For the Raptors, Scottie Barnes can do a little bit of everything

When the Toronto Raptors selected Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick in the 2021 NBA draft, some people in the basketball world raised their eyebrows. Jalen Suggs, considered one of the must-see prospects, was still on the board.

A regular season later, the Raptors look prescient. Barnes, 20, is a top contender for Rookie of the Year. He conjured up comparisons to Vince Carter and Damon Stoudamire, the two Raptors who were named rookie of the year.

“I’ve never actually been to Toronto,” Barnes told The New York Times recently. “I never thought about being in Toronto. It was never a thought in my mind. It’s not as different as I thought it would be. The only thing different is just the weather, because I’m from Florida.”

At his best, the 6-foot-9 Barnes is a versatile dynamo with a similar but far less refined game than that of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. This season, Barnes started in all 74 games he played, averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 49.2% shooting. In the blink of an eye, he can speed the ball across the court like an almost point guard. In another, he attacks the ledge for thunderous dunks. Raptors coach Nick Nurse often had Barnes defend top players, including Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic.

Now, he is key to Toronto’s hopes of winning the championship. He fits the mold of the players who helped the Raptors win the franchise’s first title in 2019, said general manager Bobby Webster.

“These really versatile and long strikers that can do a lot are hard to find,” he said. “And if they get it right, they can be really valuable and productive players.”

The question mark for Barnes is his long-range shooting. He hit just 30.1% of his 3-pointers during the regular season, and even that was an improvement on his only year at Florida State University, where he hit 27.5% of 3.

Barnes, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., helped the Raptors to a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. During Game 1 on Saturday, Barnes was given the task of trying to contain James Harden, but he left the game with an ankle injury and was out of Game 2 on Monday. Toronto lost Barnes’ defense and energy and lost in a 112-97 loss to drop to 0-2 in the series. Game 3 is Wednesday and it’s unclear if Barnes will be able to play.

In an interview with The Times ahead of the playoffs, Barnes discussed his strong start to his career, his confidence level, and his campaign for the Rookie of the Year Award.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

It was considered quite surprising at the time the Raptors picked him 4th in the draft. What went through his mind when his name was announced?

Even through the entire pre-draft process, I really went in without any expectations. Really not paying attention. I really wasn’t worrying about things I couldn’t control. So I really went out there and went wherever I went. So when they said my name, I was very excited, very happy. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, so I didn’t really have any expectations. So I was just a huge burst of excitement.

What do you remember about your pre-draft conversations with Raptors president Masai Ujiri?

He’s a great person to win. Just winning, winning, winning. So I’m also a big person at winning. So really, it was like the two of us really had a mutual mind.

What was the hardest thing about jumping to the NBA so far?

Either traveling so much or just adjusting to the referees and really what they call the game.

When you have free time, what do you like to do?

Just relax in the crib and play video games.

What are you playing now?

Play NBA 2K. Call to action. Fortnite.

When you play 2K, do you play like Raptors?

I don’t really play as teams. I usually play a create a player mode.

What was your favorite regular season moment?

So one of our favorite games this year was probably with the Brooklyn Nets. KD [Kevin Durant] and Tiago [Harden]. I think it was at their house, but we lost. But it was an interesting game. There was a lot of small talk involved. That made it more fun. There was small talk, and we were talking rubbish back, and it was amazing. It was going to the wire, back and forth, back and forth. But I would say it was a great game.

Do you say trash on the floor?

Sometimes. Not much, but only sometimes I go. But I won’t say much here.

LeBron James said he watched you play in seventh grade. Did you know that until he said it recently?

I don’t remember him saying that. Sounds great, but I know he watched me in 10th or 9th grade when I was playing with Zaire – Dwyane Wade’s son. He and Dwyane Wade were on the court watching our games. I hit a game winner and cheered him and D-Wade. I was excited and went to the sideline and slapped D-Wade and Bron’s hand after the game because I just hit a buzzer. But seeing these guys saying these things about me, it shows that people see this potential in me of what I can do.

Were you one of the popular kids at school? how were you?

I’ve always been an extroverted kid. I’m not saying I was that popular, but, you know, I had this core, this arrogance.. I was a very talkative, energetic child. So I would say I had a good amount of friends. I was always like one of those funny kids in the classroom.

There are many comparisons between his impact as a rookie and that of Vince Carter and Damon Stoudamire. Have you ever talked to Vince Carter?

I really did. I saw him at one of our games this year and went to him. I said, “What’s up?” We really couldn’t have that much conversation. I actually saw Damon Stoudamire at the mall in Boston, and we talked for a while. He went up to him. I recognized him. And I started talking to him.

What kind of impact do you hope to make in the league?

In this league, I would say I want, of course, to win rookie of the year this year. Be on the All-Defensive team several times. Be a Future MVP Be a Finals MVP Be an NBA champion multiple times. Sure, be an All-Star multiple times. Really, just leave that legacy. that I was just a great all-rounder.

Is there anything that makes you Rookie of the Year compared to other candidates?

Really just doing so many different kinds of things, and being that versatile player that is having a big impact on our team, really winning basketball games.

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