Why Scottie Barnes’ new role helps Raptors’ long-term prospects

Jan 5, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) gestures to his team in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 5, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) gestures to his team in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Toronto Raptors fans became accustomed to seeing Scottie Barnes atop any sort of hypothetical rookie power rankings. In the last few weeks, however, Barnes has lately been floating between second and fourth in the race.

One could look to his recent drop in raw stats for a culprit. Since the Raptors returned from their COVID hiatus and to full roster, Barnes’ scoring numbers have dropped from 16.3 points on 52% shooing in December to 9.6 points on 39% shooting in January.

Now that isn’t necessarily Barnes’ fault. Now that the team is back to full strength, Barnes is expected to play a different role than before. He’s not going to get as much offensive action with names like OG Anunoby back in the lineup for Toronto.

Instead of being a finisher and shot taker, Scottie is now sharing the sugar with four other starters accustomed to 13+ shots a game. Fans shouldn’t worry too much about the offensive production.

Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes’ role has changed.

Now, instead of being a scoring force, Barnes has been used more as a playmaker setting up teammates on back cuts and finding them in the drive and kick. Has anybody noticed that Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton haven’t played more than five minutes since the New Year? It’s because Barnes has filled the Raptors need at backup point guard.

More often than not, the Rookie of the Year award boils down to who scored the most points. It’s an award built for high-usage rookies who pile up counting stats, often on teams that aren’t going to win games. Contrast that to Barnes, who among the league’s top rookies carries a distinctly lower usage rate:

  • Cade Cunningham:  25.8%
  • Franz Wagner:  21.5%
  • Josh Giddey: 21.4%
  • Chris Duarte:  21.3%
  • Evan Mobley:  19.6%
  • Scottie Barnes:  18.6%

That there is the main difference. With the exception of Evan Mobley, Barnes is the only contending rookie who has had to tailor himself and his game to his team’s needs.

The Raptors are trying to make the playoffs. Look at Jalen Green and Cade Cunningham. They’re exceptional talents, but they play for bottom-feeding franchises like the Rockets and Pistons.

Meanwhile, Barnes walked onto a team who already had the forward spots locked up with Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, yet lacked a backup point guard to unlock the offense when Fred VanVleet sits.

In only his first four months in the NBA, Barnes has at different times been the Raptor’s primary scorer, perimeter defender, rim protector, playmaker, rebounder, or some combination of the above. Cunningham can drop double-doubles all he likes, but call me when he can be an eight-pronged switchblade for a team trying to make the playoffs

This new role will be good for Scottie Barnes’ long-term development.

Rather than force-feed Barnes counting stats and charm the national media, Toronto is putting him in a role that both plays to his strengths and makes sure that the other four starters can get their daily diet of shot attempts.

It’s almost like what Marc Gasol was doing during his time in Toronto. He’s making key passes, handling the ball, and crashing the boards. Barnes is still piling up assists and rebounds while playing quality defense. This helps Barnes contribute to such a talent-laden starting lineup without taking 15 shots a night.

They’re planning for five years from now. They’re looking forward to the games where Scottie Barnes is a potential All-Star in the playoffs and will be able to score from three-point range consistently. The games where Nick Nurse can move him from point guard to center on both offense and defense.

Ujiri, Nurse, and Barnes all know that this year is about improving on his’ already considerable skills. It’s about continuing the team culture that Kyle Lowry built. Never mail it in, never sell out, never stop competing.

This mentality, and this commitment to stretching Barnes’ game, will serve both him and the Raptors franchise well in the years to come. While some may look at Barnes’ box score and scowl at his recent totals, remember that the Raptors couldn’t have won the game without his play.

Allow Barnes to make mistakes. Let the Raptors change his responsibility for the sake of the team, and remember that despite his incredible talent, it’s hard-knock training like this that can make the difference between an All-Star and an All-Time great.

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