Malachi Flynn scored a team-high 23 points and rookie Scottie Barnes had an impressive first taste of NBA action as the Toronto Raptors kicked off their 2021 Summer League campaign in Las Vegas with an 89-79 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday.
Spurred by a strong defensive effort in the third quarter that saw the Raptors hold the Knicks to just 16 points and 27.8 per cent shooting while forcing five turnovers, Toronto was able to carry a seven-point advantage heading into the final frame and hold it steady throughout.
The Raptors got strong play from all over their roster as five different players scored in double-figures.
Before the game, it was announced that newly-acquired Raptors Precious Achiuwa was being added to Toronto’s Summer League roster, but he didn't play Sunday.
Achiuwa is joining the Raptors after playing for the Nigerian national team at the Tokyo Olympics. Yuta Watanabe also didn’t play for Toronto Sunday. He, too, was coming off playing in the Olympics for the host Japan.
The Raptors ultimately didn’t need Achiuwa nor Watanabe, though, not with the way Flynn and Barnes played on Sunday.
Here are a few takeaways from the Raptors’ Summer League win.
It looks like Scottie has got the goods
The Raptors took Florida State do-everything forward Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft just a couple weeks ago, and while he was very quickly endearing himself to the fan base with his social media presence and infectiously positive attitude, not a lot of people had seen him actually play.
That all changed on Sunday, and he looked quite impressive.
Barnes made his Summer League debut with an 18-point, 10-rebound, five-assist line where he flashed a little bit of everything and demonstrably illustrated why the organization was so excited about him.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 8, 2021
“You see his talent, right? He’s talented, has a lot of potential,” said Raptors Summer League coach Patrick Mutombo of Barnes. “I love his desire to win, I love his willingness to listen and also to say, ‘My bad’ or to encourage his teammates. There’s a lot of work to do with him, but, man, it’s exciting the potential that he has.”
That potential was on display for Barnes on Sunday.
He opened the game winning the tip but then missed his first three shots. Instead of getting down on himself, however, Barnes kept at it and ended up drilling a foul-line jumper after faking a pass with about a minute to spare in the first quarter.
This opened up the floodgates, so to speak, for the rest of Barnes’ game as he seemed to make highlight-reel play one after the next.
First, with about eight minutes left to play in the second quarter, he squared up against Knicks guard Luca Vildoza along the wing, spread out his albatross-like wingspan, used his quick hands to poke the ball loose, hustled to recover the loose ball while diving on the floor, and then, while on the ground, quickly was able to recognize Matt Morgan running the floor for an easy layup.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2021
An example of what Barnes’ length, quick hands, hustle and motor and advanced playmaking skills may look like in the future, all in one sequence.
But he wasn’t done there.
Later in the quarter, after showing off some of his post skills, Barnes confidently pulled up from the top of the three-point arc and splashed home a triple.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2021
This was an important moment for Barnes because there was much consternation over his perimeter jumper. He ended up finishing the game 1-for-4 from deep, but his shot certainly doesn’t look as bad as it was advertised during the pre-draft process.
This is likely because he always had a good-enough foundation, and ever since joining the Raptors he’s now had the advantages of a dedicated coaching staff tweaking things here and there with his shot.
“The form is not bad at all, but we’re definitely working on some things to get him to be a reliable three-point shooter for us,” said Mutombo.
Added Barnes himself: “They've made some little tweaks, some little changes -- get over to the right, hand placement. We're just still doing a lot of different things to just get it right.”
And, lastly, in case that on-his-behind pass to Morgan wasn’t evidence enough of his immense potential as an offensive initiator, check out this outlet he made to Dalano Banton:
Scottie Barnes with the tasty left half-court pass to Dalano Banton #Toronto #Raptors | New York #Knicks#NBA #NBASummerLeague #NBASummer #WeTheNorth #NewYorkForever #NBATwitter pic.twitter.com/RGyjPZemPQ
— BasketballBuzz.ca (@basketballbuzz) August 8, 2021
That’s Barnes, a right-hand-dominant player, grabbing the rebound, taking one dribble with his left hand and then throwing a dart of a pass with that off-hand nearly full court, right on the money to Banton for an easy dunk.
