We were hearing the Scottie Barnes rumors for weeks now with a somewhat healthy degree of skepticism, but the Toronto Raptors actually pulled the trigger on the Florida State product over Jalen Suggs with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The mock boards all agreed that Suggs was the pick at 4, and while Masai Ujiri probably couldn’t care less about the mocks have to say, he isn’t the type of GM to take unnecessary risks.
And let’s be crystal clear, Barnes is a risk, despite dozens of positive qualities.
Whatever your opinions, you have to admit that there’s bigger bust potential with a guy like Barnes vs. a guy like Jalen Suggs. Suggs is a tried and tested point guard who led a Gonzaga team chock-full of NBA talent to the NCAA Finals.
He has elite measurements, a well-rounded offensive game that balances scoring and playmaking, switchability on the defensive end at 6-4, and above it all, valuable intangibles and off-court characteristics.
Suggs is one of those “will not fail” type prospects. Someone who at the very least will be a valuable guard in the league and have a long career in the NBA. So, what’s so amazing about Barnes that it forced the Raptors to pass on a sure thing like Suggs?
What does Scottie Barnes signal about the Toronto Raptors plans?
For starters, the NBA body. If the Draft was a bar, Scottie Barnes would have GMs crossing the room to buy him drinks. Standing 6-9 with a 7-3 wingspan and weighing 230 pounds, Barnes has flashed the ability to play all five positions on both sides of the court. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, but he’s also exceptionally skilled for a man his size.
That athleticism combined with his motor and high effort on the court makes Barnes the most destructive defensive player in the lottery. During his time at Florida State, he had the speed to routinely pick up the opposing team’s point guard.
With the stamina to press him 94 feet and the height and bulk to switch onto most centers if he had to, Barnes was able to hold opponents to 32.7% from the field, whether they stood six or seven feet tall.
Where things get murkier is on the offensive side of the ball. Barnes’ body makes him a great finisher around the rim (62%), but take the ball outside the paint and his scoring game gets pretty weak.
He flat out can’t shoot. Not off the dribble, not off the curl, not off the catch. Not from three and not from mid. His floater game is weak, he’s stiff in the post, and his lack of range diminishes his abilities as a playmaker and ball handler. There’s a reason he averaged less than 12 points a game in college.
Still, besides his own personal scoring, there’s a lot to like about Barnes’ offensive game. He’s got some unicorn, point-center stuff going on for sure. His handle and passing vision at his size were special enough to draw Ben Simmons comparisons early on.
I know Simmons’ name is mud in NBA circles right now, but that lack of fire that causes Simmons to be so frustrating isn’t a concern with Barnes. Scottie is one of the most energetic and passionate players in his class.
He can change the morale of a team, and his charisma and his fight on the floor are infectious. At the very least, Barnes won’t lay down as Simmons did in these past playoffs.
Barnes has a higher ceiling when compared to Suggs, but also the lower floor. He was forged from the same mold of the Giannis/LeBron/Simmons types, but then again, so were Anthony Bennett and Josh Jackson. For Barnes to avoid that crew, really, it may be as simple as improving his jump shot.
How does this impact the Raptors’ offseason plans?
As far as his fit with the Raptors goes, the question then becomes how he, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby can fit together. Barnes and Siakam are able to play some small-ball center but are both probably too small to be the full-time go-to guy at the five position.
So how are the Raptors’ rotations going to work now that their three most valuable assets play more or less the same position? Well… is a Siakam trade out of the question?
Selling high on an All-Star caliber player like Siakam may be beneficial, especially if the Raptors are moving in the direction of a longer-term rebuild. Taking a rawer prospect like Barnes certainly points to more of a slow burn in the Raptors’ schemes to contention, so maybe caching out on Siakam is in the team’s best interest.
As far as the Raptors’ second round goes, David Johnson has similar issues to Barnes in that he has great instincts and physical tools but needs to develop more as a shooter. A big 6’5 point guard with great ups and straight-line speed, Johnson provides just another kind of player Coach Nick Nurse’s tool belt.
And Dalano Banton? Well, he’s a Canadian sophomore who went to Nebraska. He’s a slippery 6’9 PG, so at least there’s that. Nice first step, nice feel for the game, any drawbacks? Well, it’s the lack of shooting.
Noticing a theme here?
All this friction and chaos from one slight divergence in draft selection. This is why we love the NBA. Welcome to Toronto, Scottie Barnes. The picture of potential, he could be exceptional if it all pans out.