The Toronto Raptors surprised just about everyone when they selected Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Based on the first 10 games of his career, it's looking like the right decision.
Other than maybe Evan Mobley, there isn't a rookie who has been more impressive than Barnes to start this season. Sporting averages of 17.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, he leads all rookies in scoring and rebounding. He's scored in double figures in all but one game and already has two 20-10 games. No other member of the 2021 NBA Draft class has even one such game.
It's still incredibly early, of course, but the early returns on Barnes couldn't be better.
From his improved jump shot to his sky-high defensive potential, here are five things we've learned about the Raptors rookie so far.
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1. The jump shot is better than advertised
Barnes has shown a better shooting touch than expected.
He's not a threat from 3-point range, but Barnes is 12-for-29 (41.4 percent) from midrange and 19-for-43 (44.2 percent) from floater range through his first 10 games of the season, both of which are among the best marks for his position.
Both are important shots for Barnes to have in his arsenal. It's no secret that he wants to get to the basket, so the midrange is one way for him to keep defences honest.
Not only has he looked pretty smooth pulling up off the dribble when defenders give him space...
...but he's shown that he can pick-and-pop.
The floaters serve a similar purpose, giving Barnes something he can go to when defenders retreat to the basket, both when he has the ball in his hands...
...and when he's operating off-ball as a roller or cutter.
Considering Barnes was essentially a non-shooter in college - in addition to going 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) from 3-point range, The Athletic's draft expert Sam Vecenie has him going 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) from midrange at Florida State - he's way ahead of schedule. The hope is that he will only get more comfortable shooting from those distances and eventually expand his range out to the 3-point line.
2. Barnes is a monster in transition
So much so that he's already one of the league's leading scorers in the open court.
According to NBA.com, Barnes is averaging 4.9 points per game in transition, putting him behind only a group of 11 players for most in the league. He's been efficient on those plays, ranking in the 61st percentile with 1.17 points per possession.
The appeal with Barnes is that he's a forward with guard skills. If he grabs a rebound or comes up with a steal, he doesn't have to outlet the ball to one of the guards to jump-start the offence. He can simply push the ball himself.
And there aren't many players in the league who can go from one end of the court to the other in - wait, did he really only need three dribbles?
Barnes will also run the floor when someone else is pushing the ball, which is important because the Raptors aren't exactly short on pace-pushers and he plays for a coach who likes to run.
Between his ability to push the ball himself and ride shotgun, it should come as no surprise to hear that the Raptors go from averaging 16.2 points per 100 possessions on the fastbreak with Barnes on the court to 13.6 when he takes a seat on the bench. For perspective, that's the difference between Toronto ranking second in the league and 13th.
Small sample size, sure, but Barnes lived in transition in college as well. This is what he does.
3. There's little Barnes can't do
The jump shot has been a nice surprise and Barnes is already running teams to the ground in transition. Beyond that, he has shown that he can do a little bit of everything offensively.
The only area Barnes has really struggled to score with any sort of efficiency is in isolation. Otherwise, he's had success as a cutter, offensive rebounder and roller. He's even shown that he can create shots for himself out of the post.
Not that Barnes profiles to be some big-time scorer with his back to the basket, but he doesn't look like someone teams are going to be able to hide smaller defenders on.
Barnes also has great vision. He's averaging almost as many turnovers (2.1) as assists (2.6) on the season, but we've seen glimpses of the passing chops that had scouts excited about his playmaking potential. Plus, he averaged 4.1 assists per game in college, 3.3 assists per game in Summer League and 5.6 assists per game in preseason action. It's probably only a matter of time until he has more on-ball responsibilities and is racking up more assists.
If anything, there are times where the Raptors would benefit from Barnes being even more aggressive. That's not necessarily a bad problem to have.
4. Barnes is everywhere on defence
Barnes has been pretty impressive on the other end of the court as well.
According to The BBall Index, Barnes has been the third-most versatile defender in the entire league to this point of the season. The only players who have been more versatile than him? Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jalen McDaniels.
That speaks to the variety of players we've already seen Barnes defend. In Toronto's matchup with the Chicago Bulls, he spent the bulk of his time matched up with Lonzo Ball. Against the Brooklyn Nets, he guarded James Harden the most. Against the Boston Celtics, it was Jayson Tatum. And against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he defended Mobley.
Just because someone is versatile doesn't necessarily mean they're a good defender, but it's pretty clear that Barnes has the potential to be special defensively.
One, he's quick enough to defend the perimeter.
Two, he's massive, standing at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. His size and length help him envelop guards, bother wings, play the passing lanes and make the occasional play at the rim.
Three, he looks the part of a defender, knowing where to position himself and how to rotate.
The combination makes Barnes a perfect fit on a team that has the reputation of making life a living hell for opponents. On-ball, he can harass players at pretty much any position. Off-ball, he can wreak havoc with his long arms.
Just ask Kevin Durant.
Not that he's all the way there yet, but the fully-fledged version of Barnes could be quite scary defensively.
5. The vibes are immaculate
But you already knew that.
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