Throughout the college basketball season and leading up to the NBA draft, there’s been a consensus top four players of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs. These four players have been in some sort of one-through-four order all season long.
This is one of the most talented draft classes in recent memory and all four players at the top have the potential to be franchise-changing players.
Where it starts to get interesting is at pick No. 5. The Orlando Magic have the fifth pick and have a chance to land the most intriguing player of this draft class: Scottie Barnes.
Barnes is a 6-foot-9 point-forward who came off the bench during his one year at Florida State. He selected Florida State over Kentucky and Oregon.
In high school, he was a five-star recruit, McDonald’s All-American and played on one of the greatest high school teams ever at Montverde Academy with Cunningham, Moses Moody and Day’Ron Sharpe — all projected first-round draft picks.
Seminoles assistant coach C.Y. Young remembered the first time he watched Barnes play as an eighth grader.
“We knew pretty early that he was someone that we liked and someone who would be great for our program,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “I remember at a game during his sophomore season, I turned to [head coach] Leonard Hamilton and I said, ‘We have Scottie Pippen in our state. We have to get him.’”
Pippen played 12 years in the NBA, won six NBA championships and is considered one of the greatest small forwards to ever play basketball. That is a lofty NBA comparison for anyone entering the league.
It’s lofty until you start to break down Barnes’ skill set, get to know him as a player and see how his game has already developed at just 19 years old. Barnes is the most versatile player in this draft class, but it didn’t start out that way at Florida State.
How Scottie Barnes became a point guard
He played the stretch-four throughout high school and averaged 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists his senior season. He played the forward position on the U16 and U17 USA Basketball teams that won gold medals at the FIBA World Cup. Teammates from those two teams included Green, Suggs and Mobley, and head coach Don Showalter recalled the impact Barnes had on those two teams.
"He’s just one of those players that’s just a joy to be around," Showalter said. "He loves the game, he’s extremely talented from the aspect that he makes everyone around him better. He would rather make a great pass than score points. When it comes down to winning and competing, he was dead-on serious about that. He competed hard."
Everything changed for Barnes when Hamilton and his staff threw him a curveball and said they wanted him to play point guard.
“When we told him we wanted him to play the point, he was a little unsure if he could do it,” Young said. “He said, ‘Coach, are y’all serious?’ And we told him we thought it was the best thing for his future. I think him playing point guard this year set himself apart from other prospects.”
Barnes started seven games early in the season. He had a huge presence bringing the ball up the floor with his filled-out frame and 7-3 wingspan. There were some growing pains and adjustments that had to be made offensively, but Barnes still excelled as a playmaker, dishing out 16 assists in his first three games. Defensively, he was all over the court switching on everything, picking up guards full court and banging down low in the post.
Hamilton and his staff were on to something.
Barnes didn’t mind coming off the bench behind Anthony Polite. Barnes never sat down on the bench; he was always plugged into the game and cheering on his teammates. There is no one in this draft class who loves the game of basketball more than Scottie Barnes.
“When you see his passion for the game, it’s something you can’t teach,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “It’s obvious how much time he puts into the game, and I think he’s going to win a lot of games for an NBA team during his career because he’s a player that will do whatever is asked of him.”
Barnes didn’t put up huge numbers in his one season at Florida State, averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He shot an underwhelming 27.5% from 3-point range and his outside shot is something he’s been working hard at during the pre-draft process.
“I feel like I’m a better shooter than my numbers say I am,” Barnes told Yahoo Sports. “My upper body shooting mechanics were good, but it was fixing my lower body, from the hips and the legs. I’m just getting tons and tons of reps in until I feel comfortable like it’s second nature.”
Patrick Williams, Draymond Green comparisons
Barnes isn’t the first player to come off the bench from Florida State and be a top-five draft pick.
Last year, the Chicago Bulls selected FSU forward Patrick Williams at No. 4 after Williams averaged only 9.2 points in 22 minutes per game in his one season. Williams made a defensive impact during his rookie season in Chicago, drawing daunting assignments like guarding LeBron James 10 games into his career.
“I think he is going to be an exceptional talent,” James said of Williams. “[He has] long arms. He has Kawhi-type of hands that I noticed out on the floor, so I knew I couldn’t play with the ball much. You can tell he is just laser-sharp on just trying to get better and better. I think Chicago has a good one.”
Barnes has the potential to make an immediate impact defensively on the court next season. If his shot starts to fall, he could end up being the biggest steal of the draft at No. 5.
“Scottie is the poster child for positionless basketball,” Young said. “He’s 6-foot-9, he can play one-through-five, guard one-through-five and has high energy and is a selfless player. He’s not overly concerned about scoring points, he just wants to win and will do whatever he has to do to win the game.”
Another early NBA comparison is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. Green is known for his defensive presence and passion for the game, and Barnes doesn’t mind being compared to the three-time NBA champion.
“I don’t mind being compared to Draymond,” Barnes said. “He’s a player that can drop down and play the five in a small-ball lineup. He’s a great defender that can guard all five positions, and that’s something I want to be known for at the next level, too.”
There is no one in this draft like Barnes. He’s more than a three-and-D guard and more than a defensive specialist. From Day 1, Barnes can come in and contribute, no matter where he’s playing on the court.
“I just want to come in and make an impact on a team right away,” Barnes said. “When I step on the floor, I want people to see my love for this game and how versatile I am on the court. I want to come in and do whatever it takes to help a team win.”
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