Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes already part of elite company

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) reacts after a slam dunk against the Philadelphia 76ers during first half pre-season NBA basketball action in Toronto on Monday Oct. 4, 2021. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The Toronto Raptors have had some impressive rookies ply their trade through 27 seasons. Almost all of the best of those went on to long and fruitful NBA careers. Two — Chris Bosh and Tracy McGrady — have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Another, Vince Carter, is almost certain to follow.

And now there’s Scottie Barnes.

It’s foolish to argue that the 2021 fourth overall pick from Florida State will be better than them all. Not with the season barely two weeks old.

But through his first seven games, Barnes has out-performed them all and is already on his way to one of the better starts for a first-year player in recent league history.

He’s listed as doubtful for his eighth game Monday night against the New York Knicks due to a sprained right thumb he suffered in the final moments of the Raptors’ win against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

But the injury came after he logged a 21-point, 12-rebound night — his third game of 20 or more points, his second double-double and his seventh consecutive game scoring at least 12 points.

Barnes is averaging 18.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 55.1 per cent shooting.

How many first-year Raptors have averaged at least 18 points and eight rebounds on 55 per cent shooting over a full season?

None.

How many first-year players — ever — have done it?

One. You may have heard of him — big fella, played for the Orlando Magic at the time?

Yup, Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA’s ultimate man-child.

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The NBA is a marathon, not a sprint. A seven-game stretch shouldn’t have much predictive value.

But it’s not nothing either, especially given the Raptors rookie is doing it having only just turned 20. So it’s worth noting not only how few players have matched the thresholds Barnes has in his first two weeks in the league, but how good they all became or are projected to be.

According to basketball-reference.com, Barnes is now the ninth player in the past 40 seasons to start their career by averaging at least 18 points and eight rebounds on 50 per cent shooting. There’s not a dud in the bunch.

• Zion Williamson, 2019-20: first pick in 2019 and one of the most hyped prospects since LeBron James.

• Ben Simmons, 2017-18: second pick in 2016; rookie-of-the-year in 2018; has been named to three All-NBA teams in his first five seasons.

• Blake Griffin, 2010-11: first pick in 2009, rookie of the year in 2011; All-NBA five times.

• O’Neal: first pick in the 1992 draft, 1993 rookie of the year, 2000 MVP, 14 All-NBA selections, four-time champion, Hall-of-Famer.

• David Robinson: first pick in the 1987 draft; 1990 rookie of the year (after completing two years military service); 1995 MVP; defensive player of the year; 10x All-NBA 10 times; Hall-of-Famer.

• Hakeem Olajuwon: first pick in 1984; 1985 rookie of the year; 1994 MVP; 12x All-NBA; Hall-of-Famer.

• Ralph Sampson: first pick in 1983; 1984 rookie of the year and four-time All-Star in a career cut short by injuries but became a Hall-of-Famer in part on the strength of a legendary college career.

• Terry Cummings: second pick in the 1982 draft, 1983 rookie of the year; all-NBA twice; averaged 20.3 points and 8.5 rebounds over 812 starts in an 18-year career.

It’s hard to fathom that Barnes is on that kind of trajectory.

But what he’s done in such a short period is even more remarkable when compared with past Raptors icons.

Damon Stoudamire was the Raptors’ first draft pick, taken seventh overall in 1995. He won rookie of the year in 1996 and went on to a productive 14-year career. He came out of the gates as if shot from a cannon, with the ultimate green light as the star of an expansion team in 1995-96. He averaged 15.3 points, seven assists and five rebounds – albeit on 37.8 per cent shooting – on his way to averaging 19 points and nine assists for the season — the top scoring and playmaking marks for a first-year player in franchise history.

As big a star as Carter became, expectations were a bit muted for his first season during the lockout-shortened 1997-98 season. He was the fifth pick in the draft but he showed his quality quickly, averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal per game while shooting 47.2 per cent. His breakout moment came in his eighth game when he popped off for 27/6/5 against the Vancouver Grizzlies in the first NBA contest played at what was then Air Canada Centre. Carter probably had the best start by a Raptors rookie prior to Barnes’ arrival.

Carter ended up averaging 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and three assists on 45 per cent shooting on his way to becoming the second Raptor to earn rookie-of-the-year honours, and eventual legend status.

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McGrady’s start shows how difficult an adjustment the NBA can be. He was 18 and straight out of high school after being the ninth pick in 1997, and his introduction to the NBA reflected that as he appeared in only three of the Raptors’ first seven games in his rookie season, making negligible impact.

Depending on how you slice it, Bosh has had the best or second-best career of any player the Raptors have ever drafted.

Like Barnes, he came into the league as the fourth pick in a deep draft (2003) after one year of college. He got steady minutes immediately off the bench for head coach Kevin O’Neill, averaging 6.7 points and 4 rebounds a game on 51 per cent shooting in 25 minutes in his first seven games. He didn’t have a 20-point, 10-rebound game until December of his rookie season. He went on two win two championships and be named to 11 all-star teams before joining McGrady as the second player drafted by Toronto to make to the Hall of Fame.

DeMar DeRozan’ is the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer and was a four-time all-star with the club, but the early stage of his rookie season showed little signs of what was to come. He started but played just 18 minutes a game, averaging only 4.7 points in his first seven games. He cracked 20 points just twice that season, something Barnes did twice this past weekend.

Barnes has a long way to go to put together a career resume that would match previous Raptors stars, let alone some of the all-time NBA greats his start has put him in the conversation with, but his first seven games have him on the path to something that could be great.

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