The Toronto Raptors can no longer use the “scrappy underdog” tag after winning 48 games and earning the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Scottie Barnes’ Rookie of the Year push and Pascal Siakam’s tremendous comeback season that led to All-NBA honors established them as a legitimate threat.
The Raptors were essentially playing with house money last season, as no one thought that a team who was just one year removed from owning the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft would be anywhere close to contention. Things are different now this lineup has proven its quality.
While the pressure is mounting around several big names on this team, including players who could cash in via impending free agency and a star in Siakam who needs to prove last year was no fluke, no player may end up feeling the heat more than Barnes in his sophomore season.
The Raptors expect a massive leap from Barnes this season, putting a ton of added responsibility on one of Toronto’s best and brightest players. The Raptors are planning on taking that next step forward towards contention, but they won’t do so if Barnes stagnates.
Will Scottie Barnes improve for the Toronto Raptors?
The best way for Barnes to ensure that he can improve is getting better as an on-ball creator. While we’ve observed him show off his skills in that department at the Rico Hines runs, but some fans might need to see him take greater ownership of the offense before any sharp judgments are made.
Barnes made 30% of his 3-pointers and attempted just under three triples per game last year. While impressive given how raw many thought he was in college, that’s not a sustainable clip for someone Toronto is considering making their franchise player. 35% should be a fairly reasonable goal that will shoot Barnes’ scoring right up.
With Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. both in a position to decline player options and enter the free agent market after this season, there is a non-zero chance that both players leave. Barnes’ upward ascension will be critical in sustaining this team’s success if the starting lineup breaks up.
The Raptors are going to be a competitive team this season, but every inch of Barnes’ performance will be looked over with a fine-toothed comb. We know he can be a long-term building block, but this season will tell this fanbase a lot about his ability to be the cornerstone for this team.