I’ll never forget the advice of one of my literature professors in college. He told me that when I write, the most important thing is to always get my message across nice and clear. He reminded me to get all the little things like subject-verb agreement, sentence construction, and punctuation right first. All the flair and extravagance can come after.
That advice reminds me of how Scottie Barnes won this season’s Rookie of the Year award.
The Toronto Raptors are not known for being fancy. They’re a hardworking team known for their defense and team play. The most important thing for everyone on the team is winning games. Barnes has had that same mindset all season long.
He doesn’t stand out individually like his batchmates. Cade Cunningham is the engine of his team’s offense. Evan Mobley is a game-changer on defense. Jalen Green is a high-flying highlight machine. Barnes isn’t any of these. What he does do well is play within the Raptors’ system. He does all the little things to help his team win.
Toronto’s defense is a coordinated strike. They’re a team of long-limbed, athletic freaks (and Fred VanVleet) that fly around the court. Because of that, they also need their teammates to quickly recover and help out when one of them commits to a ball-handler. The recognition to switch onto an open man should be quick or else they all get burned.
Individually, Barnes is a pretty solid defender in his own right. He moves well laterally and has enough strength to hold his own inside. When he was plugged into Toronto’s team defense, that’s where he really shined. He used his 7’2” wingspan to deter shots and drives. More importantly, Barnes knows when to help out and when to stick to his man. He fits into the team’s defensive system like one of Chris Pratt’s well-trained Raptors.
Scottie Barnes brings great defensive intensity every night! #NBACourtOptix powered by Microsoft Azure highlights the Raptors rookie's ability to force turnovers and affect shots, fitting right in with Toronto's swarming defense.— NBA (@NBA) January 21, 2022
Tune in to TOR-WAS at 8pm/et on NBA League Pass pic.twitter.com/KP8Ze4Ms2Z
Barnes’ main strength coming into the league was his defense. That’s why the offensive pop he provides Toronto is a nice surprise. His basketball IQ extended to the offensive end. He understands his teammates’ tendencies to the point where he can be trusted as the primary playmaker of the team. When the Raptors were missing all their true point guards due to injury, Coach Nick Nurse didn’t hesitate to run the offense through his rookie. Barnes ranked third in his team in assists in the regular season, averaging 3.5 per game.
It is a luxury to have a 6’9” forward who can haul down a rebound, take the ball down the court, and find the open man on the break. He also makes plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Barnes has passes or cuts which open up the flow of the offense, leading to open shots.
Barnes isn’t a complete player yet. He’s still a work in progress. His offense definitely needs work. Barnes’s jumper is janky and his range is still limited. His handles also need tightening. But, the product that the Raptors have right now is pretty good. He’s been so integral to the team. Thanks to Barnes, Toronto managed to weather the injuries of key players Pascal Siakam and VanVleet.
1998-99 Rookie of the Year and @Raptors legend Vince Carter lets Scottie Barnes know he's the 2021-22 #KiaROY! pic.twitter.com/6qGgRLmgJd— NBA (@NBA) April 23, 2022
Barnes is the third Raptor to win the Rookie of the Year award. Damon Stoudamire first won it in 1996, followed by Vince Carter in 1999. Unlike Barnes, The Mighty Mouse and Half Man-Half Amazing took the league by storm. They electrified crowds with their highlights and exciting playing style.
Unlike Stoudamire and Carter, though, Barnes made the playoffs. He has more wins in his rookie year than Stoudamire and Carter’s rookie years combined. Barnes doesn’t have as much flair or extravagance as compared to other rookies this season. That can come later. The important thing is that he wins games. The Rookie of the Year got his message across, nice and clear.