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‘I love passing’: Raptors’ Scottie Barnes embracing chance to play more point guard


Scottie Barnes’s chance to be the point guard he’s long viewed himself as might have arrived.

With longtime point guard Fred VanVleet leaving for Houston in free agency, and new Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic looking to play selfless basketball while utilizing the skillset of his players more, the opportunity could be there.

“Definitely I could see Scottie playing on the ball much more,” Rajakovic said when asked if Barnes would play the position, and even possibly start there, ahead of Raptors training camp this week.

“We’re going to be calling in halfcourt sets, we’re going to be calling plays for him to handle pick-and-roll, to set screens in pick-and-roll. He’s such a unique player that we can use him in many different ways. But he’s going to be used quite a bit.”

Barnes has become a key player for Toronto alongside all-star and all-NBA forward Pascal Siakam and NBA all-defensive team forward O.G. Anunoby since being drafted fourth overall in the 2021 NBA draft.

His positional versatility on both ends of the court has helped the Raptors in different spots and against certain players. But his selflessness serves to mesh well with the style of basketball Rajakovic is looking to implement.

In addition to his size, of course. Barnes stands at six-foot-eight and has gained nine pounds of muscle this summer to weigh in at 240 pounds.

“I think there are a lot of advantages,” Rajakovic said of Barnes’s stature in pick-and-roll scenarios.

“First of all, he’s a willing passer, so when you put him in pick-and-rolls, he can see the court really well and will try to move the court around the pick-and-roll quite a bit, especially when there are open passing lanes.

“I think he can be very good in pick-and-rolls when a small sets a pick-and-roll for him, as well as a big.”

Stagnant sophomore season

The opportunity ahead is one Barnes is happy about.

“Makes me feel good, you know?” Barnes said. “Just being able to have the ball in my hands, being able to play make more, being able to make more decisions with the ball.

“I feel like I’m really good with the ball in my hands making great decisions whether I need to pass or be able to score.”

The third-year forward didn’t necessarily show the development that was hoped for in his sophomore season in what was a tough 2022-23 for Toronto.

The Raptors went 41-41 and missed the post-season for the second time in three years after failing to get out of the play-in tournament.

Meanwhile, Barnes’s scoring average stayed put at 15.3 per game, while his rebounding dropped from 7.5 to 6.6 and his field goal percentage from 49.2 to 45.6 despite similar minutes and shooting opportunities to his rookie year. His assists, however, went up from 3.5 to 4.8.

The message from the organization after last season was that he had to get in the gym.

And that, he says he has done, especially with his conditioning in anticipation of having a bigger role.

“This summer I’ve just been working all around my game, just finding spots, getting to the mid-range, getting to the basket with different moves,” Barnes said.

“I’m confident in my game. That’s really what it’s about, just working on your game, just building your confidence so when you go out there in the season, you can just go out there and dominate.”

Improving downhill attacks

Rajakovic pointed to Barnes’s downhill attacks in the pick-and-roll as something they’ve looked at.

“As far as his downhill attacks, there are definitely things that he can do better,” Rajakovic said. “We’ve been working on those in the summer, one of those is use of his left hand as well.

“And he’s been doing a great job so far in the open gym. I’m really excited to see him on NBA court, NBA games to continue progressing his game.”

Along with his mindset of wanting to dominate and win, Barnes feels he’s responsible to set the tone for how the Raptors want to play this season.

“Me having the ball in my hands, I love passing the ball, I’m a playmaker as well. So I like getting guys involved into the game, that’s what I do,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to play and we got guys on our team that want to play that way as well so that’s what it’s about.

“Everybody’s trying to make that sacrifice.”


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