Bully Barnes – Every Scottie Barnes Post Up

The Raptors have a bully on the block.

So, I’ve rewatched every Scottie Barnes possession to look for what the statistics miss and to identify what might work in the future. This is the second of a three part series, all of which will be looking at how Barnes creates for himself and others. The Raptors are changing, and the overwhelming message behind the change: put the ball in Barnes’ hands. Barnes is overpowering, quick-thinking, and willing to trample over anyone who gets in his way. One of the best ways to utilize those things? The post up.

If you want to read part 1, where I covered every pick n’ roll Scottie Barnes ran, click here. We watched how Barnes tries to skirt some of his limitations to make pick n’ rolls work, and now we’re looking into a playtype that leans into some of his biggest strengths.

The spiel is the same as ever: Bad shots can go in, good shots can miss. How good are you at creating shots that go in quite often for yourself and putting your teammates in opportune positions to score? Creating advantages. To me? more important than the points per possession stuff. That stuff is tremendous, obviously, and outcomes have a lot of predictive success – but they don’t track everything. If you go poke around on nba advanced stats, Barnes is in the 33rd percentile as a post-up player, but that’s only accounting for when he takes the shot, gets fouled, or turns it over. For a player whose best attribute is passing, that’s never going to be very complimentary.

Let’s get into the film and the numbers.

As has been the case with all of my Barnes deep dives, it’s the most comprehensive and in-depth look at his game you’ll find outside of an NBA scouting department. My written work is paywalled behind a subscription at RR so that the staff can be paid better than the terrible wages of most sportswriting, and so that young writers can do work and receive pay without grinding through the unpaid internships that turn industries into places where only wealthy people can make it. If you want to know how the Raptors succeed on court, and want to see great, independent journalism and analysis succeed going forward? Please consider subscribing. Okay, onto the piece.

So, the numbers are probably going to confirm a lot of your prior thoughts. Barnes was in the top quarter of the NBA for post-up frequency (76th percentile), and 54th in points per chance (1.019). At the very least, we’re in the top half of the league, which was different than how the pick n’ rolls went.

Some forecasting/educated guesswork/speculation on my end: I really, strongly believe that Barnes could have elite numbers in the post if the Raptors had more shooting on the roster. The team figures out how to score points from game to game with a healthy amount of talent on the roster, lots of transition opportunities, and what should be a super stout defense behind them; it’s just far too often that teams can keep 3 or more players positioned in the paint to crowd these post-ups. Similar to the pick n’ roll, Barnes was far more efficient as a passer out of post-ups (1.234 ppc) vs. scoring (.952 ppc) and the difficult thing is that his volume as a playmaker will have a cap on it to some degree until he starts bending defenses a little more. Unless, of course, he gets paired with a couple hall of fame guards to make big man reads easy (hello Draymond). Barnes rarely ever makes mistakes as a passer against moving defenses, he just needs to stress them out more often.

Slinging those passes, man.

If Barnes tries to get middle, teams can slide to crowd him, and funnel the ball above the break by bringing everyone down. If he tries to drop step baseline he can easily get walled off by a big man shading to him, and the wing or guard will drop down to the corner. Post-ups are a slow way to score points, so when teams funnel the ball above the break to a team that was 3rd worst in the NBA in above-the-break threes? They’re missing a lot, or getting into late clock isolation situations. Just a bit more shooting surrounding Barnes? You can take away the goalie in the paint, or put someone on the floor with a bit more punch above-the-break. Something.

“He killed us on crossmatches, then he killed us on regular matchups, then he found a way to do it against our big man. He’s tough because he’s constantly testing different places on the body. If you load up on the right foot, he’ll plow through your left shoulder. He finds ways to move you. His pick up points are so awkward that it makes it so tough to time him up, too. He can really pick guys out, so doubling is hell. He’s just really tough there. Luckily, there’s not a lot of shooting for you guys (Toronto) so you can kind of clog the paint and help from the top. Same thing hurts Pascal. They just need more room.”