“I would say that I've been doing this pass and stuff [for a while],” said Barnes. “So I would say it's very natural to me to give it up and it was already in my left hand and he was already ahead so it was just easier to kick it out with my left hand. So it wasn't really something that was super hard.”
The fact that Barnes was as dismissive about a play that was so obviously remarkable speaks to the skill level he has as a passer, and has to make you wonder what he might look like collecting the defensive rebound and looking up court at the likes of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby leaking ahead.
In total, it was quite the debut for Barnes. Of course, this was still Summer League, but he certainly looked like he more than belonged out there against NBA competition closer to his age group.
Flynnsanity could be back in effect
Because of the nature of how the last NBA season started, Flynn wasn’t afforded an opportunity to get his feet wet with the Raptors in Summer League play.
That, coupled with the strange circumstances of last season, in general, saw Flynn get out to a tepid start. But in his last 32 games, when he was afforded more regular playing time, he really looked to turn things on, enjoying very strong performances in the Raptors’ last two games of the regular season, in particular.
On Sunday, Flynn looked like he picked up where he left off as he scored 23 points on an efficient 8-for-13 mark from the field, including a 4-of-5 performance from behind the arc that saw him looking more confident pulling up from deep than he ever looked last season.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2021
“I think I’m more comfortable,” said Flynn. “Obviously, I had a whole season unlike some of these other guys just coming into Summer League for the first time, so definitely more comfortable just with how the game is played, just continuing to try to get better and better.”
Flynn had some pretty big moments near the end of last season for the Raptors, including proving himself as something of a clutch shot-maker. Hopefully this strong Summer League-opening performance is a sign of things to come for the rest of Summer League and, more importantly, heading into next season.
Trent happy to be back with Raptors
The Raptors announced on Sunday that they had officially inked Barnes to his rookie scale contract and signed Trent to a three-year, $54-million contract the team came to terms with during the moratorium period.
Trent spoke with members of the media during halftime of the Raptors’ Summer League game Sunday and seemed both relieved and happy to be back with the Raptors.
“I wouldn't really say too much of a doubt, but, you know, it's the NBA and it's a business and free agency can get wild and anything can happen,” said Trent. “So just going into the process I was just trying to get a feel for the process and enjoy the process and there was really never a point in time where I thought anything about where I was gonna end up and whatever happens happens. But I'm glad that it came full circle and I'm back in Toronto and I'm excited.”
Trent came over to the Raptors as part of the trade with the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline last season that saw Norman Powell’s long tenure with Toronto come to an end.
Trent was a restricted free agent, so the Raptors could’ve matched any offer sheets that coming his way to ensure he would come back, but it’s pretty clear he was an important off-season priority for the club, and for good reason.
Trent looks like he’s one of the only players on the roster who can reliably get his own shot and score the rock. Last season, in 17 games with the Raptors, he averaged 16.2 points per contest and had some big moments including a game-winner and setting a franchise record for plus/minus with his plus-54 while playing against the Golden State Warriors in the Raptors’ record-setting 53-point victory back in April.
Trent believes he’s only just scratched the surface with the Raptors and is looking forward to showing what he can do in more time with the team.
“Just the way the guys play, how guys are at one another, the coaching style, defensive schemes,” Trent said of what he learned in the 17 games played with Toronto last season. “Last year, getting traded at the end of the year, I was only able to get an eyelash and a little bit of actually what we do, but now after being here for a little bit and having a whole summer with the team, having a great training camp, I'm just looking forward to getting out to a great start.”
Trent is only 22 years old and, given the apparent youth movement the Raptors appear to be on right now, it stands to good reason that he could be a big part of their future plans, so his enthusiasm about his next steps with the team is an encouraging sign.