling the ball and navigating the court on that end. I also didn't see an excellent passer when I studied the tape. A great one sure, but not an excellent one. You watch Barnes in the NBA and that ball is out of his hands in milliseconds like he's playing hot potato. I had him on the highest end of tier 3, which for me is a guaranteed first through fourth option on a really good to championship level team at some point in his career, I just didn't want to slap the "max contract" wager on the table like I did with Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.
At this point, I'm clearly in the wrong with the tier I put him in. Can I feel good about pegging him as one of the five best guys in this class? Absolutely, but what he's already shown on film in the first portion of the 2021-22 NBA season has me re-evaluating not just for tier 2, but possibly tier 1 consideration which is an MVP-caliber player in time.
Tyler, what were your thoughts on Barnes before the draft and where did you categorize him amongst the other top prospects for 2021?
Tyler Rucker: I have been FOAMING AT THE MOUTH to do this piece and I couldn't be more excited to talk about Toronto Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes. Allow me to have a moment to wipe the proud tears of joy away from my face. Okay, now let's get serious. Every year evaluators of the NBA Draft are going to have prospects that they are intrigued by. They are also going to have some prospects that they simply cannot convince themselves to “drink the Kool-aid.” Throughout last year's college basketball season, Scottie Barnes continued to jump off the screen at me as a potential elite prospect in the scouting world.
It took a while for Barnes to hit the ground running at Florida State but he quickly became a fascinating prospect with his potential to impact the game in so many ways. While many were focusing on the outside shot (more on that in a second), I found myself drooling at the rest of the tools he had in his shed. We’re talking about an underrated athlete with great size and freakish length, who plays the game like an NFL safety on defense. Barnes didn't just make plays defensively, he was constantly reading the opposing team's entire offense. He analyzed progressions and anticipated moves like a chess player.
What also stood out to me offensively was his playmaking ability. Not often do you find a versatile defensive wing who can also throw dimes all over the place at any given opportunity. Barnes showcased the ability to be a grab-and-go weapon in transition at Florida State. While many were focusing on how he would create without an outside shot, I was too zeroed in on the vision and reads he was making with the ball in his hands. Scottie also wasn't afraid to simply put the ball on the floor and explode for some ferocious dunks when he got a clear driving lane to the basket. If you add all of that together, with a suddenly improving outside shot, you're getting a potential two-way monster.
It's still going to take some time for the outside shot to come around consistently, but we've already seen that it's taking serious strides forward, which should have Toronto Raptors fans and basketball fans around the world thrilled about the type of player Barnes can turn into. Personally I had Barnes ranked 5th on my 2021 NBA Draft Board, and even though never have been a big fan of the "tier" system...he would have been right near the top based off of his terrifying upside.
Nathan, are you surprised that Barnes seems to have completely shifted the momentum of this Raptors team so quickly?
Nathan Grubel: I wouldn't call myself "surprised" because I had a belief already in what the Raptors were trying to build. The trade for Gary Trent Jr. was a move I already appreciated, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are great complementary players to what Barnes brings to the table, and Fred VanVleet is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Matter of fact, I think now that Mike Conley Jr. made an All-Star team, VanVleet is in the conversation for best player without that mark on his resume along with CJ McCollum.
And I haven't even mentioned the young talent they have on the roster apart from Barnes. Dalano Banton is miles ahead of where I thought he'd be at this point in his career, the Precious Achiuwa acquisition in the Kyle Lowry deal gives this team another dynamic dimension in the frontcourt, and Chris Boucher seems to somehow take steps forward in his game each and every year, and we know how dangerous of a trailer big he is from deep. Oh, and let's not forget one of my favorite guard prospects from the 2020 draft in Malachi Flynn, AND so long as he's on this roster Goran Dragic who has been one of the most steady floor generals in the NBA over the last decade from a production standpoint.
