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When you think of the top of the draft lottery, there are only a few types of players that initially come to mind. Scoring guards, talented shooters, and dominant big men generally occupy the top-10 picks of any NBA Draft. Once in a while though, you’ll have an outlier. An outlier that may not fit the profile of a flashy star coming out of a memorable college career, but a player that has earned the recognition of a top pick by playing the way that not many others would.
This year’s outlier is Scottie Barnes.
The native of West Palm Beach, Florida, has crept into top of the 2021 NBA Draft class, with many experts and draft analysts projecting him to be picked as high as fifth. His unique blend of size, athleticism and versatility make him attractive to teams who can use a reliable defender and role player, but there are doubts about his ability to score at the NBA level.
In 24 games played in the 2020-2021 season, including only seven starts, Barnes averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game as a freshman at Florida State. He made 50.3 percent of his field goal attempts, but shot only 27.5 percent from three-point range.
While this stat line is pretty good for a freshman, Barnes’ impact on play goes beyond the numbers. Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table.
At six-foot-nine and 227 pounds, with a seven-foot-two wingspan, Barnes has a NBA-ready frame. Paired with impressive athletic ability, it’s clear why the former Seminole is on so many teams’ radars.
His size and strength help him blow by the smaller defender, and his big strides get him to the hoop before the defence can adjust, finishing it all off with an emphatic dunk.
Barnes’ size really pays off on the defensive side of the ball, where his intimidating frame can make opposing ball-handlers nervous. His length and strength mean he can guard just about all five positions, and his quickness on the perimeter helps him stay in front of just about any guard.
He can afford to guard tight, knowing that he has the foot speed and strength to get his body between the opponent and the basket if he were to try and blow by. Not only can he switch onto virtually anybody, he does so seamlessly and effortlessly.
There’s something eerie about watching Barnes’ imposing frame follow his marker around the floor, hovering over the ball and looking for the right moment to pounce. His suffocating presence on defence resulted in a 32.5 per cent opponent’s field-goal percentage last season.
When on the floor for Florida State, Barnes took on a lot of the playmaking responsibilities in the half-court, showing off his array of tools to create offence. Sometimes deployed as a point-guard, he was not shy to share the ball, finding cutters and open shooters left and right with ease and regularity.
He also excels as the grab-and-go guy on the fastbreak, snatching rebounds and dishing the ball to teammates getting up the court for an easy bucket.
His minutes featuring as a guard meant that he ran the pick-and-roll on some possessions. With his combination of size and athleticism, he is scary to face when he turns the corner off of a screen and picks up a head of steam towards the basket. He averaged 1.1 points-per-possession in the pick-&-roll, good enough for 11th in the nation (100-plus possessions).
The biggest question marks surrounding Barnes’ game come on the offensive end, where he’s yet to prove he can be a reliable, three-level scorer. He struggles the further he gets from the basket, which is surprising for a player with guard-level skills.
He only made 11 of the 40 threes he attempted in his freshman season. He doesn’t seem confident in his stroke, and has yet to figure out a way past his stiff, slow shooting motion.
Shot selection/shot creation
Despite being tasked with playmaking duties, and showing some prowess in drives to the hoop off of pick-and-roll, he lacks the feel, touch and IQ as a scorer from beyond the paint. He lacks any kind of floater/mid-range shot package, and often hesitates with the ball in his hands when his path to the basket is blocked.
While he is effective as a finisher at the rim, he cannot depend on trips to the free-throw line as a consistent source of offence, shooting only 62.1 percent from the charity stripe.
While it was obviously beneficial to Barnes to be an all-around, jack-of-all-trades type of player in college, he’ll likely have to figure out what type of role he’ll fit into in the NBA if he’s to find success. While just about any team can use his set of skills on either end of the floor, his limitations may turn him into a liability against more skilled opposition.
Can he consistently run play as a point guard, varying his approach enough to keep defences on their toes? Or will he figure more as a forward, running the floor and defending the most dangerous scorer on the other team?
The thing with Scottie Barnes is that he can do both, or just about anything a coach asks of him, but often with glaring limitations. But what we’ve learned recently in the NBA is that rosters with defined role players are usually the most successful, and there is a lot of money to be made if you specialize in one (or more) aspect of the game.
If his limited offensive skills do not translate at the NBA level, his best bet at carving out a role in the league is becoming a premium stopper and defensive stalwart.
There is a good reason why Scottie Barnes has shot up in mock drafts over the last weeks and months. His unique blend of size, athleticism and motor make him a desirable addition to just about any team in the league. But with substantial weaknesses in his game – in important areas like shooting and shot creation – he leaves scouts with questions over how his playstyle will translate at the next level.
His most direct comparison is Draymond Green, a player with similar size who specializes in defending and playmaking. Green is one of the best facilitators in the league, doing just about everything on the floor, expect scoring, on any given night. If Barnes is able to emulate a similar play style at the same level as Green has, there is good reason to be optimistic about his future. He’s also more athletic than Green, and can be a more reliable scorer if he re-works his jump shot and develops a mid-range game.
As intriguing of a prospect as Barnes is, and as well as he’d fit in a Raptors system that emphasizes stringent defence, I personally don’t think he’s the type of player Toronto needs at the moment. Masai Ujiri and Co. should be looking to add a reliable shot-creator like Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green, or a dominant center like Evan Mobley. Because of his struggles on the offensive end of the floor, Scottie Barnes should not be appealing to Raptors’ management at the fourth overall pick, and I’d be shocked to see him sporting a Toronto draft cap by the end of the night.