How Raptors' Scottie Barnes won Rookie of the Year

On this episode of Spotlight, Samson Folk recaps Scottie Barnes’ emergence as an isolation and passing threat on offence and his difficult defensive assignment.

Video Transcript

- Talk about someone has the potential to be special.

SAMSON FOLK: Scottie Barnes' lock screen had a bunch of goals he wanted to achieve on it. Among those were bringing generational wealth to his family and destroying everybody at practice. But the one he most concretely achieved was to win the Rookie of the Year award.

- Let's hear it one more time with Scottie Barnes!

SAMSON FOLK: Let's look at how the number four pick came out as the number one rookie, a season review.

A huge part of what drove Scottie Barnes' his success this year was the intersection of his tremendous feel for the game and his brute physicality. The first five baskets he scored in the NBA, two were on isolations and the other three were these long, loping finishes in transition. That was a great indicator of how he would succeed on offense throughout the year. And if you want a super thorough explanation of that, go to Yahoo Sports Canada, click on the "Spotlight" playlist and I have a very thorough explanation of how he dominated in isolation.

The short version, though, is that Barnes is massive, strong, and unafraid of any contact at the rim. He launches himself there with reckless abandon and has an uncanny and fascinating ability to square his hips and himself to the rim and still manage to finish with very soft touch there. He's way too big for guards, he's way too big for medium sized wings, and he's too quick for bigs. A jack of all trades as far as scores go in put backs, isolations, cuts and post-ups, they all fall under 9% to 13% of his scoring possessions. He was liable to do anything at any point in time on offense, and even jump shooting fell under that umbrella for a time.

Take the abrupt 11 game sample where he shot over 40% on pull-up and catch and shoot threes, where at the behest of Nick Nurse's comments in the media, Barnes started launching four triples a game. That didn't stick, but it's emblematic of Scottie Barnes' ethos that says, I will try anything at any point in time, the let's see what I can do on an NBA court experimentation that guided a lot of his success in his rookie season. We saw the isolations and post-ups translate really well to the postseason. But during the regular season, he could be found succeeding and any of the aforementioned play types.

Are we ready for the dumb, fun stat query sponsored by Thaddeus Young? Yes, there are only nine players in the NBA who averaged more than 15 points, 3.4 assists, 7.4 rebounds and one steal. And Scottie Barnes is one of them.

OK. Let's talk playmaking. His playmaking was at its best in broken plays or in the open floor in transition, where he got to read the moving parts faster than anybody else could. Half court creation, or playmaking, often comes down to how much defensive attention you can generate or how dangerous of spots you can get to. This is why Siakam was the best playmaker for the Raptors despite Scottie being able to make more types of passes and dynamic reads. That manipulation from Barnes is going to come and that's where we'll see his playmaking hit a whole new level. But it won't really come until he starts to draw doubles and overwhelm defenses.

For now, the broken plays, the transition reads, those pop off and the Raptors even use him as a trigger man in their set actions from time to time. His height and length allow him to see more of the court, yes, but they also allow him to take more aggressive angles as a passer to put more zip on the ball. And sometimes that's the difference between making and not making a really dangerous and effective interior pass.

Among forwards, Scottie Barnes was 80th percentile in assist rate. And he did this while his team was asking him to be more of a scorer than a primary creator who passes the ball around. He took the little opportunities in broken plays and transition and turned it into the 80th percentile. And so while he didn't over deliver on his playmaking like he did with his scoring, he still delivered.

And it's hard to sum up what he did defensively this year. Because he was bad at a lot of stuff, but he was also asked to do a lot more than most rookies are on defense. Given the Raptors reliance on everybody being able to switch and defend, it means that anybody can become the linchpin of that defense at any point in time. The pieces are moving, and he was jettisoned into being a point of attack defender on superstars or the low man left to contest these behemoth rim runners quite a few times during the regular season. And while he failed so many times, I think he succeeded at more than he had any right to.

The name of his defensive game was length and versatility. And there's no better way to boil this down than to point to the Harden and Embiid pick and roll. Barnes isn't the best player on the Raptors to guard Harden or Embiid, but his size and versatility meant the Raptors were happy to allow him to try and stop Harden in isolation and that they also didn't have to worry about switching him onto Embiid. They'd still overload and double on the catch, but that's no different than if precious or Pascal were on ball, a happy marriage between scheme and personnel.

By the end of the Raptors' regular season, Barnes had worked himself into being a positive on the defensive end, after being a negative early on. And his importance to their defensive scheme, that wasn't lost in the playoffs either. It carried over. He was labeled as a defense-first prospect. And despite his explosion on the offensive side of the floor, he didn't lose the plot on the less glamorous end either.

All these things, in addition to being an overwhelming positive force for himself and those around him off the court, this is how Scottie Barnes crafted a Rookie of the Year campaign that he wants the Hall of Fame. We know that from the lock screen, of course. But he put his best foot forward in an uber competitive draft class that people are already hailing as one of the best in recent memory and he came out on top. What a year.

I'm Samson Folk. This is "Spotlight." And thanks for tuning in.

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