Barnes has veteran teammates, young talent looking to prove itself and a head coach in Nick Nurse who understands how to balance development with realistic expectations to win basketball games on a nightly basis. Barnes is set up to succeed as well as if not better than any other rookie in this class outside of Mobley. I thought the Cleveland Cavaliers fit was perfect for Mobley because he's also a non-traditional big who operates well with the ball in his hands making things happen for the players around him. Having Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen on the court to finish plays and score from the perimeter eases those burdens for Mobley in a big way and lets him just be him. Same goes for Barnes on this Raptors squad. Sure some of the lineup combinations may not make a ton of sense because they all lack a true center, but with so much plus positional size on the court at one time, it's hard not to like the variety of styles this team can play on both ends.
I got to watch Barnes and the Raptors up close last week in the City of Brotherly Love as they took it to a depleted Philadelphia 76ers team. Yes, Philly was without Joel Embiid, but Toronto hasn't had Siakam once this year and for the most part relied on an undersized backcourt with young pieces on the wing and at the forward spots to mesh together against one of the more prepared units in the Eastern Conference. VanVleet went bananas, but Barnes was equally impressive when he actually had opportunities to touch the ball and make things happen. It was smart for the Raptors to prioritize attacking the 76ers' equally small backcourt and punish the lack of legitimate defensive talent there, which meant that Barnes didn't get many touches all to himself. But when he was able to catch the ball, turn and face his man, he hit a few impressive mid-range jumpers that exhibited the touch he has and the mechanical improvements he's made since the end of his time at Florida State.
We know he's a beast in transition, that he doesn't hold the ball and constantly whips it around the court and that he's one of the most unique physical talents in the league. If the jumper DOES fall with consistency, however, and he can bring everything to the table that you mentioned defensively, there's no telling how good Toronto can be even in the second half of this season.
Tyler, besides what he can do on the defensive end, what are some of the other traits he brings into the locker room that you love? And talk a little more about what you saw from him offensively that's really translated well in the NBA so far.
Tyler Rucker: What do I love about what he brings to the locker room? Where do I start…This was one of my favorite things about doing a deep dive into Scottie Barnes as a prospect in preparation for the 2021 NBA Draft. When I was doing Barnes' background information in preparation for my Draft Guide, I came across one common theme...HE'S A WINNER. Every level of basketball that Scottie Barnes has played in heading up to his year at Florida State, he producing a winning atmosphere. If you even went back and looked at the Barnes' record during his time playing for Team USA in multiple FIBA World Cup tournaments, you'll see that he just went on to produce three gold medals.
He's a kid that plays with passion and enthusiasm for the game of basketball. He flies all over the court and brings energy with everything that he does. That type of personality isn't "fake", it's something that gravitates teammates towards Barnes and makes him a type of talent you want to not only add to a locker room, but bring into your organization. Throughout the pre-draft process, I was convinced that Barnes could be the type of player that Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri just simply couldn't pass up because of the massive impact he could have on a team's culture. Although many of the world thought that Jalen Suggs was a perfect fit for Toronto, I continued to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking that Ujiri would throw a curveball and GO GET HIS GUY as I like to say. Looks as if my “spidey senses” weren't that insane.
Offensively Barnes has been a marvel. I went into the season expecting that Barnes could show some flashes throughout the first half of the year before he finally started to find his groove and turn into this potential breakout demon as a sophomore, but everything seems to be clicking much quicker than anyone had anticipated. What’s stood out to me is the confidence not only with his aggressiveness, but the specific ways he’s looking to score. Too many times while he was playing in Tallahassee, you'd see that defenses would sag off of Barnes, basically daring him to shoot. Barnes would try to make teams pay for it, but there were also a handful of possessions where he understood that just trying to prove himself wasn't going to give the team the best possible chance to succeed. Now it's become an ENTIRELY different situation.
Barnes is looking to score and be aggressive not just as a transition weapon, where he thrives, but he's also showing the desire to score from multiple levels in the half court. Before it would take Barnes some time to try to gather and attempt shots in the midrange, now he's catching and looking to attack and make defenses pay whenever possible. I think the combination of that, and how many different ways Barnes is contributing on the offensive side of the ball, makes his future trajectory in Toronto just simply outstanding.
Why do I feel Nathan like Scottie Barnes is going to win Rookie of the Year this year? I know I'm insane but am I THAT crazy?
Nathan Grubel: So I don't think you're THAT crazy given that he seems to have one major contender right now for the award in Mobley barring the massively improved play of Cunningham and Green. The difference between both bigs and the guards is that Mobley and Barnes are impacting winning in more meaningful ways than the other two.
