Toronto Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes has taken the NBA by storm.
Considered by many to be a second-tier player in the 2021 draft class prior to the start of the year, Barnes has been the best rookie in the NBA through a couple of weeks of the early season. Only Indiana Pacers guard Chris Duarte has a case for a better campaign so far. However, it is probably fair to say that Barnes’ combined 39 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists in two Raptors victories against Indiana last week have settled that debate.
As a player who only averaged 10.3 points per game at Florida State a year ago, Barnes was not expected to come in and be a primary scoring option on an NBA team right away. Guys like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs were expected to be a little bit more NBA-ready in their first season. That was okay, though. Scoring never was the 6’7″ forward’s biggest strength.
Defense, passing, rebounding and just overall versatility would be the best way to sum up his game. These were the types of things Barnes could bring to the table right away; areas of focus that he could utilize and further develop throughout his first season. Scoring could come later, or maybe not at all. There are plenty of effective players in the league that have not introduced high-level scoring into their game. Barnes could certainly be one of those guys; a Draymond Green-like player.
Well the story has not quite gone as it was supposed to. Through seven games, the ‘long-term project’ leads all NBA rookies in points at an amazing 18.1 per game. Not only does he lead his draft class, but he is also the Raptors’ second-leading scorer. He sits second to only OG Anunoby who has put up 20.3 points per game this season, on a Raptors’ team that has jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start. Further than just putting up points, Barnes is also contributing to winning.
The 20-year-old also leads all rookies in rebounding. Yes, even ahead of Cleveland’s Mobley who stands at 6’11”. Barnes is averaging over a full rebound per game more than the Cavs big man, at 8.9 per game.
Barnes has even maintained good efficiency; an area that can take a lot of time for young players to figure out. He has great hands and a particularly impressive ability to finish at the basket and a few feet out, even with defenders getting a hand up. He is shooting 55.1% from the floor on the year.
The fourth overall pick has shown flashes of his passing potential. He is only averaging 2.0 assists per game so far, but the Raptors have encouraged him to bring the ball up the floor after defensive rebounds and he has been able to do it with speed and control. He did have one 7-assist night last week against Indiana in a 118-100 win at Scotiabank Arena. This is certainly an area of his game that can be refined and likely will be sooner rather than later.
Defensively, not only has he been impressive, but he has shown a willingness to take on the challenge of guarding opposing teams’ star players. Barnes guarded elite offensive stars Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic on back-to-back nights in his second and third NBA games, and did a pretty good job, while continuing to contribute on the offensive end. He had a career-best performance against Tatum, putting up 25 points and 13 rebounds on 11-17 shooting in the Raptors’ 115-83 blow out road victory.
“It’s a challenge that I’m willing to take each and every night,” Barnes said, of guarding the league’s best players. “It’s what I look forward to.”
Fans falling in love with the young star
After expressing their disapproval when the team opted not to select Suggs in this summer’s draft, Raptor fans have completely changed their tune and fallen in love with the young man’s amazing athleticism and basketball skillset, as well as his electric energy and personality.
Raptor fans are not the only one’s giving him credit, though. Barnes has received recognition around the league, including a second-place positioning in NBA.com’s rookie ladder last week. Do not be surprised if he takes the top spot this week.
Barnes entered the season at 13.00 to win rookie of the year. He now sits tied with Green for the best odds in the league at 4.25. That is more than a 200% increase in his chances, based on just a seven-game sample size!
You certainly missed out if you did not jump on the 13.00 odds heading into the season, but from what Scottie has shown us so far, jumping on the bandwagon at 4.25 might not be such a bad idea.