The Toronto Raptors just lost in overtime to the Atlanta Hawks. It was their third defeat in their last five games. Right now, the Raptors sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with nine wins and eight losses. They have been quite an inconsistent bunch, and much of it can be attributed to the underwhelming play of sophomore forward and reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Here we will look at why Barnes is just NOT as good as we thought he would be.
Scottie Barnes is NOT as good as we thought
Being a top-five pick in an NBA draft is great and all, but it does come with some baggage. That may either overwhelm a player too much that he becomes a bust, or it can galvanize a player into a superb player.
That baggage can be called the spotlight, the media attention, the scrutiny, the adversity, or the onus. It all comes with the territory. In the case of Scottie Barnes, all of those things enabled him to be an impact player with the Toronto Raptors last season. He played so well that he was named 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year and was regarded as a potentially elite two-way player this season.
That latter part has not really panned out, though.
Well, at least not yet.
Plagued by inconsistent production, Barnes is now hearing the first murmurs of discontent with his performance in 2022-23. Those whispers get louder with each game in which he fails to live up to lofty expectations befitting a ROY.
In terms of numbers, Barnes has not been awful. In fact, he is putting up averages of 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. As of this writing, he is shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. He is fifth on the Raptors in scoring and third each in rebounding and assists.
Objectively speaking, Barnes is putting up more assists and threes than in his rookie campaign. However, he is also averaging fewer points, rebounds, and steals while shooting at a lower clip from the floor.
Take note that people everywhere felt Barnes was due for a big leap in production this year. On the contrary, he has slipped. At best, he’s producing at the same rate as last year. At worst, we’re seeing a gradual decline in his impact on Toronto.
Does this bother Barnes and the Raptors organization? Remember that the team is 17 games into the season already. That’s not exactly a tiny sample size anymore.
It goes without saying that Barnes himself surely demands more of himself, but what of his teammates?
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 20, 2022
As for veteran forward Thaddeus Young, he sees Barnes a bit hard on himself during this whole stretch. However, Young sees that as a positive for his sophomore teammate.
“Scottie puts a lot of pressure and a lot of weight on his shoulders,” Thad Young said after their loss in Indianapolis last weekend. “Sometimes that can be your biggest killer, but I love that about him. That he puts a lot of stress and pressure on himself to be great and be better each and every day. It’s only going to make him a better individual and a better player.”
Of course, even Young admits that Barnes’ start has not exactly been ideal. Still, the seasoned 34-year-old feels it’s all part of the process, especially for someone like Barnes, who continues to find his way in the NBA.
“You have guys who go through the sophomore slump and sometimes it hits a little sooner than later,” Young added. “But I think Scottie is still going to be great. All of this is a part of the growing process. As long he understands it’s part of the growing process and does not get down on himself, he’s going to be great.”
We also have to acknowledge the fact that teams are putting more focus on stopping Barnes. Yes, it has been noticeable that he hasn’t finished with as much authority and juice as last season. However, that can also be because of how Toronto’s opponents are keying on him much more intensely than before.
The reality is that teams appear to be more prepared this year to send double teams the way of the ROY. He won’t be able to bully his way inside as routinely as last season. This should be the catalyst for Barnes to widen his offensive repertoire and add more weapons to his personal arsenal.
Barnes has actually appeared to try that. He’s taking more jumpers now than last season, though he’s not exactly making a ton of them.
“You can see that I’m in the middle of a shooting slump,” Barnes shared after they beat the Miami Heat a few days ago. “But, just trying to stay confident, get through it, keep trying to be aggressive, trust your work, trust your craft, I feel like that’s what’s gonna get me through it every single day.”
Of course, aside from Young, Barnes’ other teammates have been supportive. Team leaders like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet try to motivate and push Barnes as much as they can. VanVleet, in particular, doesn’t even consider Barnes to be in a slump.
“Nobody around here is worried about him,” VanVleet said. “We know how great of a player he’s going to be. There’s not any young player I would trade him for. The sky’s the limit for him — I didn’t really even realize [Barnes’ slump] was a narrative until I was sitting at home watching the Detroit game. But yeah, it’s a little overblown.”
That kind of professional encouragement and belief is an interesting element in the Raptors’ team culture. They do hold Barnes accountable, but they also provide support when it’s needed. What Raptors fans hope, of course, is to see more strong performances from Barnes. This is especially because they want to see him continue to improve in terms of his production and perhaps more importantly, in terms of his leadership qualities.
Barnes wants those same things, as he recently said in his own words:
“Of course, I’m going to really embrace it, be who I am on the floor,” said Barnes. “…the ball is in my hands a little more when [Fred and Pascal] are out, but I’m just trying to take the game how it is—I feel like that’s a big thing, everybody giving me that confidence from the coaches to the players, having that support staff around me. I feel like that’s helpful.”
So is Barnes as good as we thought? Right now, we don’t think so, but in the foreseeable future, there is still a chance he might be.