Scottie Barnes is one of the latest additions to the Toronto Raptors’ collection of big, athletic wings, and as the reigning Rookie of the Year, expectations for his second season were high. He is the Raptors’ highest draft pick since Andrea Bargnani in 2006 and the key piece of their planned revival after dismantling their 2019 championship roster. As a result, fans hoped for a quick development from Barnes.
After a stellar rookie season, that hope quickly turned into expectations and pressure on Barnes to excel once again. Statistically, Barnes’ improvement compared to his rookie season is hardly visible, which leads fans to assume that the 21-year-old is going through a sophomore slump. He did have a slow start to the season, but he has been playing much better ever since the new year started.
How Scottie Barnes has staved off the sophomore slump.
Since then, he and the team as a whole have still been inconsistent, but they have picked up the pace, and Barnes’ development has been quite visible. Barnes does a little bit of everything for the Raptors, ranging from scoring to facilitating to being their go-to defender.
As a scorer, it is obvious that Barnes is working on his mid-range jumper. It is still a work in progress, just like his three-point shot, but he is gradually becoming a more consistent shooter and is learning how to use the room defenders leave him for drives. On drives or in the paint, Barnes is the most effective as a scorer.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like he was trying to take more outside shots, but ever since he went back to focusing on scoring in the paint, he has been playing much better. He would benefit from further improving his footwork in the paint, though, especially to take advantage of mismatches. In the Raptors’ most recent win against the Memphis Grizzlies, Barnes found himself in the paint against smaller defenders in Tyus Jones and John Konchar at times, but he and the team did not use the opportunities.
That is mostly a result of the Raptors’ sometimes stagnant offense, which has players dribbling too much while everyone else is waiting. As a result, Barnes is sometimes a little passive compared to a number of his ball-dominant teammates, but the Raptors need him to be involved and initiate ball movement in order to run a successful offense.
When he is involved, it becomes obvious that Barnes’ biggest offensive asset is his playmaking. He can initiate offense from anywhere on the floor, looking most comfortable doing it from the elbow, with a skill set that almost resembles that of Draymond Green. Barnes does not quite have the same experience and maturity yet, but he could end up being even better than Green in the future, and he thrives in that point-forward position.
When he gets to initiate the offense, he is much more active than when someone else dribbles the ball around in iso situations. Once he dishes out the first pass, Barnes does not stop moving. Instead, he sets screens and cuts or gets into a good offensive rebounding position. This movement and involvement from Barnes are important for the team because he is a great screener and finishes best when he gets the ball on a short roll.
Being the go-to creator on offense is a lot to ask from a second-year player, especially someone who is not a traditional point guard. Barnes is still figuring it out, but that is what will bring him success in the future. That future might not even be too far away. If the Raptors actually trade players like O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., Barnes will have to take on a bigger role on both ends of the floor, especially if the Raptors decide to steer towards a full-on rebuild around him after their underwhelming season.
Barnes has significant defensive potential.
The comparison to Draymond Green does not stop with the playmaking, however. Just like the Golden State Warriors veteran, Barnes is an incredibly versatile and switchable defender who could one day quarterback a good defensive team. With a seven-foot-two wingspan and quick feet, Barnes is a defensive menace on the perimeter as well as in the paint that no offensive player likes to see in front of them.
He can easily stay with smaller guards and also hold his ground against bigger players without fouling much. Especially in the paint, he does a good job of staying grounded instead of biting on fakes and jumping into fouls as a result. His solid defense has saved the Raptors more than once this season. In their last win over the Grizzlies, Barnes not only hit big shots in crunch time but also played great defense against Jaren Jackson Jr. on the last possession that could have sent the game into overtime.
A lot of Barnes’ game is still a work in progress, but the development is clearly happening and will continue. He is, for example, not afraid to take open threes even after struggling to find his shot, leaving the hope that he will eventually get there. Besides, it is important to remember that Barnes is only 21 years old and still has plenty of time to grow.
Development in the NBA takes time, especially if a player already started out as well as Barnes did, and judging his potential after just a season and a half is unfair. Despite a slow start to the season, Barnes started to turn things around, and he is still one of the top players of his draft class with a bright future ahead of him in the NBA.