Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes has been making waves in his first NBA season and is a big part of his team’s resurgence in the Eastern Conference. The seventh-placed Raptors appeared dead in the water earlier in the campaign but are now in contention for the playoffs, albeit possibly via the play-in tournament.
Barnes has offered a great case to be named Rookie of the Year and, should he achieve as much, would be just the third Raptors player to win the award, with Vince Carter and Damon Stoudemire the only others.
The 20-year-old picked up pace after the All-Star break last month and was named Rookie of the Month for February. He’s averaged 18.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1,6 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game in March.
“He’s definitely one of the top-five candidates for Rookie of the Year,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said recently.
Barnes is 15/2 to win said accolade at the end of the season; Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons are the only players ahead of him on that front. And with BetRivers’ planned expansion into Ontario, it feels like local money pouring in on him late is inevitable.
Of course, Barnes has high hopes for his own future.
“Hopefully, one day be in the Hall of Fame. Be an All-Star, be on an All-Defensive Team and of course, this year, try to win Rookie of the Year,” he told NBA.com. “Just trying to be recognized as one of the best players in the league.”
There are several facets to Barnes’ game that make him an ideal candidate for the ROY award but, even more importantly, the future face of the Raptors. Apart from being an excellent scorer, the former Florida State star is great on the boards, is a great passer, and is a formidable defender. What’s been key for him, though, is the fact that he’s always around the basketball.
“If you’re a guy who has a nose for the basketball that means usually you have good anticipation about what’s coming ahead of time, before it happens,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse explained. “Guys that seem to end up where the ball ends up, that takes, I think, an anticipation or a thinking ahead or just playing a lot. I know he’s 20 but we’ve talked about all the stories of how they could never get him out of the gym, he was always playing pickup in multiple age groups … he’s played a lot I think to acquire that sense.”
Nurse has also talked up the player’s ability to adapt to various situations on the floor and why he’s able to trust Barnes despite his inexperience.
“Just because he’s in a mix, making plays with the game on the line, and the more cracks he can get at ‘em the better for me,” the coach noted. “He brings the ball up the floor and people think ‘well, he’s too big to do that, we’re gonna pressure him,’ and he’s making them pay. They don’t take it from him and he puts it on ‘em and he puts his body on ‘em and he goes in and makes plays and that’ll end that pretty quickly. And the one pass out was a little shaky, but like I said, the more reps the better it will be for him later on.”
The Florida native has shown that he can be a secondary scoring option who doesn’t need lots of possessions to impact a game as he makes the most of the chances he’s handed.
Long-range shooting has been especially encouraging, with Barnes going on a run of 12 games during which he shot 41.3 percent. He’s great at shooting from midrange and hits 50 percent from 3-to-10 feet and has the ability to make contested shots in tight spaces. He’s also a 40.3 percent shooter of long twos.
As for his fit with the Raptors, it really couldn’t be better. Barnes and teammate Pascal Siakam have been a very functional pair and Toronto has been all the better for it as they now have two defenders who can take on the responsibility of guarding bigger wings while being efficient both in the backcourt and in the post on the offensive end of things.
Barnes joined the Raptors as the fourth overall pick of last year’s NBA Draft and it appears he’s well on his way to cementing himself as the team’s future superstar. There were plenty of questions regarding his ability on draft night but the first-year man has done a great job of answering all of them and could amplify his response with a Rookie of the Year award.