Scottie Barnes is ready to be the Raptors’ playmaker
This might finally be the year that the Point Scottie experiment takes off. Since he came into the NBA, Scottie Barnes has famously prided himself as a 6’9 point guard, and he has extensive history playing the position in college and high school. He might finally get his chance to take the reins of the Toronto Raptors this season – Fred VanVleet has vacated the role, and while the team signed Dennis Schröder to alleviate some of the playmaking burden, it’s clear that first-year head coach Darko Rajakovic intends to give Barnes every opportunity to explore his upper limit.
“Definitely, I could see Scottie playing on the ball much more,” Rajakovic told reporters before training camp. “He’s such a unique player that we can use him in many different ways. He’s going to be used quite a bit.”
Under Rajakovic, the Raptors are embracing a more dynamic style of play that features greater ball and player movement. Barnes averaged 18.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists across four preseason games, while the team stormed to their first undefeated preseason in team history. Perhaps they’re starting to restore the vibes after last season? Change is certainly welcome, and after following his Rookie of the Year campaign with an uneven second season, there’s a great amount that hinges on Barnes this season. He’s the swing factor for where the Raptors go from here in the grand scheme, and his playmaking is probably going to be the swing skill. He feels ready to take it on.
“Being able to be in those positions where I'm able to playmake, create for other guys and just being able to show my versatility out there on the floor, it's going to be great with this offense that we're having,” says Barnes. “I feel like I'm a great playmaker.”
On behalf of a partnership with PlayStation, Barnes spoke with The Shift last week about the team’s strong preseason play, embracing more playmaking responsibilities this season and whether fans can ever expect to see him on a future Twitch stream with Dennis Schröder.
Preseason is preseason, but it seems like you, as well as the team in general, are having a really good preseason so far. How would you assess the way everything feels so far going into the year?
Scottie Barnes: We're just trying to get our chemistry right, working on us. That's our main focus, being able to focus on us and trying to work on what we're trying to prep offensively and defensively. Just trying to get to know each other out there on the floor where, when the regular season happens, we're going to be tight, close and be able to make those rotations that we need, make those extra passes, play the right way so we can win as many games as possible. So, we've taken this preseason pretty serious. We're trying to work on ourselves and everybody's just trying to get together and make the right and smart decisions.
Before training camp, I remember coach Darko Rajakovic spoke really highly of your passing and your ability to create with the ball in your hands. Obviously, I know you've played so much point guard across your basketball career at all these different levels.
How do you feel about that opportunity to embrace even more of your playmaking side of your game this year?
He's a smart coach, where he knows the game and knows how to make us play the right way. So being able to be in those positions where I'm able to playmake, create for other guys and just being able to show my versatility out there on the floor, it's going to be great with this offense that we're having. That's one of the main things we're working on, being able to move the ball and being able to find each other and just sharing the rock. I feel like I'm a great playmaker. I see the floor really well, so it just all helps and takes part of offense.
Now that you’re two years in this league, I'm curious, from a passing and a court vision perspective, what would you say is the biggest thing in terms of learning or perhaps adjusting to how to read an NBA defense?
Some teams, they have a pre-set defense where they already know what the next rotation is, so just being aware of that. I think it makes it a lot easier, rather than college, in the NBA [with] how much spacing there is on the floor. So, if the defense helps, it's going to be a long rotation to be able to try to get back to your man. When I'm attacking downhill, to be able to find those guys cutting, being spaced out at the 3-pointer, all those things just take a part in the game. So with that open spacing, once somebody helps, [snaps] you just gotta make a quick read and reaction to just try to make those plays.
Last season, I remember a bunch of the team’s passing stats went up after trading for Jakob Poeltl. How much does it help, in your opinion, to have a player like that, you know, a true seven-footer who's been in this league for so long and knows how to do all these little things, especially as a roll threat?
Jak was very helpful for our team. You know, we had undersized fives. I was playing five, we had Precious [Achiuwa] at the five, Chris [Boucher] playing the five. So, just being able to have Jak out there, [it helps] being able to just protect the rim, challenging guys at the rim.
I didn't know how good he was until he got to our team. This man would catch it at the elbows, catch it in the post, make those smart decisions to be able to just get the ball and go right into a ball screen, making those reads when he catches the ball at the elbow and hit the backdoor [cutter]. He’s a willing passer, he's very unselfish and he just brought so many great things to our team on the defensive end and the offensive end with his high IQ out there on the floor.
Yeah, you spoke about it earlier, but in general, it seems like the system that Rajakovic wants to play, there's a lot of ball movement, a lot of player movement, the ball going through the high post a lot of times. What have you seen from the way this team is adapting to the style of play so far?
It's going really well for us. I feel like everybody's on the same page. Everybody on the team is unselfish, so we're trying to play the right way. Like I said, we're just taking this time right now to keep trying to figure out each other, keep knowing the plays, keep working on what we got to work on so when we get to that regular season, everything should be on point, it’s crisp, and we can just get this thing rolling. That's just the main story of it.
Everybody is unselfish, and they're willing to make these changes in order to take it to the next step. [When] we pass the ball a lot, we get wide open threes, our three-point percentage goes up, we get more backdoors, it's more easy buckets, so it just makes the game a whole lot easier and it'll make everybody happy. When you pass the ball to another guy, he's happy, so now there’s two people happy. So just being able to make those winning plays and those winning sacrifices for each other, it's going to be a great thing for us.
I definitely wanted to ask this one – Gradey Dick, he genuinely seems to me like such a hilarious guy.
He is, he is.
What’s his presence in the locker room like so far? Is he as funny in person as he comes across online?
Yes, for sure. He always comes in the gym with a smile, gives his goofiness. I like it, we need that energy and that's what a lot of guys on our team are showing. So, Gradey, he's always coming in with energy and making jokes, laughing. He's a funny guy.
Can you tell me a little bit about your partnership with PlayStation and why this was an exciting opportunity for you?
It was an exciting opportunity for me because I grew up wanting to have a PlayStation [and] always loving PlayStation. That’s what I play on right now. It's just something where, it’s one of my peacemakers, being able to play games and being able to connect with my friends. It just always keeps us close together.
I've seen the NBA 2K streams, I remember the Call of Duty: Warzone streams, which I really enjoyed personally. What are your favorite games to play right now?
Since [NBA 2K24] came out, I’m only playing 2K right now. Before 2K24 came out, I was playing Call of Duty, Rocket League, Fortnite, I used to play [Five Nights at] Freddy’s. I used to play a lot of games, but since 2K24 came out, I'm only really focused on 2K24. I gotta grind my badges, get my builds right and play with my Pro-Am team, try to get better with these guys.
Obviously, Dennis Schröder is another player with a popular Twitch stream of his own. Do you think we'll ever see a Scottie Barnes and Dennis Schröder Twitch stream together?
I didn’t know he streamed. I actually didn’t know he streamed.
Yeah, he’s big, I’ve seen him stream Call of Duty a bunch.
I know Chris [Boucher] streams, so you know, I’ve streamed with Chris a couple of times on CoD. But, probably, if [Schröder] plays CoD, I might download CoD soon [and] just try to play more games instead of just playing only one game. I’ve never been that type of gamer where I'm only playing one game – I like playing multiple games.