When a player has It, a metaphysical quality sports discourse seemingly has no better term for, it’s fairly easy to recognize. Toronto Raptors talent Scottie Barnes has It, and though he hasn’t had too many opportunities to showcase that in highly intense moments throughout the course of his rookie season, the aura of that abstract attribute has been present in his game from the moment he first stepped on NBA hardwood.
Whether it’s been pinpointing instances to take over offensively, step up fearlessly to take open triples, or ask head coach Nick Nurse to let him guard the opposing team’s best player, It has been on full display for the eagle-eyed.
“Scottie is one of those guys,” Fred VanVleet said post-game. “He is a young star in the making. Unfortunately, everybody is at the mercy of his development and his maturity process. That’s the way it goes when you have a top pick and a talent like that. He’s been playing at a really high level. He’s shown a little bit of everything—he’s playing centre for us, I’m not sure that’s his natural position. And he can do it all—score , assist, make plays, defend. He was guarding Bam [Adebayo], he was guarding Jimmy [Butler].”
On Saturday night, Barnes’ propensity to rise to the Moment was finally put to the test in a specific scenario, the most important of his young career to date. With 2.9 seconds left on the clock in regulation and the Raptors trailing the Miami Heat by two, Barnes was fouled and sent to the free throw line—a place where he’s shot 72.3 percent on the year.
But right then, in that situation, Barnes’ accumulated accuracy didn’t matter. It may as well have been 100 percent. His natural instincts kicked in, his basketball brain zeroed in on the task at hand, and he faced the Moment eye-to-eye before taking control.
“Two free throws. Gotta knock ‘em down,” Barnes said. “Telling myself in my head that it’s easy and I’m gonna knock ‘em down. That’s really it.”
Without hesitation, in front of – screaming fans and Toronto’s bench on their feet, Barnes went through his usual routine, dribbling once, twice, and then, as calmly as if he were in an empty gym, he swished the first free throw. Then, a few seconds later, he did the same for the second.
The ball never even touched rim.
What ensued were three extra frames of playoff-like basketball, with the Raptors ultimately coming out on top and earning their most hard fought (if not simply best) victory of the season. And while there were many key moments that led to the win, Barnes’ sticks out as a sort of first—an overt, undeniable example of his It factor, and a forewarning of what is to come.
“He stepped up and made two big free throws to get us into overtime,” VanVleet said. “There was never a doubt in my mind that he was gonna knock ‘em down.”