Scottie Barnes is making a terrible season worth it for the Raptors

Scottie Barnes is the truth, even if the Toronto Raptors aren't.

We constantly make strange, apples-for-oranges trades in our lives. We work jobs we don’t like for sweet, taco-buying cash. We trade awkward dates for awkward nights. We trade our time for everything. The exchange rate, for all of the above, is always in flux. 

The Raptors are in the midst of making a very specific trade of their own: the entire 2023-24 season for Scottie Barnes’ development. What is a fair trade when it comes to the swap of time for a physical object? It’s almost impossible to say. 

Scottie Barnes is turning into everything the most ambitious Toronto Raptors' fan could have imagined, and more. This is what future stardom looks like -- heck, this is what present stardom looks like. Barnes has gotten better at virtually everything on the basketball court. 

Let’s start with the jumper. Barnes is averaging 38.1 percent from deep, which is an enormously beneficial prospect. It takes a long time to change how defenses view you in the NBA (at least, positively -- defenses can react very quickly when you start missing). But Barnes is starting to draw closeouts, giving him easier paths to the rim. He’s drawing full or fly-by closeouts more than ever, and the Raptors are scoring more efficiently on those closeouts than ever before -- 1.068 points per chance this season after never cracking 1.0 before. Compared to the rest of the league, he jumped from around 38th percentile on efficiency on such plays last year to 73rd percentile this year. That mirrors his jump from below average to above it on the jumper, too.

He’s added more than 4.0 drives per 100 possessions to his diet, and once again the Raptors are scoring more efficiently on his drives than ever before. He’s shooting the highest percentage of his career on drives. 

But it’s not just his own scoring. He is dominating as a creator, as the point guard that the Raptors envisioned him becoming when they drafted him. 

The Raptors are scoring 1.064 points per chance on a Barnes-run pick and roll, the best mark of his career and on the highest volume. That he would reach that level of achievement was doubtful before the year. As a point of comparison, that 1.064 points per chance ranks 14th out of 90 players to have run at least 200 picks this year -- directly behind Devin Booker and ahead of Steph Curry. So, yeah: He’s been good. 

(As an aside, that he has only run 274 picks this season, 69th-most in the league, is criminal. He should be running double that, or more. He's thriving while still with one training wheel on the bike. The Raptors need to turn the whole show over to Barnes and see what it looks like.)

He’s been reaching the paint with more frequency and has created more space for his passing. He's turning corners, which I thought might be the case way back in preseason. He’s shooting better on the move and creating more shots on the move, rather than turning his back to bully his drives to the rim. (Which he still does on some drives, but just with less frequency.) All this flows from his jumper, which is actually drawing respect. The whole thing is working in concert. He’s even more efficient when he’s receiving handoffs, able to attack in motion, often from the second side. (Actually, he’s the fifth-most efficient player in the league there, but that’s another piece for another day.)