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Fueling a Star Performance

Barnes demands your attention. Even if it comes too late.

9 mins read

Scottie Barnes led the Raptors to a win, and built a beautiful shot chart at the same time.

“That’s BBQ chicken.” “Let the big dog eat.” “Mouse in the house.” “Scottie’s a star, give him the ball.”

Whichever one you want.

Barnes, with great malice of forethought, cudgeled the Wizards defense into submission and then transformation (to a zone). The fact that the Wizards went to a zone for such a large part of the 4th quarter, because of Barnes’ relentless rim assaults against them – that’s the highest compliment they could possibly give. Barnes, perhaps for the first time in his career, mashed a defense into adjustment.

Did he do this by wielding his considerable isolation gifts against the Wizards defenders? Well, that was a small part of it, but this outburst of scoring was fueled largely by Barnes’ tremendous sense of how to support his teammates as an off-ball player, an insatiable willingness to carve out position in the paint, and that ‘oh so gentle’ touch he has that rocked several basketballs to sleep on the rim last night.

With Gary Trent Jr. back in the lineup the Raptors played a little bit smaller in the frontcourt than they have been over this last stretch of games, and as such, Barnes’ proximity to the basket crept closer. He and Chris Boucher recognize the same thing about playing next to the duo of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet: “If I play my cards right, and move correctly, I’m gonna get the ball in a lot of winning situations.” Enter beneficiary Barnes. And given how dynamic Barnes was with those opportunities – enter beneficiary Raptors. The hellish reality for the Wizards was confirmed over and over again by their defenses complete inability to rotate towards Barnes in attempts to convince him that he need not go directly at the bucket. Their expectation of a tweener, and one they could catch up and contest against, was met with Barnes flexing and celebrating his 27th point before the 4th quarter had even begun.

“When he’s good and ready to put the shot up, he affords very few defenders the benefit of fading away. Barnes is springing for the bucket, whether you’re there or not. And it leads to these immense, overpowering finishes against titans of the paint for AND-1’s. If you’re diminutive, he pursues the air space above you. That right hand elevates, he transforms into a smiling, athletic statue of liberty, and the touch is immaculate.” – Scottie Barnes and Star Power

Post position is never promised, and it’s not always rewarded with a possession either. What Scottie Barnes and the Raptors did to Corey Kispert for as long as he had the misfortune of drawing that matchup was sheer domination. Ball in. Ball up. Ball in the bucket. Repeat. If defenses are going to put smaller players on Barnes and leave them on an island, he should be getting the ball in this fashion, every time. He’s shown enough growth as a self-creator in this capacity, and the work he put in early in the clock for position is top notch.

And part of why the Wizards had so much trouble accounting for Barnes in man defense was because of the myriad ways that he was used. This was one of his most dynamic games as a screener, as he did a phenomenal job – with VanVleet in particular – of presenting himself as an option on the move, should the defense vacate their responsibility over him. The result? A few scores after rolling into space after a screen.

When the ball enters contested air space, he’s beating defenders to it and making them pay for pursuing. When the defenders sag off, he converts space into comfortable push shots or attacks their feet when they try to close the distance. Really great poise in these positions and playtypes.

And anytime you give Barnes a healthy amount of possessions, you’re gonna get some razzle dazzle:

It’s funny that a couple players have likened Barnes’ high post possessions to Marc Gasol’s considering they share little to no similarities in their process of getting shots or creating them from there – the Raptors don’t even run split-action off of Scottie, it’s more likely to be blind pig. The point remains, could you imagine if the Raptors did run more action with Barnes making decisions from the high-post? And what kind of dynamic opportunities might that open up?

Barnes’ 2 measly shot attempts in the fourth quarter bring up an interesting discussion. Was he ‘iced out’ of the offense? Did the Raptors move away from something that was working to serve ego, the coach’s desires, or something else? I don’t think so. The Wizards made their adjustment defensively, moving to zone, and vexing the Raptors as a whole. And it’s important to remember that Barnes’ scoring in this game was largely the product of being in single coverage, or passes after an advantage was created. When Siakam and VanVleet stopped being able to produce advantage, and the zone didn’t allow for Barnes to feast in single coverage – that’s when the shot attempts dried up.

This has happened to Siakam numerous times this season and oddly enough, it happened the last time the Wizards and Raptors played. Siakam roared out to 24 points in the first half, and only scored 7 across the next two quarters. When you play through the paint, you’re subject to how much a team wants to pack it – and it drastically changes your usage.

With that being said, it was on the Raptors to be more inventive in the way that they used Barnes. A couple more pick n’ roll reps when the Wizards are out of zone, prioritizing him as the man flashing middle when they are – although I understand using Anunoby, as he’s been quite good at that – and overall being a little bit more intentional. Not just with Barnes, but as a team, considering they only put up 18 points in an ugly 4th quarter.

Barnes himself will also learn how he likes to attack a zone at the NBA level the more he plays, and how he can manipulate defenses in concert with his teammates. The glowing chemistry seen between he and Siakam will no doubt bear fruit as they toggle what responsibilities they each take as Barnes’ star continues to ascend.

At the end of the day, though? The Wizards thought they could treat Barnes as an afterthought, a footnote on the scouting report. They paid dearly, and Barnes set a new career high.

Have a blessed day.

 

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