BROOKLYN - In the lead up to the 2021 NBA Draft, we began to see the first few picks taking shape. In fact, before the night even got started, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski had already fired off Tweets with the first three selections: Cade Cunningham to the Detroit Pistons at No. 1, Jalen Green to the Houston Rockets at No. 2 and Evan Mobley to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 3.
That left the Toronto Raptors at No. 4, set to either keep the uniform expectations going for one more pick or kickstart the chaos of the big night.
The greater majority of draft talent evaluators felt that Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs was the fourth best player in this class, and I would certainly group myself in with that notion. To be completely honest, I didn't understand what the hold up was on the Raptors making their decision to select Suggs. With the greatest player in franchise history in Kyle Lowry set to hit the unrestricted free agent market, Suggs seemed like the inevitable heir-apparent to fill his shoes. Should Lowry leave in free agency, it would have been a seamless transition, as Suggs carries similar leadership qualities with a winner's mentality that echoes that of the six-time All-Star and one-time NBA champion.
I was under the assumption that once the Raptors were on the clock, all of the typical pre-draft smokescreens would fade and they would select their point guard of the future in Suggs. All the way up until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stepped to the podium:
With the fourth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select... Scottie Barnes, Florida State University.
After a virtual NBA Draft in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fans were back and heavily invested in one of the tentpole events of the NBA season, and you could feel the collective audible gasp of surprise from the crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Immediately, I knew I wasn't alone in my genuine astonishment that Toronto elected to go with Barnes over Suggs.
Just after hearing his name called, with the unanimous shock still in the air at the arena, Barnes gave out a few hugs to some of his loved ones before busting out some dance moves to the song blaring over the speakers: "What's Next," the hit track by Raptors' Global Ambassador Drake.
pic.twitter.com/IefZBAxbqF- The Jump on ESPN (@NBATheJump) July 30, 2021
It was in that moment that you could feel the energy change in the building. The fans went from confounded to estatic happiness for the 19-year-old that just achieved his lifelong dream, and I was right there with them.
As funny as it sounds, it was during that momentum change that I realized the Raptors made the right selection.
During the pre-draft process, a few terms that constantly surrounded Barnes were: contagious energy, hard working, vocal leader and great teammate, to name a few. I got to witness the "contagious energy" part in real-time, as Barnes' liveliness rubbed off on the entire building in a way that I would assume it does on the basketball court and in the locker room.
And after the dust settled and he hopped into his post-draft interviews, he reiterated a lot of those things about himself in explaining what he'll bring to the Raptors organization.
"I just want to be great. I'm just a great person, I'm a great teammate, I'm a great player, I want to be known for someone that just puts in the time, puts in the work, someone that's great, that just does it all," Barnes told the media. "Striving for greatness, I'm going to keep working, staying in the gym, I just want to leave that legacy that I'm that guy that I can really be."
Barnes stated that he had no idea where he was going to be selected heading into the night, but after being picked by the Raptors at No. 4, he believes Toronto is an ideal culture fit for him.
"I would say I fit in perfect," Barnes said of the Raptors. "Just with what their whole gameplan is based off. They start off with a defensive mindset, a defensive mentality, I feel like I belong in that program. So, I would just say I can fit right in, doing different things to help other people, other people can help me. I feel like I fit right in."
It's hard to disagree with the Florida State product.
At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Barnes' stature screams versatility. He plays like a point guard in a power forward's body, with exceptional ball handling and passing skills for not just a player of his size, but a player of any size. His length, build and attitude allows him to truly defend positions 1-through-5, taking on any challenge that is asked of him.
He can run the offence with players like Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and, potentially, restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr. around him, or play off the ball while VanVleet (or Lowry) runs the show. And coming into his rookie year, he may immediately be asked to take on a bigger role than anticipated, with All-Star forward Siakam expected to miss the start of the season after receiving shoulder surgery back in June.
But before I get caught thinking too far into the future, the focus remains on the present. Even if I thought Suggs was the right selection before the draft, I've very quickly talked myself into Barnes as a player who could not possibly be a better representative of what it means to be a Toronto Raptor.
After seeing what head coach Nick Nurse said in his post-draft media availability, it sounds like he feels the same way from watching his workouts with the team.
"He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player... It's a great pick for us," Nurse stated, according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "He really has a magnetic personality. He has a high-energy type of personality... He's a great communicator and he has a passion for winning."
Nurse also preached about how Barnes' work ethic reminds him of Siakam and Anunoby, and that relentless effort was captured immediately when the No. 4 pick was late to his first official team media availability because he got caught in traffic on the way home from an 8 a.m. workout the day after he was drafted.
That is the type of player the Raptors got with the No. 4 pick.
So while there will likely be understanding frustrations about passing on Suggs (especially if Lowry elects to go elsewhere in free agency), Raptors fans won't have a choice but to embrace the prospect their favourite team selected.
Scottie Barnes will win over the hearts of the entire country through his selfless impact on winning, his nonstop desire to improve his game and his transcendent passion for uplifting everyone around him.
I didn't realize it before the draft, but I realize it now: the Raptors got their guy with the No. 4 pick.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.