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Q&A: Scottie Barnes on being a playmaker, broadening his game and more

The versatile swingman and reigning Kia Rookie of the Year feels shares what he has done to improve his game for 2022-23.

Scottie Barnes has high expectations for this season after winning Kia Rookie of the Year honors in 2021-22.

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes was having a rough night in Miami. After returning from a bruised shoulder suffered early in Saturday’s game, the second-year star went out again. Hard.

Finishing a layup against Miami’s Tyler Herro, who was trying to draw a charge, Barnes fell across the baseline and immediately grabbed at his right foot. He stuck around to miss a free throw, then limped back to the locker room. His night’s work was cut short: 11 points, two rebounds and two assists on 5-for-9 shooting. The Raptors were eight points worse in his 13 minutes, before losing only by three.

After the game, though, Barnes was walking around without any noticeable limp. No ice, boot, wrap — nothing like that. The ankle would keep him out of the teams’ rematch Monday, also in Miami. But things could have been worse. So he laced up his street shoes, then turned to face a reporter who had tracked his play week-by-week last season on’s Kia Rookie Ladder.

“Yeah, you had me last,” he said, deadpan.

Not true! Barnes was ranked second for much of the season, including the final edition. But he one-upped that by winning the league’s 2022 Rookie of the Year award. Hardware don’t lie, right? So Barnes agreed to talk with about his rookie year and expectations for 2022-23.

Editor’s note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited. Can you compare where you are now to where you were at this point last season in your rookie year? 

I really know the difference in what it takes to win and how hard each and every game is. So it takes a certain amount of effort every night. I’m really trying to stay consistent with the effort I make on the offensive end and the defensive end. Trying to score points and make winning plays. Try to pull out these wins, because it’s hard to win a game in the NBA. Every possession really counts.

Did last season help you find an agenda for your summer routine as far as areas of your game to develop and improve?

For sure. I tried to just work on a couple of different things: develop my game, work on my off-the-dribble moves and my touches. Trying to stay in shape. My defense. Trying to get better at every aspect of the game.

I feel like Paolo [Banchero] is going to be an everyday standout this year. Being his size and weight and being able to get to the basket.”

— Scottie Barnes, on the 2022 rookie class

Your coach, Nick Nurse, told reporters that he wants you to seek out your own shot more, saying: “When he gets a mismatch, he has to go to work instead of thinking, ‘Who’s open?’ You’re open.” What are your thoughts on that? 

I’m a natural passer. The first thing I look for, I try to make the right play. See who is open. Try to draw the defense. But it’s just … me trying to be more aggressive, they give me the confidence to do that. That allows me to try to find those mismatches in any way possible. Through pick and rolls or out on the floor. It doesn’t really matter who’s on me, I’ve got to try to do what I do.

Were you surprised at how quickly they trusted you last season? You were used in different roles throughout your rookie campaign — from putting the ball in your hands as a point forward to subbing you back in to lead the second unit. 

They saw what I could do in college and knew what I could do. They trusted that and really wanted to bring it out early. So they went to me and put me in the position to be able to do that — point guard, center, small forward, power forward. They felt I was a versatile playmaker who could do so many different things.

Take a look back at Scottie Barnes' Kia Rookie of the Year season.

Nurse and Masai Ujiri have talked about their vision for a lineup full of 6-foot-9 players who are essentially interchangeable on both ends. What is your take on that?

That’s what the league has become now. A bunch of tall, versatile players who can do many different things on the floor. On this team, we have so many guys who are long and athletic, who can get to the basket, develop our jump shots, big bodies that help us get to the rim. But it also helps us on the defensive end, everybody one through five being able to switch. Just focusing on those game plan details helps with our athleticism being able to get into a passing lane, get steals and guard the ball.

No disadvantages when you’re facing smaller, quicker guards?

We still have got some small players. Like Fred [VanVleet], who has that ball pressure. He’s one of our vocal leaders. He gets steals and deflections, then turns those in transition to easy baskets.

What do you make of Pascal Siakam’s quick start to this season? 27.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 7.0 asts in Toronto’s first three games.

Pascal has been unbelievable. It’s amazing to see what he does on the floor. I feel like that’s how he leads, by what he does. He’ll talk a little on defense but when you need a go-to bucket, he’s our guy.

Bulls forward Patrick Williams and Barnes played college ball together at Florida State.

Patrick Williams, a fellow Florida State guy, was drafted fourth overall by Chicago in 2020, the same pick Toronto used on you last year. He lost most of last season to a dislocated left wrist and is under some pressure to make a leap now. Any thoughts on him and his game?

I feel like people don’t really know his game yet. What he can do defensively, being able to block shots. He’s really good on the defensive end with great instincts. On the offensive end, we know his game: maybe one, two dribbles and pull-up. I feel like he’s going to have a good comeback year for sure.

Who jumps out at you from the Class of 2022 rookies?

I don’t think I really watched too many people from the rookie class, to be honest. But I feel like Paolo [Banchero, the No. 1 pick to Orlando] is going to be an everyday standout this year. Being his size and weight and being able to get to the basket.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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