Ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors seemed perfectly positioned to select their playmaker of the future, replacing team legend Kyle Lowry. When the Toronto pick arrived, Jalen Suggs, who led a nation’s No.1-ranked Gonzaga team throughout the regular season, was still on the board, and Davion Mitchell, who led Baylor to a national championship against Suggs and Gonzaga. The Raptors were on the hunt for a senior ball manager, and it looked like they would end up with an obvious adjustment.
But when the time came, Toronto picked Scottie Barnes, 6-foot-7, who spent most of his only college season at Florida State coming off the bench. The Boy Scouts saw him as a professional playmaker and potential defender, but he was not a flashy, if surprisingly, selection.
Now, just three months after the start of the 2021-22 NBA season, Barnes has surpassed all of his projections. In Toronto’s first 37 games, Barnes has proven to be a central part of the squad and firmly inserted his name into the Rookie of the Year conversation, leading all rookies to wins over the replacement in the RAPTOR metric from FiveThirtyEight.
Barnes has started all 32 games he’s played and he ranks third on the team in minutes per game. His 35.5 minutes per game leads all rookies and is 14th among all rookies since the 2003-04 season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Versatile on both sides of the pitch – he has above-average RAPTOR ratings in attack and defense – Barnes carved out an important role early in his career. With his combination of size and positional flexibility, the Raptors often equaled him in defense against the opposing team’s best offensive player (s) in any position.
Barnes kept some of the best talent in the league including Luka Dončić, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Barnes’ most frequent defensive assignment so far this season has been Jayson Tatum (68 half court clashes). In games against Washington, Chicago and Boston, Barnes defended all five positions. In each of those games, Barnes spent at least a minute protecting all five starting players.
|Khris Middleton||Roe deer||63||57||57.1|
Considering the caliber of players Barnes has kept and his lack of NBA experience, his RAPTOR defensive rating of +1.1 – good for the fourth-best among rookies this season – indicates strong defensive potential.
Barnes was equally impressive on the attacking side. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, both of which are top-five rookies this season. His field goal percentage of 48.2 ranks fourth among all rookies with an average of five or more shooting attempts per game, and his 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks. per game also rank in the top five rookie averages. Barnes’ seven 20-point or better outings are already the fifth for a rookie in Raptors franchise history.
After the Raptors picked Barnes, questions arose as to how he would fit in on offense alongside two forwards, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, who are almost identical to the rookie in size and have entered the squad. season in pencil in the starting formation. But Barnes had no problem producing alongside Siakam and Anunoby; in fact, the team played better when both were on the ground with him. Barnes’ plus / minus is -0.2 without Siakam and Anunoby on the ground, but it increases to +2.8 when all three share ground.
Despite being listed as a forward, Barnes was a goalie in college and Toronto took advantage of his playmaking abilities, using him as a secondary ball handler. Barnes has started the offense on 439 possessions this season, according to Second Spectrum, who ranks second on the team behind Fred VanVleet and ahead of the team’s reserve leaders. His rebounding prowess and open-field handling of the ball also created quick and easy shots for himself and his teammates in transition.
He showed how quickly he can turn an opponent’s missed shot into points the other way around during a game against the Magic in October.
Just months into his career, Barnes surpassed draft day expectations and he appears to be a player the Raptors can count on going forward. If he continues to play well on both sides of the pitch and develop at his current rate, Rookie of the Year won’t be the only award he has a chance to win.
Discover our latest NBA predictions.