Scottie Barnes continues to check off all the right boxes.
Last night, he was the driving force to the team’s 97-94 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
After coming out victorious in his first game against Jalen Suggs — the player many assumed the franchise would take in the 2021 NBA Draft — the fourth overall pick paced the Raptors again.
This time to the tune of a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double.
Toronto has beaten the Pacers twice during their recent run. However, Indiana looked different this time as Malcolm Brogdon was sidelined, and Caris LeVert made his season debut.
The swapping of the guards didn’t impact the rookie; at this point, it seems like nothing does. Barnes calmly drained two free throws at the end of the game to push Toronto’s lead to three.
During the on-court postgame interview, Barnes said of the high-pressure shots, “It was nothing to me.”
Barnes’s aggressive approach was noticeable on the stat sheet as he took 17 shots (tied for his career-high attempts), and head coach Nick Nurse noticed.
“17 shots for him is quite a few. I love it. It’s quite a few, but it’s not enough,” Nurse said.
The first seven games have been far from perfect for the Raptors, but the play of Barnes has been a major positive early.
His predraft evaluations highlighted his intangibles and work ethic, and that’s been readily apparent; however, he’s not the raw offensive prospect many assumed he would be.
Barnes possesses a rare combination of size, length, and athleticism, even among the best basketball players in the world. He’s able to use those gifts to get to the basket and convert around the rim where others might not be able to get a shot attempt off.
Yet, his jump shot has been a welcomed surprise for the team.
There used to be a noticeable hitch in his form, but he has erased it in a matter of months. Of course, the shot is far from perfect — he needs to generate more power from his legs if he wants to extend his range to beyond the arc and become a more consistent threat — as he tends to run hot and cold, but during this three-game win streak, he’s been on a roll.
After the game, Eric Koreen of The Athletic reported that Barnes had an X-Ray on his hand, but the results were negative, and the team believes he suffered a jammed thumb on the game’s final play.
Elsewhere, Fred VanVleet’s solid play has been a steadying presence to this group. His 16 points might not have led the team, but each bucket came promptly, and he has been the go-to option late in games.
“Fourth Quarter Fred” is here, and he’s beautiful.
He’s seamlessly transitioned from Kyle Lowry’s sidekick to handling Lowry’s now vacant role.
VanVleet isn’t forcing the action and is making sure that he is facilitating early to try and get the most out of his teammates before turning on the kill switch in the clutch.
With great Raptor comes great responsibility; for VanVleet that means an increase in minutes.
Through seven games he’s at 38.5 minutes per game, which would easily set a career-high for the sixth-year guard.
VanVleet and Pascal Siakam have become the veterans of the bunch in the blink of an eye. While Siakam continues to rehab, VanVleet has adjusted well.
VanVleet said, “Me and the coaching staff, we’re all on the same page.”
The surprise of the game was Svi Mykhailiuk, who also added in 16 points on the night.
Now on his fourth team in his third NBA season, the Ukrainian wing provided an offensive spark off the bench for the Raptors while playing a season-high 22 minutes.
Nurse has proven he is willing to alter rotations on a nightly basis. If Mykhailiuk can turn this one good night into consecutive impact performances, he could become a regular.
Goran Dragic recorded his second straight DNP-COACH’S DECISION last night, so if anyone would be at risk of losing their spot to Mykhailiuk, it’s Dragic.
We’ve already seen Dalano Banton usurp Malachi Flynn; Mykhailiuk could be the next.
The Raptors continue to show that they can make its opponent bend to their will.
Toronto will look to keep the victories coming as they travel to New York City to take on the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks.