Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2022-23 NBA season, our TSN staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal their bigger meaning.
Today, Raptors forward Scottie Barnes takes the spotlight.
Everyone should be excited to see what Scottie Barnes has in store for Year 2.
The No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Barnes proved to be a special player in his rookie season. He ended up averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while playing some incredibly pesky defense, all of which helped him earn Rookie of the Year honors over Evan Mobley.
Now, big things are expected out of Barnes.
Heading into his sophomore season, Barnes was one of the young players a number of NBA executives would most want to build a team around. Raptors president Masai Ujiri is preaching patience with his development, but he’s still expecting Barnes to make “another jump.” Barnes is even putting pressure on himself with goals of being an All-Star and cracking an All-Defensive Team.
Whether or not Barnes can make that sort of leap this season remains to be seen, but we are getting a taste in preseason of the offseason work he’s put in that will help him develop into a star.
You know what that means — to the film room!
Breakdown: Fred VanVleet inbounds the ball to Gary Trent Jr. at the top of the 3-point line and receives it back almost immediately. Barnes fights for post position in front of them while Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby space the floor on the opposite side of the court by parking themselves on the perimeter.
If it’s not clear what the Raptors are looking to do, VanVleet kind of gives it away by pointing directly at Barnes.
Barnes has a ton of room to operate, but Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt does a good job of making him work to get open and pushes him all the way out to the 3-point line.
Barnes doesn’t waste any time making his move when he does get the ball. He drives baseline and spins back towards the center of the court when Vanderbilt bodies him up, getting him close to where he was in the first place.
The problem? Mike Conley takes advantage of VanVleet setting a screen for Trent by helping all the way off.
Conley’s presence forces Barnes to pick up his dribble with seven seconds remaining on the shot clock. Barnes has some options — Siakam cuts towards him and there’s a brief window where VanVleet is open — but he decides to do his best Kevin Durant impression by turning over his left shoulder for a jump shot.
Vanderbilt is listed at 6-foot-9 and has a reported 7-foot-1 wingspan. Barnes might make this look easy, but it sure as heck isn’t:
Why it matters: Barnes proved to be a good scorer with his back to the basket as a rookie. According to NBA.com, around a tenth of his total points on the season came out of the post. He scored them at a league-average rate of 0.92 points per possession, which is nothing to scoff at for a 20-year-old in his first season in the NBA.
Barnes is a tough mismatch for most players in those situations because of his size. He’s 6-foot-7, a solid 225 pounds and he has a massive 7-foot-2 wingspan — not quite matching Durant’s 7-foot-5 stretch but not far off either.
Whether Barnes was being defended by guards, forwards or even centers, he almost always used those physical tools to his advantage in the post with some variation of this — a few dribbles into the body of his defender to create space, followed by a hook shot or floater over either shoulder:
That’s what makes his shot over Vanderbilt so tantalizing.
In an interview with Aaron Rose of Sports Illustrated’s AllRaptors, Barnes’ trainer, Brian Macon, made it clear that improving his jump shot was a focus of theirs in the offseason. No surprises there — Barnes was one of the least efficient shooters in the NBA last season — but he did reveal that Barnes was working on a specific shot.
“He’s way more consistent with his jump shot,” Macon said. “His mid-post turnarounds both ways, those are, like, he’s gonna make a lot of those. Like, those are going to be like his money shots.”
Nice as it would be to see Barnes turn into a knockdown 3-point shooter overnight, it’s going to take time. (Look no further than how Siakam has evolved as an example.) He probably will fire up more 3s this season than he did last season, but getting more comfortable from midrange would unlock his scoring potential in a big way.
Yes, Durant is one of the most skilled 3-point shooters in league history, but that high-release, turnaround midrange jumper has every bit to do with his rise as one of the league’s most unstoppable offensive talents. That’s a lofty bar and one that Barnes likely won’t fully reach. However, adding one of KD’s tools to his own ever-expanding bag would certainly pave a cleaner path towards superstardom, an aspirational yet attainable goal that could ultimately dictate Toronto’s long-term prospects.
Are we getting carried away? Perhaps. (We’re talking about a preseason game after all.) Should we pump the brakes? Almost assuredly yes. But the turnarounds Barnes worked on during the offseason could be the next steps in his franchise-altering development.