Raptors counting on Barnes to follow Siakam, Anunoby development track

Faizal Khamisa chats with Raptors 4th overall draft pick Scottie Barnes about family, his initial impressions after being drafted, and the skillset he'll bring to the team.

Before anything else, Scottie Barnes felt he had to apologize.

Running a little late for a 10 a.m. ET media session with members of the Toronto Raptors beat on Friday, Barnes lamented the traffic he wasn’t expecting to face after he got some early-morning work in.

As Barnes described it, he was so excited after the Raptors took No. 4 overall Thursday night that he couldn’t really get much rest that night and just wanted to immediately start getting to work.

“So last night, I had my little private dinner, but couldn't really sleep that much,” said Barnes. “It was just a huge burst of emotions and I really just wanted to get in the gym this morning. Went there about 8:30 in the morning. My trainer was already here, so we just went there to go workout for about an hour, hour twenty, just getting right to work so I can just be prepared.”

This anecdote Barnes shared, brief it may be, is a pretty good glimpse at the kind of young man he is and why the Raptors seemed so confident they made the right decision, despite just about every mock draft pegging Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs going at No. 4 to the Raptors.

Barnes is a natural fit for the Raptors because, as he’s started to prove, he’s a relentless worker.

But you don’t take a guy within the top five of a draft just because he works hard. There also has to be a short- and long-term rationale behind drafting a kid at No. 4 and in the case of Barnes he looks to fit the mould of player the Raptors like almost to a tee.

A solidly built, versatile forward who can guard multiple positions and play position-less basketball on offence, he’s a lot like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, and that was the appeal the Raptors appeared to be looking for.

“He’s got a desire [on defence] and some tools there, as well. He’s got a bit of a knack for anticipation. That’s why he gets into lanes. Not only his length -- he has outstanding length, and that helps him -- but he has the feel to do that,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Toronto selected Barnes Thursday night. “He reminds me of two guys we already have, OG and Pascal. If he can adapt the work ethic that those two guys adopted to become as good as those two guys have become, he’ll do similar things I think.”

Specifically, Nurse sees Barnes being able to profile as a strong, do-everything switchable defender the way Anunoby is and Siakam has flashed in the past of being able to do.

This is where the fit between Barnes and the Raptors is strongest. Nurse has a team that believes strongly in defence and that defence-first attitude the Raptors have works well with Barnes’ own mentality.

“I would say I fit in perfect. Just with what their whole game plan is based off, they start off with a defensive mindset, a defensive mentality, I feel like I belong in that program,” said Barnes in a Zoom scrum shortly after he was drafted Thursday.

And in a later availability Thursday night, Barnes doubled down on his defensive chops: “I don’t back down from nobody. It’s about how tough you are, whatever you’re willing to do. I’m willing to do those things. I’m tough when I’m on the floor. I’m not gonna get bullied. I sit on defence. I guard full court. I guard the ones, the twos, the threes. I take pride in that stuff. I’m gonna say I’m one of those guys that can guard one through five for sure.”

This defensive ability is what excites Nurse and the Raptors the most about Barnes, even to the point that, when Nurse was asked about some of Barnes’ offensive skills, he still found a way to effusively praise Barnes’ defensive skills.

“I just don't ever not want to talk about his defence, because he's got some desire and he's got some length and he's got some anticipation and toughness to play that and I think that may be where he really excels before it's all said and done,” said Nurse.

But on the topic of his offensive ability, though the Raptors seem excited about his fit on that end of the floor, the legitimate question marks about his shot don’t make him completely ideal.

If he’s going to be compared to the likes of Siakam and Anunoby then he’s going to have improve his three-point stroke over the 11-of-40 mark he showed in 24 games at Florida State.

Nurse said Barnes’ shot “isn’t broken” and Barnes seems ultra-confident in his offensive game, saying it’s “being slept on,” but all evidence right now points to a player who will need a lot of time to get his jumper NBA-ready and that might not perfectly align with the timeline of the apparent core of the Raptors with Siakam and Fred VanVleet both already 27 years old.

There is some excitement to be had with Barnes’ potential as a playmaker, however.

At Florida State he played a lot of point guard and on Friday he mentioned though he doesn’t really have a main position if he had to pick one it would be the one.

This likely stems from tape of one of his greatest influences his father had him study growing up.

“I wouldn’t say I model my game after anyone, I would say some influence would definitely be Magic [Johnson],” said Barnes. “My dad, he always wanted me to watch Magic. Look at like clips that he always done, just be able, and then just growing up, even with me going to Florida State, they just had that vision of me just being like Magic Johnson with my joy and my pride, being able to win, learn how to affect the game, with my playmaking abilities, doing different things on the floor. I will say he's a huge influence on my game.”

Nurse sees similar Johnson-like flashes in Barnes’ game, particularly with his ability to get a defensive rebound and start a fastbreak on his own, with the ability to quickly read a defence and make a good decision with the ball.

“We're gonna have to see, but I think that's really what he does,” Nurse said. “Like Pascal, he comes down, he puts pressure on the defence. If you don't plug the lane and you don't rim protect, he's gonna get it to the front of the rim and score on you.

“And then if you do plug and rim protect, he's going to find the kickout or he'll see if there's guys out ahead, rim runners out ahead, or corner runners out ahead, I think that's kind of what he does, that's what he likes to do. I think that's kind of what he wants to be, is kind of that kind of playmaking type guy.”

Having extra facilitators on the floor is never a bad thing, but you have to wonder how valuable Barnes’ playmaking might be if he can’t at least threaten to pull-up and pop it to keep defences honest.

The makings of a perfect fit for the Raptors is there with Barnes, but right now it looks like he only has half of the equation.

Defensively, it seems like a match made in heaven and the prospect of VanVleet, Barnes, Anunoby and Siakam all on the floor at the same time just terrorizing opposing offences is drool-worthy stuff, but banking on a team whose primary roster construction is predicated on defence in a league where offence seems to leaping further and further ahead seems like a dangerous proposition, and to that end taking a player whose jumper is shaky at best right now doesn’t make for an ideal fit.

Fair or not, Barnes will be among the most scrutinized Raptors draft picks ever and that’s mainly because while a lot of the situation with the Raptors is great for him, it’s not a perfect marriage between the two sides.

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