Less than 24 hours after obtaining the Jayson Tatum Boston assignment, Raptors rookie forward Scottie Barnes started Saturday’s game as the main defenseman for the Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic. Welcome to the pros, kid.
“I have young legs so it’s not going to affect me,” Barnes said after the first half of his first straight game, coming out in Toronto’s 115-83 win over the Celtics on Friday.
Barnes was electric, showing his full arsenal both ways en route to his first career double-double, 25 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes of action. It wasn’t a perfect outing, but it was as close to perfect as it gets for a 20-year-old playing in his second NBA contest. But how would he follow him?
Saturday’s game presented some new challenges. A ruthless whistle meant he would spend most of the night in foul trouble, and after a slow start, Doncic came back strong in the second half, taking the Mavs to a 103-95 victory and giving Toronto its second loss in three games against starting the season.
But again, Barnes was a silver lining. At first he used a hesitant dribble to pass the Canadian Dwight Powell on a ride to the rim. He knocked down a base jumper on a broken possession to open the third quarter, then dropped a baby hook shot on Doncic, recalling his first NBA bucket against Washington on Wednesday.
He was at his best in the fourth quarter as the Raptors made one final push. Continuing to attack Doncic out of the dribble, Barnes passed him for an undisputed two-handed slam-dunk with three minutes remaining. A few minutes later, he took the star in the post, cashed in a hard blow and took the foul.
The Raptors collected just 44 points in the second half, as their offense stalled with OG Anunoby also struggling with faults, but Barnes was an unexpected spark plug. He scored 10 of his team’s 23 points in the fourth, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds in nearly 30 minutes of work. He shot 6 of 12 from the field and made five of his seven free throw attempts on the night.
“What I think he has to do is one of the things he does at the end, like when he has the space and a one-on-one clash, he has to put them in. the rim until they stop it, ”Nick Nurse said after the fact. “Put them in the rim until they stop and start over and over and over and over again. And if they stop him, if they back up against him, then shoot 10 or 12 feet, that’s fine too. But that’s where we’re going to start to see him pass, his pass will show, once he starts attracting other defenders.
“I’m a great player, I’m strong enough for my size, I feel like I have the ability to hit rim and torch defenses,” Barnes said. “I would say I’m quite capable of doing that. “
Barnes couldn’t have landed with a better organization for his short and long term development as an NBA player.
With the body of a large, athletic wing and the playing ability of a goaltender, Barnes is one of the most unique prospects to enter the league in recent memory. He has the length, raw talent, and ball skills to play and keep every position on the floor.
In his only season with Florida State, head coach Leonard Hamilton put the ball in his hands and gave him the task of stalling. This unlocked something for Barnes, but it also made him one of the big unknowns in this draft class. His playing time was limited as a reserve, he only attempted 40 threes in his freshman campaign and he was learning a new position on the fly. Still, he showed flashes of a player who could become much more.
“The people you would compare him to would be other playmakers who have been playing point guard since he was eight, but he’s only been playing point guard for five months,” Hamilton told TSN during the summer. “So his advantage is huge and the cap is high because he always accommodates the transition from an inside player to a perimeter player. “
In the worst case scenario, Barnes could have gone to a more rigid and traditional club who might have tried to put him in a box. Fortunately, he ended up with the right team, in the right days of NBA basketball. The Raptors won’t stifle his creativity, lock him in a position, or classify him in a specific role.
In addition to their well-documented reputation for developing young talent, they are also one of the league’s forward-thinking organizations. They’re going to nurture the things that make him unique as a player and allow him to push the limits of his immense potential.
They also throw him straight into the fire, giving him the chance to play through mistakes without fear of being taken out of the game for some silly turnover or a failed defensive mission. It’s not a luxury that every rookie gets, and while it might end up costing the team a win or two in the process, they have a long-term view.
“I’m trying to say as long as these errors aren’t due to effort or really don’t understand the patterns defensively, we’re going to let [Barnes] playing through stuff, ”Nurse said ahead of Saturday’s contest. “Especially now, at the start of the year, get these guys through those rotations and let them go on for a bit and just try to clean up their games as much as possible to be strong performers there. “
The Raptors led up to 14 points in the first half before Doncic and the Mavs took over in the second. Dallas beat Toronto 58-44 in the last 24 minutes, with Doncic scoring 16 of his game-high 27 points, and Tim Hardaway Jr. shedding 22 of his 25.
“It’s a challenge I’m ready to take on every night,” said Barnes, protecting the best players in the league. “This is what I’m looking forward to. “
Barnes had a better +7 team result in Saturday’s loss, meaning the Raptors were outscored by 15 points in the minutes he sat down. He had a +29 in Boston. Even at such an early stage in his career, he becomes an indispensable member of the most productive formations of his team. What this means for his role in the starting unit when Pascal Siakam returns next month remain to be seen. Could they start small, with Anunoby for two? Would they consider playing without a cross and throwing Anunoby, Barnes and Siakam together in the first zone?
One thing is for sure, as long as he plays this well, and even when he doesn’t, Nurse is going to find a way to keep him down and do a lot of reps for him.
“Well listen, I think it’s a long process,” Nurse said. “I think when you see the height of a very young player, then for me the ceiling is really high. It depends on a lot of things like how much do they want it? How much work are they prepared to do? How healthy can they be? Are you in the right place? Are you working to improve yourself? Do you listen to and watch a movie? It will depend on him how far he wants to go.
So far, so good.