Prospect of Interest: Why Scottie Barnes is the best defender in the draft

Florida State guard Scottie Barnes (4) drives past Michigan guard Chaundee Brown. (Darron Cummings/AP)

Florida State freshman Scottie Barnes is an elite-level defender with playmaking chops that, at his size and natural position, have people comparing him to a young Draymond Green-like player who could thrive in today’s position-less NBA.

While at college, Barnes earned ACC Freshman of the year and Sixth Man of the Year honours and despite his huge, sturdy body, he primarily played point guard as his natural instincts on offence better lend themselves as a facilitator rather than a scorer.

A player with a near non-stop motor, there are concerns with his offensive game, but his work ethic can never be questioned and any holes he has in game will almost assuredly be tirelessly worked on to shore up.

Originally slated as the sixth-best prospect on most big boards and mock drafts, Barnes has seen his stock rise as the July 29 draft date approaches, especially as Jonathan Kuminga’s stock has apparently fallen.

Right now, the most likely team to take Barnes appears to be the Orlando Magic at No. 5, but there have been rumours about the Toronto Raptors at No. 4 also being interested in Barnes.

Here’s more on Barnes’ strengths and weaknesses heading into the draft.

Age: 19 (will turn 20 a few days after the draft, though)
Position: Small forward/power forward
Height: Six-foot-eight | Weight: 225 lbs
2020-21 stats PPG: 10.3 | RPG: 4.0 | APG: 4.1 | FG%: 50.3

The best defender in the draft

With all due respect to another outstanding defender in Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, Barnes is the best defender in this draft class by a fair good margin.

While playing for the Seminoles last season, Barnes was seen defending all five positions. At six-foot-eight and 225 pounds, Barnes has prototypical size to be a multi-positional defensive nightmare for opponents, particularly because his feet are quick enough to stay in front of smaller guards, he has the length and athleticism to stay with wings and he has the strength and vertical leap and timing to defend big men and act as a rim protector.

Additionally, because he has a good understanding of the game and does the film work in preparation before games, his defensive chops aren’t only limited to being on the ball. Barnes can is a very adept defender in a team setting and understands when he has to help or stay home. As well, because of his defensive versatility, if he does land with a switch-happy team, he’ll fit in seamlessly because he can guard every position.

Lastly about his defence, the most important thing about Barnes is he enjoys trying to shut his man down and plays with a relentless defence-first mindset, meaning he’ll never give up on a play, even if he gets beat initially.

This dogged personality, combined with his physical gifts, are sure to make him, at the very least, an above-average defender in the NBA and, perhaps, even an all-defensive team stalwart down the line.

Big playmaking upside

The other big strength of Barnes is his potential as a lethal playmaker, particularly as a guy coming off the short roll when he’s in the heart of the defence and guys look to collapse around him to try to stop him.

In pick-and-roll actions, as the screener, Barnes could be a devastating wrecking ball heading towards the basket. Because of how strong and athletic he is, Barnes is able to barrel his way through defenders and finish through contact.

And that aspect of his game could become that much more dangerous if he’s able to master passing out of the short roll. If defenders don’t know if he’s looking to go all the way to the basket or will go partway and then look to kick it out to the corner or to another cutting teammate, that’s the makings of a solid offensive foundation for Barnes.

This would be a new skill that Barnes would have to learn, but he already has the base of it down as in college he proved himself an adept passer. In college he made a number of impressive push-ahead outlet passes to get his team going on a fastbreak, was seen whipping passes to the corner with speed and accuracy, and as the ball-handler made on-time and on-target lobs.

Adding more kinds of passes and reads to the repertoire he already learned playing point guard for a season just seems like the next natural step in his development.

Will need a shot doctor

For all the good Barnes brings – his defence, his passing, his motor and even his rebounding – the one major knock against him also, unfortunately, happens to be the most important skill in the NBA: His jump shot.

Barnes shot 50.3 per cent from the field this past season because just about all the shots he took came in the paint. He attempted just 40 three-pointers this season and connected on only 11 of them (27.5 per cent).

Worse yet, he was also pretty bad at the free-throw line, hitting just 62.1 per cent of his free throws on 66 attempts.

The poor free-throw shooting is an indication of a player who is, simply, a bad shooter, and it shows in how uncomfortable looking Barnes’ shot looks.

He’s very stilted between the transfer of crouching down to going up with the ball, his elbow is looks to drift to the side and his release is pretty slow. This all equates to a very awkward looking shot that, more often than not, is going to miss the bottom of the basket.

This is very troublesome because, as a possible point forward kind of player, Barnes will still need be able to drill a jumper to keep defences honest, lest teams just sag off him entirely, to prevent any penetration, while also staying home with their assignments so he has no outlet to pass out of.

Simply put, Barnes needs to improve as a shooter, if even to become just an average threat, otherwise the rest of his offensive game won’t be able to pop off.

As mentioned before, Barnes is a hard worker, so he’ll be sure to put in the effort required to improve, but his case might require more than just hours spent in the gym, it’ll likely require hours spent with a special shooting coach to try to reinvent or, at the very least, correct some of the bad mechanics he has in his shot.

This is likely to take years of work, and still might only marginally improve his jumper, but it must be done. As it stands now, his shot just isn’t up to NBA standard.

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