Scottie Barnes and the Toronto Raptors filled the gaping hole on their roster with the addition of Gradey Dick from Kansas. Management used the No. 13 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to solve a pressing need. Dick is potentially the sharpshooter this team lacked, having made 40.3% of his 3-pointers. Dick averaged 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game this year.
Even with Dick, the Raptors’ starting lineup seems mostly set if they bring back Jakob Poeltl. The position that remains unsettled is the point guard, with Fred VanVleet reportedly expecting $30 million per season in free agency after opting out of his contract.
While Dick and Barnes are the present and future of the organization, playing time is mandatory for their development, and VanVleet would be in the way.
VanVleet, who underperformed in 2023 (39.3% from the field), could find untold riches elsewhere if interest in his abilities is high. There are reports that teams like the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers might make him an offer. That scenario is not a bad thing for Toronto.
Rather than draft a replacement point guard, Toronto seems willing to let VanVleet hit free agency. If he ends up leaving, the Raptors may have inadvertently created a pathway toward Barnes being the team’s starting point guard.
Will Scottie Barnes start at PG for the Toronto Raptors?
Prior to drafting Dick, with Trent opting in for next season, the Raptors had 11 players under contract and are committed to approximately $120 million in salary. This does not include Dick’s rookie deal, UDFA Markquis Nowell, Jakob Poeltl, or VanVleet.
Dick, VanVleet, at a possible $30 million, and Poeltl at $20 million would put the Raptors dangerously close to the luxury tax. Dick and Poeltl’s signings would leave limited room to maneuver financially. Then, next year, Toronto will also have to deal with extensions for Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
Signing and trading or walking away from VanVleet could free up salary, and a roster spot. This would allow Barnes, drafted in 2021, to become the focal point of the Raptors’ offense. With the current roster, Barnes’ role isn’t very clear, and playing the point would define one for him.
Rajakovic prefers a system of ball movement and attacking the paint in his offensive sets. He has also helped develop a number of bigs, like Barnes, into great passers. Barnes definitely has great floor vision. Former head coach Nick Nurse once stated about Barnes:
"“I hear he’s a point guard…He’s kind of an organizing, pass-first type of guy… He likes that position, point guard. He likes that behind his name. So we’ll see if we can develop that out a little bit.”"
Versatile as a defender, Barnes can lock down opposing guards and is a challenge to pass around and shoot over with his 6-8 frame. Deleting VanVleet from the rotation could make the Raptors more domineering defensively and more dynamic offensively. Barnes’ 4.8 assists per game will assuredly go up.
Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri still have time to decide what to do about VanVleet. Financially, he may no longer fit in with the long-term future of the team. Webster’s insistence on bringing back everyone in free agency might be a pipe dream.
The solution to the financial numbers crunch and talent development issues that the Raptors face may be Barnes at point guard.