It may have been the best game of his young NBA career with the Toronto Raptors.
No, Scottie Barnes didn’t explode for 25 points like he did earlier in the season against the Boston Celtics, but the completeness of his performance on both ends of the floor Friday night was a sight to behold.
“He’s got a really, really high ceiling,” Fred VanVleet told reporters. “He’s definitely one of my more challenging projects that I’ve had, but he makes some plays sometimes that you can see the vision and the feel and stuff that’s hard to teach … There’s nothing he can’t do on the court.”
It was certainly his most dominant defensive showing—he’s displayed plenty of flashes in games past, but never has he executed to such a stifling, everywhere-at-once degree. He was locked in every minute he was on the floor, zipping across the floor, wingspan spread wide, blowing up New York Knicks actions here and there.
He even capped it all with a breathtaking recovery block on Obi Toppin underneath the rim, swatting a layup attempt off the backboard.
Barnes’ fundamentals, too, were on point. From tip ’til buzzer, he set strong screens, boxed out New York’s big front line, and crashed the glass with a relentless, hungry energy. The result was helping the Raptors close defensive possessions (they held the Knicks to just 87 total points) and a career-high 15 rebounds, both of which were instrumental to Toronto’s victory.
“We have great conversations,” the Raptors guard added. “I think he leans on me a lot as far as someone to learn the game [from] and how it's played, and I certainly lean on him a lot on the court. He's been really, really good for us this year.”
It was a bit of an understated game from Barnes, despite the eye-popping rebounding numbers. It wasn’t the sort where his impact was being featured, front and centre, in such a way that it was unmissable. No, it was a night of grasping the in-between elements of basketball at the highest level and controlling them, something extremely difficult for any player to accomplish.
The fact that Barnes is doing things like this already at merely 20 years old is genuinely astounding, and while there’s obviously a long way for him to grow, what he’s already showing shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“I'm on his butt about being great and he's been steadily improving all year,” VanVleet said, “so I think that he's gonna be huge for us going forward.”