Skip to main content


Broken hand could cut Barnes’ all-star season short

Scottie Barnes Toronto Raptors Scottie Barnes - The Canadian Press

TORONTO – In the span of 132 seconds early in the second quarter of Friday’s loss to Golden State, Scottie Barnes showed why he’s one of the NBA’s best and most unique young players.

The Raptors forward opened the frame by driving left, spinning to his right and nailing a turnaround jumper over a couple of Warriors players. On the next two possessions, he blew past a defender for a layup and fired a pinpoint cross-court pass to a shooter in the corner. Finally, Barnes drew double coverage in the post, made the correct read and found the open man, Kelly Olynyk, who knocked down a three-pointer.

“Scottie is an incredible player,” Warriors big man Draymond Green – the 12-year veteran, four-time champion and likely future Hall-of-Famer – said after the game. “Playing the point-forward position, I’m not going to sit up here and act like I was the first person to do it, but I think I’ve done it a little differently than most and he’ll take that to a whole other level... I think Scottie will do way more than I ever did in my career.”

It was shaping up to be another special night for Toronto’s breakout star. Instead, it may have been the end of his excellent third season. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Barnes exited the game with what was later diagnosed as a broken middle finger on his left hand.

It’s unclear how or even when he sustained the injury. Barnes was wincing in pain after jamming his finger on a pass from Olynyk earlier in the quarter, but it appeared to be on his right hand. On his final play before leaving for the locker room, Barnes was defending a shot at the rim and got his hand caught in the mesh – but that was also his right. It’s hard to see in the replay, but teammate Immanuel Quickley may have inadvertently kicked his off hand while he was on his way up for the contest. In any case, the Raptors will be without their all-star and best player for an indefinite period.

The timeline for Barnes’ recovery will depend on the severity of the fracture and whether or not it requires surgery. Generally, non-operative fractures require casting and immobilization for two to four weeks. That estimate can be doubled with surgery. Orlando big man Wendell Carter Jr. was initially given a timetable of “at least three weeks” after undergoing surgery on the same injury – a fracture to the third metacarpal bone of his left hand – earlier this season; he ended up missing 20 games over nearly seven weeks.

With 22 games remaining for the Raptors, who fell to 22-38 on Friday and are 4.5 games back of the East’s final play-in spot, it begs the question: will we see Barnes again this season? Even if he’s cleared after, say, four weeks – which seems to be on the more optimistic side – it’s not hard to envision the team taking a conservative approach with the face of the franchise.

It’s a tough blow for Barnes, who had appeared in each of the club’s first 60 games and was averaging career highs across the board. He’s one of five players putting up at least 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists per contest. Only Barnes and Giannis Antetokounmpo are doing it while also averaging at least one block and one steal. He’s recorded four triple-doubles – a franchise record and fifth most across the NBA this year. While he tailed off after a hot start to the campaign, especially from three-point range, he looked reinvigorated coming off his first career All-Star Game last month, averaging 21.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks on 50 per cent shooting in five contests before getting hurt on Friday.

It’s also unfortunate timing for a young team that was starting to show signs of promise. Last week, the Raptors won three games in a row for the first time all season. That they celebrated with a pizza party, courtesy of head coach Darko Rajakovic, didn’t sit well with everybody in the organization, but the players had fun with it, and in a season that has been defined by franchise-altering change, fun has been in short supply.

The hope for these next six weeks was to continue making progress, building chemistry and pushing for a spot in the play-in tournament. An injury to Trae Young, who is also out with a hand ailment, opened the door for Toronto to make a run at the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks.

On the other end of the standings, the Raptors are two games up on the Memphis Grizzlies for the sixth-worst record in the NBA, which would give them a 45.8 per cent chance of keeping their first-round pick this summer. If they had the option between the play-in or their top-six protected pick in what’s widely believed to be a weak 2024 draft, it’s clear the team has learned towards the former; a chance to get Barnes and its young players some much-needed experience in higher-leverage game situations.

But Barnes’ absence could make them rethink their priorities. The play-in, which was already a long shot, may be out of reach by the time he’s nearing his return. Even if it’s still mathematically possible by that point, it’s probably not something that’s worth rushing him back to chase.

Maximizing their odds at keeping the pick – currently at 32 per cent as the seventh-worst team in the league – probably wouldn’t take much manipulation on their part. Sure, they could stand to be more cautious with banged up players like RJ Barrett, who’s been managing a lingering knee issue since the end of January, but wins are going to be hard to come by for as long as Barnes is out of the lineup.

Over the past 20 games, the Raptors have been outscored by 17.8 points per 100 possessions without him on the floor. As recently as Friday, they held a two-point lead on Golden State when he went down late in the first half and were outscored 65-48 the rest of the way.

If that’s the last we see of Barnes in 2023-24, it’ll be an unfortunate ending to a great season. His emergence from disappointing sophomore to budding superstar – the rare type of player who can bend games to his will in multiple ways on both ends of the floor – has been one of the lone bright spots amid an otherwise gloomy year for the Raptors.