Scottie Barnes is primed for a huge 2023-24 season

Barnes had some weaknesses in his game, but he'll have plenty of opportunity to address them.

The following is a guest post by Coty Wiles. You can follow him on Twitter here.

When the Toronto Raptors selected Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft, it was met with anger and heavy skepticism from the “We The North” fanbase. Almost immediately Barnes quieted all the naysayers averaging just over 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists, on the way to a “Rookie of The Year” award. However, last season Barnes plateaued, and even slightly regressed in many stat categories such as field goal percentage, three point percentage, and rebounds per game.

Scottie Barnes Per-Game Stats2021-20222022-2023
Points 15.315.3
Rebounds 7.56.6
Blocks 0.70.8
Steals 1.11.1

All this brings us to this offseason, during which Fred VanVleet opted to move onto Houston, and the coaching vacancy was filled by Darko Rajakovic, who has wasted no time publicly instilling his belief in Barnes’ talent.

“Sometimes you need to take a small step back to take a huge leap forward and we’re really hoping for Scottie to have a breakout year for us,” Rajakovic said on the broadcast during the Raptors Summer League opener against the Bulls.

Rajakovic brings a reputation for player development to Toronto, along with a “0.5” offence which emphasizes quicker decision-making, whether it’s putting the ball on the floor, making the extra pass or taking a shot. The main goals of Rajakovic’s offensive principles seem to be to limit turnovers, have the ball move around freely, and ultimately play fast. Barnes already excels in making plays for others and has a high basketball IQ, and Rajakovic has made it clear that Barnes will be the focal point of his offense for the upcoming season.

“Scottie is so talented that the team can be built around him, and we will do that,” Rajakovic told Basketball Sphere, as translated by Eurohoops. 

With his coach singing his praises, Barnes also has a heavy financial incentive to show off his diverse talent this year. Barnes is extension eligible after the 2023-2024 season and will be chasing the designated rookie max extension of 25 percent of the salary cap. With the salary rising every year, the number could be gargantuan. The extension doesn’t have to be the maximum available, but it’s mutually beneficial for the Raptors and Barnes if he makes the leap sooner rather than later.

The most recent stars to receive the rookie max extension are Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball.  Barnes isn’t in that tier yet, and by no means is development linear, but all three guys took a significant step in their third season. In this table, you can see the jumps that these young stars have made alongside Barnes’ numbers throughout his first two years.

Year 1Year 2Year 3
Scottie Barnes15.3 PPG
3.5 APG
7.5 RPG
49.2 FG%
30.1 3P%
74 GP
15.3 PPG
4.8 APG
6.6 RPG
45.6 FG%
28.1 3P%
77 GP
Tyrese Haliburton13.0 PPG
5.3 APG
3.0 RPG
47.2 FG%
40.9 3P%
58 GP
15.3 PPG
8.2 APG
4.0 RPG
47.3 FG%
41.1 3P%
77 GP
20.7 PPG
10.4 APG
3.7 RPG
49 FG%
40.0 3P%
56 GP
LaMelo Ball15.7 PPG
6.1 APG
5.9 RPG
43.6 FG%
35.2 3P%
51 GP
20.1 PPG
7.6 APG
6.7 RPG
42.9 FG%
38.9 3P%
75 GP
23.3 PPG
8.4 APG
6.4 RPG
41.1 FG%
37.6 3P%
36 GP
Anthony Edwards19.3 PPG
2.3 APG
4.7 RPG
41.7 FG%
32.9 3P%
72 GP
21.3 PPG
3.8 APG
4.8 RPG
44.1 FG%
35.7 3P%
72 GP
24.6 PPG
4.4 APG
5.8 RPG
45.9 FG%
36.9 3P%
79 GP

These three players made jumps to different levels with Tyrese Haliburton having the most comparable second-year stats to Barnes. The biggest difference in the numbers between Barnes and the field is the three-point efficiency. For the other guards, shooting — and pull-up shooting especially — opened the floor for the rest of their offensive games to shine. Barnes is a very different player than these three all-star guards, but to be an effective on-ball creator in today’s NBA, you virtually have to at least be a threat from deep. 

Barnes shot 30 percent in year one and 28 percent in year two in under three attempts per game, while finishing tied for the 12th-worst true shooting percentage in the NBA last season. The raw numbers aren’t encouraging, but Barnes has taken steps to improve his jump shot heading into his third season. Throughout his sophomore season, Barnes seemed to consistently be in a more athletic stance to receive passes for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The dip in his shot was minimized, his guide hand was closer to his shooting hand on his release, and he seemed generally more confident in shooting the deep ball. With that being said, his release remains a bit low, slow, and altogether inconsistent. He is slow loading up the ball. If he can improve in those areas as well as improving his shot selection, it will open up his game and maximize his strengths. 

As well as the shot, Barnes’ ball-handling and decision-making is ultimately what is holding him back from vaulting into that next tier. Barnes has shown flashes of dazzling playmaking ability while fitting into the constructs of the team while not being the focal point of the offensive system. To make the transition into becoming a play initiator however, Barnes’ ability to attack set defences needs to improve. He ranked 124th in unassisted two-point field goal percentage (minimum 40 games played) with 50.8 percent, and 100th in unassisted three-point field goal percentage  (minimum 40 games played) with 15.9 percent.

He has a huge wingspan and great touch from within the short midrange — he simply needs to be able to get there with momentum rather than turning his back to protect his dribble halfway during drives. Adding to his handle would have cascading effects, creating more finishing opportunities, and thus adding more passing chances, too.

The better Barnes can be in isolation, the more playmaking opportunities there will be due to defences rotating and being on the move to contain his scoring chances. Barnes’ decision-making outside of the three-point line needs to improve as well. At times Barnes gets sticky with the ball and stops movement to set up iso opportunities — in which he is inefficient — and generally has a harder time reading the defence while out there. For this upcoming season, all signs point to Barnes being given more reps of more different kinds in order to improve, as he will have more opportunities to make plays for others and create shots for himself. He’ll get chances everywhere.

Scottie Barnes has all the talent and IQ to make it work, especially with another off-season under his belt. The combination of Rajakovic’s offensive principles, plus Barnes being given the keys after VanVleet’s departure (and possibly Siakam’s), could be exactly what unlocks his full potential as Toronto’s primary playmaker and play initiator.