Darko Rajakovic and the Toronto Raptors appeared to be dead in the water in their Sunday matinee duel with Victor Wembanyama and the new-look San Antonio Spurs. It took a masterclass from Scottie Barnes, a performance that illustrated just how far he has come, to turn things around for Toronto.
Barnes nailed five 3-pointers on his way to a 30-point, 11-rebound, six-assist day that propelled Toronto to their first overtime win of the Rajakovic era. Barnes became the first player in NBA history to reach those prior numbers while also recording three steals and three blocks in a single game.’
The Spurs win was one of those games where Rajakovic’s coaching took a back seat to the action going on between the lines. The first-year head coach kept his hands off the final product and let Barnes cook, gaining an even greater appreciation for what he brings to the team.
Rajakovic said that he is “blessed to have a player like [Barnes]” after his virtuoso performance against San Antonio, which is as good a compliment as a coach in his seventh game can give a player like Barnes. This likely won’t be the last time Rajakovic thanks the heavens above for an MIP frontrunner in Barnes.
Darko Rajakovic “blessed” to have Scottie Barnes on the Toronto Raptors.
Barnes has averaged 22.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.1 blocks per game this season. Between scoring 20 points in all but one game this season and stuffing the stat sheet on both ends, Barnes is showing that Rajakovic’s system is better for his offensive numbers than what Nick Nurse was doing last year.
The two main reasons for Barnes’ struggles last season were a lack of aggression compounded by an inability to shoot from 3-point range. Now that Scottie is showing 42% from deep on increased volume while taking more shots than he did last year, Rajakovic’s offense is starting to take shape.
Barnes is making plays as a passer, showing off a new and improved frame with much more lean muscle, and taking control of an offense that can stagnate for long periods of time. That is all tangible growth, and Rajakovic deserves some credit for enabling it.
Winning was always going to be the main goal for a team that doesn’t have any draft picks, but the secondary goal for this Raptors team was making sure that Barnes ended up taking the necessary steps forward. After the San Antonio game, Barnes confirmed that he had arrived.