As Scottie Barnes took the floor in his unofficial NBA debut on Monday night, fans were quick to draw comparisons between the 6’7 rookie and Magic Johnson – one of the greatest playmakers to ever live – and dare I say, for good reason.
Projecting Scottie’s career trajectory to be equivalent to that of Johnson’s would be asinine, never mind doing so hastily following a 25-minute long exhibition showing, but there were things that Barnes showed last which simply cannot be taught. The way that Barnes is able to cradle the ball on his drives to the rim, see over defenses, and whip the ball to teammates through tiny gaps in the defense are skills that very few rookies come equipped with.
After his team struggled to find the bottom of the basket for the first couple minutes of the contest, Barnes alleviated the offensive pressure by calling for the ball in the post with Danny Green on his back. Making good use of the eyes on the back of his head and the quick chemistry that he’s built with elder statesman, Goran Dragic, he found the Slovenian guard on a backcut for his first dime of the night.
Towards the end of the quarter, Barnes calmed the nerves of naysayers still wary of his inconsistent jump shot by comfortably stepping into a twenty-footer at the top of the arc, and knocking it down with a hand in his face. Although his only look from deep last night ringed off the front of the iron, the most important thing for Barnes this season will be taking – and making – enough jump shots to keep the defense honest. At this juncture, he is proving to be capable of that.
Arguably, Barnes’ most impressive pair of plays came in the second quarter. On the very first possession of the twelve-minute reset, Barnes had the ball in his hands at the top of the key. Upon faking a hand-off with Yuta Watanabe, he noticed that the defender on his back, was overplaying the action. Without wasting a second to read his advantage, Barnes spun over his left shoulder, palmed the rock in his right hand, and without ever putting two hands on the leather, he threw down a thunderous jam that would make its way toward social media feeds within minutes.
Not long thereafter, Barnes had the ball on a fastbreak. Upon being cut off on the baseline by Georges Niang, he maturely opted not to force a shot. Noticing Justin Champagnie cutting towards the rim, he tried to squeeze a pass under the outstretched arm of Andre Drummond which was deflected. The deflection would have led to another turnover for the rookie, if not for his tenacious work ethic. Like a gazelle, he leaped in the air to steal the ball out of Drummond’s hands, and immediately tossed a no-look pass inside to Champagnie for an and-one.
Barnes finished the game with 13 points, nine rebounds, and six assists – an all-around stat sheet stuffer, who might be a pretty solid late-round flyer if you’re drafting for your fantasy league soon. The intrigue in Scottie’s game lies within his ability to impact, and take over, a game in so many ways. Even though he lacks polish as an offensive threat, he finds ways to make positive a impact, and never gives up on plays. If you have been following the young man’s career at all until this point, none of this should come as a surprise for you. The biggest takeaway from last night’s game should only be that Scottie appears to be capable of replicating what he’s always done at the NBA level. If that’s the case – and he continues to develop as many expect him to – then the Raptors will quickly be dubbed the winners of the 2021 NBA Draft.
When asked about what it was like to play in front of a Canadian crowd for the first time, Barnes responded, “It was great to play at home, interact with the fans, get their energy. I felt like they got us going a little bit today, so we had a great interaction today. I like it.”
Scottie, I think it’s safe to say that we like you too. The next time that we’ll have an opportunity to see Scottie in action will come against the Philadelphia 76ers (yes, again) on Thursday night. Until then, he should be posting some stories on Instagram or Snapchat to keep the masses of us entertained.