Would Scottie Barnes be most effective as Toronto’s primary ball handler?

I know we're only 11 games into the season but it's starting to feel like Scottie Barnes has an undeniable feel for the game. Nobody expected his mid-range to be silky smooth, or for him to have such an immense role to start his career, even though Nick Nurse stated so. Makes you wonder how Scottie would fair as Toronto's primary ball handler.

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11 games into his career and it seems as though Scottie Barnes is really good at basketball. Depending on where you look, he’s anywhere between six-seven to six-nine and weighs in at around 225 lbs. His height allows him to see the floor better than anyone who’s shorter than him and his strength has been on full display since day one.

There are some things that are surprising in his transition from college to the NBA, such as his jump shot, which really doesn’t need as much work as some scouts previously noted. When you factor in all these things, along with his attitude and approach to the game, it’s hard envisioning him not excelling in the Raptors schemes, regardless of where he’s plugged.

Which begs the question: should Scottie be Toronto’s primary ball handler?

Before you make your judgement, this doesn’t mean that Fred VanVleet’s getting shipped out of town and Scottie assumes the mantle of team leader. That’s not the approach I’m taking with this. Fred’s still the loudest voice, and he’s unquestionably the Raptors leader. I’m also not someone who’s on the “let’s trade Pascal Siakam” train because that would just be irrational.

While they operate in a similar space on the floor, I’m not convinced that Scottie and Pascal can’t co-exist, especially after two games. The approach I’m taking concerns these three things: the pick and roll possibilities, the attention he’ll draw due to his size, and we’ll also take a look at whether he’s already the teams best passer.

Pick and roll

You’ll never watch a NBA game without seeing the pick and roll executed in some capacity, no matter how the league evolves. In fact, it’s probably the most devastating move depending on the offensive players that are involved. What changes over time with the pick and roll is the personnel used to do it. Around 10 years ago, you might have become used to seeing guys in the physical mold of Tony Parker as the ball handler, with someone with the frame of Tim Duncan as the pick man.

While the big man-little man tandems are still very prominent, today’s pick and roll exists with many different variations. However, the top three most frequent initiators in order include Trae Young, Kemba Walker, and Donovan Mitchell, while Nikola Vucevic, Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks round out the top three roll men. The roles played by these six players don’t break the norm of past iterations.

Here’s where the Raptors should deviate from tradition.

In the minds of many, Scottie Barnes is ahead of schedule. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be All-Rookie First Team and he’s the favourite for Rookie of the Year honours as we speak. If the Raptors want to get the most out of him, it would make sense to expand his to do list every game and get him more involved in the pick and roll.

As the ball handler, Barnes doesn’t have the range yet to knock it down from too far beyond the three. However, he has a very solid mid range shot (somewhat surprising given all the talk about his shot mechanics needing work), and he could even challenge his defender, beating him off the dribble, driving in and attacking the rim or kicking it out to one of the Raps’ reliable shooters or cutters.

As a roll man, Scottie could unlock avenues of Toronto’s offence that not even Dr. Strange could see. He’s never complacent with the ball and that’s incredibly rare for a rookie. His passing ability and court vision has already been well documented, and if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, watch this video and imagine the Raptors utilizing Barnes in such a way. I know these clips are from his days at Florida State but he looks significantly bigger and stronger than everyone else which really isn’t far off from how he’s faired in his NBA career thus far.

Having adequate shooters and cutters like Fred, Gary Trent Jr., Svi Mykhailiuk, and OG Anunoby is a cheat code when Scottie brings the ball up on the fast break. But if he’s drawing attention at the top of the three, that’s an easy two from whoever’s in the paint.

Drawing attention

Due to his frame and his size, Scottie is not a loose cover by any means. Sure, he’s still developing but opposing teams have taken notice of just how effective he really is. When he’s in the half court, or more specifically in the paint, it’s rather easy for him to bully his defender on his way to the basket. It was Friday night when he unintentionally performed an arm drag on Cavaliers big man Jarrett Allen, who clocks in at a healthy six feet, 11 inches and 243 lbs. Although it has nothing to do with him establishing position in the post, this at least demonstrates just how strong he is.


It may be way too early to say that he’ll command double teams, but overwhelming a rookie with two defenders, or instructing players to guard the area within his general vicinity isn’t a game plan that should be overlooked. However, if and when Scottie ends up drawing defenders, one of his teammates will inevitably be left open. When that happens, he’ll be smart enough to find them. Kevin Durant praised him for his high IQ on Sunday right after Brooklyn picked up their first W in Toronto since 2015. Without question, Scottie has already caught the eyes of coaches and players alike.

Passing ability

Whether he’s running down the court in a fast break or he’s directing his teammates to cut, his passing game is a thing of beauty. It’s not just how he’s fully capable of a powerful, one-handed pass in transition. It’s also his ability to zip the ball past four defenders, to his teammate in the paint.

If he can make these passes from anywhere on the court, any team that faces the Raptors is going to have to think twice when double-teaming him, especially if his shot continues go down smoother than Casamigos.

The case for Scottie as the primary ball handler, if it comes to fruition, would also benefit his teammates and improve the overall chemistry of the team. As proven by the hustle stats, Toronto leads the league in deflections and loose balls recovered, which we can believe implicates that everyone has bought into a team-first mentality. So, the discussion on how to center the offence around Scottie and maximize his skillset, as it continues to develop, is definitely on the table.

Maybe your eyes are rolling, or maybe you’re in agreement that a system featuring a versatile six-nine point guard would be beneficial to the team that employs him. Through 11 games, Scottie Barnes is everything and more that you’d expect from Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and Nick Nurse. It’s only a matter of time before the accolades start to pile up.

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