To open the 2022-23 season, the hopes were about as high as they can be for Toronto Raptors sophomore Scottie Barnes, who flashed truly stellar two-way potential throughout his rookie campaign. With a strong roster of supporting stars in place, all that was left to take the Raptors over the top was a true superstar.
That’s why it was so jarring when we all had to pump our breaks for the first month of the season. Barnes came in with some new skills in his chamber; refined handles, more confident playmaking chops, and a more consistent mid-range game. However, the stats fans were hoping for didn’t show up.
Scottie Barnes’ rookie averages of 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 49% shooting sunk to 13 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 39% shooting during the month of November. There were things to like during that stretch (the playmaking numbers, for example), but it wasn’t what the fans or the front office needed.
Things began to return to normal in December. Scottie’s averages rose to 15 points and eight boards per night, with his field goal percentage reaching above 45%. But still, “normal” and “average” were not acceptable for the rookie of the year. If Barnes was going to be the face of the franchise, he needed to prove himself all over again.
Toronto Raptors: 2023 was a turning point for Scottie Barnes.
Since the calendar turned, Barnes has been playing the best basketball of his life, averaging 19.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and more than a steal and block per game while shooting 49% from the field.
For some context, the only players this season who’ve averaged over 18 points, eight rebounds, and five assists per game are Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the mercurial Pascal Siakam, and Domantas Sabonis.
The stats are great, but there are more subtle things that must be noted when speaking about Scottie’s leap. It’s not just a matter of making shots he’d previously been missing. His entire approach to the game has shifted.
To start the year, it seemed like Barnes was lost, stuck trying to imitate the other star forwards around the league. Scottie was attempting to create shots for himself from the perimeter, trying to expand his range and taking more jump shots, and shying away from bruising in the paint.
It wasn’t him, and it wasn’t working.
Many great artists speak to the difficulty of moving away from imitating their artistic influences and finding their own unique style or sound. This is what Scottie Barnes discovered to start off 2023.
He’s been aggressive around the rim, using his herky-jerky post game and physical strength to gain inside position, getting to the line more, attacking on the pick-and-roll, going to his signature jump-hook, and continuing to expand on his sublime passing game.
Even though the statistical shift has been big, it can’t fully encapsulate the difference in Barnes’ recent play.
One area, in particular, has been the defense. Whether his ankle was still bothering him early in the year or if he was just out of sorts, fans and media alike commented on how Barnes looked sluggish on the defensive end.
Barnes has shown tangible improvement in everything from taking jump balls, leading the team in rebounds, and protecting the rim. It’s all been about his improved footwork, and it’s been great to watch.
The final piece to this puzzle is Barnes becoming the Raptors’ go-to guy in the 4th quarter as much as anyone else on the team. It doesn’t appear in the box score, but it’s notable.
During the Raptors’ overtime victory against the Knicks, it was Barnes, not all-stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, who led the charge and won the game. Not just with his scoring, but by being a true facilitator. Barnes found shooters on skip passes, forced the Knicks to double him in the post, and wasn’t afraid of the big moment.
It wasn’t as splashy as a 40-point game or highlight play, but it was a window into the Raptors’ future. A future with Barnes playing point-forward and leading the team to an overtime victory on both ends of the floor.