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Scottie Barnes’ methodical offensive punch

Scottie Barnes closed out the Spurs in the calmest, coolest form he's found as an NBA player so far.

In a game where the Raptors welcomed Fred VanVleet back into the lineup, and Pascal Siakam skirted more defensive attention, it was Scottie Barnes who authored the Raptors breakaway offensive run.

The Raptors have operated as more egalitarian than many teams in the NBA this season. They have 5 players averaging north of 15 points per game, and none eclipsing 22. Born out of their affinity for less pick n’ rolls and more oddly sized mismatch hunting, the Raptors find the ball in different hands quite often. Only, in the second half of their game against the Spurs they worked hard to make sure that it predominantly found Barnes’.

“It’s really just me coming, bringing it down and getting us into something.” Scottie Barnes said after the win against the Spurs. “We’re still getting involved within different actions. It’s just something that I’m comfortable with, and they trust me with it, they put me in that position. So, it’s a good way to initiate the offense, I would say.”

This trust that Barnes has garnered doesn’t just come from the front office either. It isn’t executives that want their high profile draft pick to look better. Star players like VanVleet and Siakam, wildly successful coaches like Nick Nurse – these people find the time and possessions to center Barnes’ talent and they afford him the space to thrive. Last night more than most, yes, but this is also a growing trend across the season.

After putting up only two points in the first half, the Raptors let Barnes take a full possession to create and stretch his legs against Jakob Poeltl in isolation to start the second. Raptors fans may remember Poeltl for his defensive acumen and fairly fleet feet for a big – both have improved over his time in San Antonio. Barnes brought the ball down the floor, and danced the night away with it. Lost in the shuffle, Poeltl found himself in closer proximity to the basket than he would’ve liked. And that’s a lot of the appeal of Barnes’ self-creation: Even when he’s moving sideways, he’s moving downhill. A left handed hook shot went up, the bucket went down, and Barnes knocked in the first of his 18 second half points.

His next bucket came after once again pushing the pedal. His long loping steps worked him closer to the basket, and at a quickened pace. Poeltl was jogging back comfortably, Devin Vassell leapt out in front of Barnes, trying to emulate a seatbelt of sorts, but operating as something closer to tissue paper. Barnes ripped through his outstretched arms, backed him down under the rim, and did what makes him so damn special as a finisher: he squared himself to the bucket with little to no effort.

The impossible swivels of Scottie Barnes’ push shots. The chaotic downhill dribbling style of a muscular frog, yes, but the ability to swivel and rise up like the child of Hakeem Olajuwon and an office chair. No bumps, prodding, or contest can keep him from squaring those shoulders and giving himself a chance.

“I’ve really been working on it a lot. That’s what I really come in the gym and work on.” Scottie Barnes said of his left hand. “I feel comfortable using it, and I feel really comfortable being in the post. I work on it every single day. So, I feel comfortable getting to those moves.”

Fred VanVleet recognized it on court first, transitioning to more off-ball possessions in the second half and letting Barnes take over a lot of the primary possessions, but he spoke to Barnes’ growth after the game:

“He’s just growing and getting better as the season goes and, and finding his spots. He stays engaged the entire game, and he was able to use his size to get some good looks in the second half. He’s really a tough cover for pretty much anybody when he puts his head down and goes to the basket with his touch and his skill. Being able to shoot over guys, sometimes there’s nothing you can do. He’s gonna keep growing as a young player who’s figuring it out, but he’s been really impressive. He gives us an extra notch when he’s scoring the ball, and that can add to our offense.” – Fred VanVleet

That size that VanVleet talked about was on full display for Barnes last night. Whether it was Siakam directing traffic to award Barnes with an empty-side for a brutalizing post-up, or Barnes coming off a staggered screen set like a runaway train; the likes of Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Josh Richardson had very little to give him back. His mastery on the block even elicited an unabashed: “MATTY D I’M IN LOVE” from Jack Armstrong on the broadcast.

The team was feeling Barnes’ creation so much that they even started running him in some of Siakam’s pet-sets as a ball handler. The empty-side ‘ghost’ pick n’ roll with VanVleet as a screener? You bet your bottom dollar they triggered a switch and a bash-bash-bucket for Barnes using that action.

Reluctant to double and poorly equipped to handle him in single coverage, the Spurs couldn’t handle Barnes down the stretch. He’s had bigger scoring games and better games overall, but this was as methodical an offensive stretch as he’s ever had. There was no insane (but appreciated) step-back threes, it had little to do with others creating for him, and it wasn’t done in transition. There was nothing to keep the Spurs off balance except for the immensity of Barnes’ talent, and his shadow grew larger the longer the game went on.

Rookies often have wild swings in how they impact the game. Sometimes it can be great, sometimes it can be horrible. Good teams step aside for the nights when you see it all coming together. Maybe this was what the Raptors envisioned when they drafted him, maybe it wasn’t, but he’s here all the same. And he’s helping them win.

Have a blessed day.