NBA Team Scout (Eastern Conference)

When teams did commit to the double (17 possessions out of the 154 I tracked) Barnes made a pass that led to an advantage 82-percent of the time; and here’s the thing, Barnes can absolutely maul guards out of the post (115 possessions, 1.1 ppc) and teams still only doubled him 17 times. They can get away with packing the paint way too easily. He reads the floor incredibly well and can make any pass available to him. If Barnes is left to work without too much crowding and able to get to his hook shot — right hand, from the left block in particular — he’s uniquely efficient. Through the first 61 games of his career, Sports Info Solutions had been tracking contested hook shots leaguewide, and to that point Barnes was the 3rd most efficient scorer on those at 57-percent. I tracked Barnes’ contested hook shots from last season at 55-percent.

Here’s a quote from the “every possession” piece I wrote on him in his rookie year:

“Defenders are beside themselves with how to keep up with Barnes. He’s hop-stepping around the paint like the most muscular frog you’ve seen in your life. Constantly flipping his hips, changing direction, but always maintaining his downhill momentum. When he’s in single coverage and has room to work, he’s the league’s most uniquely dynamic driver. He won’t look at you, he’ll turn his back to you and dance around wherever he pleases. Then, 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. Given how difficult these shots are, his 64-percent mark at the rim is a great return.”

He gets defenders off beat with these odd pickup points that can come at his neck into two hands, or he can scoop before gathering above his head and immediately launching a hook. His legs are never important, and he somehow manages to always, always square himself to the bucket. Like there’s a magnet, or a homing beacon or something (anything) guiding him towards where he needs to be. It’s a remarkable skill and makes him particularly talented at skating through grimy post play with efficient buckets.

Good stuff.

And then, of course, feel free to enjoy this unbridled, brutish minute of dominance from Barnes. A lot of these plays stick in the minds of fans, and they’re star fuel for a reason. His physicality, length, and athleticism pop like you wouldn’t believe:

Big man, big trouble.

“I’m kind of waiting to see what his ‘play‘ is gonna be. He does a lot of things at an okay level, and that goes for defense too, but stars usually have that ‘thing‘. When we played him, Nick put him in the corner and dunker for the first quarter, then in the second quarter he tried a bit of on-ball stuff and nothing really worked. Stuff I had seen him do against other teams, he couldn’t manage against us. Stars need a point of strength to assert themselves, but he seems reactive. Personally, I’d like to see him rolling to the rim more, but with his physicality, touch, and passing, maybe his thing could be the post-up.”

NBA Team Scout (Western Conference)

Similar to what we discussed with the pick n’ roll, Barnes usually benefits a lot from off-ball actions to occupy the weak-side, or actions prior to his own. Barnes dribbled into about a third of his post-ups, did early work in pseudo-transition for hit-aheads, and got a healthy amount of cross screens and pistol actions for post entries. He scored 1.280 points per chance on post-ups that came after off-ball screens – big numbers. And while going straight to a post-up isn’t necessarily the best decision for the offense (last year, and probably this year), Barnes cutting to the basket after getting rid of the ball can always yield something.

There’s a lot that can go right for Barnes in a post-up — after all, he did create an advantage for the team on 48-percent of his post-ups, more than double the rate of advantage creation in pick n’ rolls — and especially if he’s surrounded by a better context. However, he can shoulder some of that load himself if he improves as a shooter. He only shot 34.7-percent on his jumpers out of post-ups. Most of these are within 15-feet, that’s well within his control to improve. He can get pretty panicked at the end of the shot-clock if he’s stuck out on the perimeter and spam clunky dribble combos before forcing up something crazy, and usually missing. Barnes has gifts that Siakam doesn’t, but if the Raptors are going to continue to have Barnes work out of the same phone booth that Siakam has? Comfortability in the mid-range would help a lot – especially off the bounce. We’ll see.

The pick n’ roll initiation vs. the post-up initiation seem like polar opposites. The former was mostly an example of Barnes’ limitations and how everyone tried to navigate them. Where as the latter seems like the roster’s limitations were showing up, and Barnes tried to navigate them by himself with his tremendous gifts. Funny how that works.

This season should give us a lot to chew on with how Barnes is used, and especially how the Raptors try to utilize the post-ups and spacing in concert with one another. Maybe Barnes has a couple bench lineups built around him? I suppose we’ll see.

Hope you enjoyed the deep dive into Scottie’s post-up game. Despite the middling returns of last season and the difficult offensive context, I think this is a really strong play for him.

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Have a blessed day.