For example, I know I keep coming back to Barnes' defensive impact but it's really what sets him apart. I don't stare at Synergy stats for rookies all year long because the majority of the time it's pointless. One would expect NBA first years to hover anywhere between average-below average in a number of categories when it comes to percentile rankings. However, Barnes is already in the 62nd percentile in terms of total defense which is pretty wild considering how much rookies struggle on defense once they come to the NBA. Sure, teams have boiled offenses down to different variations of a handful of sets, but the motion and freelance that's incorporated into offenses being orchestrated by players with years upon years of experience playing this game at a high level with the same teammates generally creates wrinkles tough for younger players to properly navigate.
But Barnes has fit in right away with some of the more versatile defensive players in the league because of the hustle and motor that you pointed out Tyler. He never takes plays off. I've never seen a player of his caliber run to the bench or wherever he's going before or after game time like Barnes does. It's similar to how youth sport coaches would always teach players to hustle and show effort even coming off the field to the bench. Barnes embodies that perfectly, and even when he's warming up or talking to teammates before the game you can tell his energy is second to none. He's genuinely happy to be playing basketball and doing whatever it takes to win and that's why he's been as good as he's been so early. Doing the dirty work is anything but sexy. Barnes doesn't care about having the most visually appealing game though. He cares about making the right play on both ends of the floor regardless of how it impacts his box score numbers.
And the fact that he's contributed offensively out of screen-and-roll actions, hitting mid-range jumpers, putting pressure on the defense in transition, attacking the basket, coming off of screens or operating out of handoffs to get downhill. What really hasn't he shown flashes of in just his first few months of professional basketball? By the numbers, the only two areas he's really struggled on besides maintaining consistency on his perimeter shooting are scoring out of the post and in turn guarding more traditional bigs. He has the size and length to compete down low on both ends, but he's been tasked with ball handling duties dating back to his early high school days that a lot of the low post game is still relatively new to him. Couple that with the fact that a traditional center in the league is far more skilled and physical than who he would normally body up in lower ranks and it's natural to expect Barnes to go through an adjustment period.
If those are the only areas where I can really nitpick though outside of the occasional missed rotation or blown play on defense because he's, ya know, a rookie? As long as he continues to limit his mistakes and turnovers, he'll continue to put points on the board, rebound on both ends and make plays defensively to help his team remain competitive in the East.
I'd likely give the edge to Mobley because as it stands now the Cleveland Cavaliers are in a better position to come out with the better record this year especially if Sexton can come back at some point. But if the Raptors can stay in the play-in race or better by April and the Cavs end up stumbling out of the postseason, then Barnes could very well have the award in his hands by year's end. And by the way, just yesterday we got this terrible news on Mobley.
A stat line currently of 16.3 PPG, 8.3 REB and 2.8 AST to go along with 1.6 combined STKs is a massive accomplishment for any rookie up to this point. Tyler, do you think he can maintain these averages moving forward and what about his shooting percentages of 51.2/18.2/79.1? Any improvements you see there, and any other final thoughts you want to add about Mr. Barnes?
Tyler Rucker: In a weird way I think there’s still another avalanche of production still to come from Barnes.
Look, we’d all be lying if you looked at his numbers and said that we don’t want to see the three-point percentage come up a bit. But it’s not just the percentage we are looking at, it’s the confidence and improvement in form. With time and repetition, I do believe Barnes could have a stretch throughout the year in which we start to see some of those numbers start to climb a bit.
That’s what’s so special about a player of his talent. He’s going to fill up the box scores on a nightly basis, even if he’s not scoring 20 points per game. Barnes just simply has so many ways he can impact the game, and he understands that he doesn’t have to be an offensive machine in order to make a massive impact and put his teammates in a position to succeed.
I have been having nightmares about not taking Barnes to win Rookie of the Year at the beginning of the year, and I think his numbers are only going to continue to improve as the year goes on. They called me a madman when I said the Raptors could be a sleeper to make it back to the playoffs this year. Raptors fans, I’ve been a believer…and the play of Barnes is only going to continue to put this team back on the right track moving forward.