The Toronto Raptors are trying to bounce back from a season that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 NBA season. What's the key to them getting back on track? Scottie Barnes flourishing in his rookie season.
Toronto selected Barnes with the fourth overall pick in July's NBA Draft. In Barnes' one season at Florida State, he averaged 10.3 points, 4.1 assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He showcased an ability to defend at a high level, finish in the paint and score off the dribble.
Scottie Barnes epitomizes the type of players that Florida State has sent to the NBA in recent memory, that being fundamentally sound two-way players with upside. That skill set is perfect for head coach Nick Nurse's operation for a couple reasons: 1) the Raptors are a team with fundamentally sound players and 2) Barnes could be a new dimension to their offense.
Pascal Siakam has shown an ability to be a high-impact player with his defensive knack and multidimensional scoring. Fred VanVleet is a premier shooter and composed floor general. OG Anunoby has become a legitimate scoring option while still being a deadeye shooter and reliable defender.
Gary Trent Jr. is an energetic scorer. Chris Boucher is an athletic frontcourt scorer. Khem Birch is a smooth inside player. Malachi Flynn is an efficient guard who can defend.
The issue is there's some parity in this rotation. For example, Siakam and Boucher get their points in similar parts of the floor. Meanwhile, VanVleet and Anunoby are reliant on their shooting ability. Now, parity doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, rather it's something that can be a hurdle for a team that's trying to get back in contention. That's where Scottie Barnes is a compelling fit.
Scottie Barnes may not be a go-to scorer or a dominant force, but he does a little bit of everything well. That type of player can become a difference-maker. To date, the production hasn't backed up the hype for Barnes, but that's not an omen for what's to come for him in the NBA.
First off, Barnes won't be the centerpiece of the Raptors' offense and opposing teams' defensive attention for that matter. Siakam and VanVleet are the players who teams are game-planning for while keeping tabs on Trent and Anunoby.
In the raw stages of his NBA career, Scottie Barnes can be the player that benefits from the attention his teammates attract. That means double-digit points per game and getting to the charity stripe by attacking the rack. Barnes' ability to effectively put the ball on the floor, sky above the rim, play in the post and occasionally attempt midrange jump shots makes him a versatile player who's difficult to shut down.
In time, maybe teams have to alter their defensive scheme to focus on slowing down Scottie Barnes, making matters easier for the preexisting core, which is one with players who haven't even entered their primes.
Perhaps the most problematic matter for the Raptors and Scottie Barnes is that in the midst of their bizarre season, several rebuilding teams made leaps in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, a handful of other teams are either on the verge of a break out or made high-impact moves this offseason.
Scottie Barnes knows that the Atlanta Hawks went from the 14th seed in the East in 2020 to competing in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Year one of the Tom Thibodeau era saw the New York Knicks snatch the four seed. The Indiana Pacers are coming off an injured-riddled season.
As for significant offseason transactions, the Chicago Bulls acquired DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball while the Washington Wizards' busy offseason could result in them having an elite offense. The Miami Heat have Kyle Lowry in the fold and the Boston Celtics have the tools to get back in contention, where the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers loom large.
While the NBA Play-In Tournament leaves the door open for any playoff hopeful, the new-look East is a daunting task for the Raptors and Scottie Barnes to overcome. They do have continuity on their side, however, which is one of the more prosperous and reliable elements a team can have; Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby and others have gone to war together in the playoffs.
Kyle Lowry is gone. His absence mixed with a season that saw the Raptors play 21 hours away from home (the Raptors played their home games in Tampa Bay, Florida due to COVID-19 matters), Siakam and Nurse supposedly not seeing eye-to-eye and the team missing the playoffs makes the 2021-22 NBA season the dawn of a new era for the Raptors. It's feasible for this team to get back in the playoffs, but they need a significant internal development.
That development is Scottie Barnes. He has to live up to his draft selection from both a production and impact standpoint for the franchise to stay afloat and have a road to contention in the near future.