Draft Night: One Chapter Closed, A New One Set To Begin

by Vivek Jacob

The silver lining now has a face, a name, and hopefully a bright future ahead. As the Toronto Raptors grinded through a tumultuous 2020-21 season in Tampa that saw their seven-year playoff streak come to a screeching halt, the light at the end of the tunnel after some good fortune during the draft lottery was the fourth overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

With his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame wrapped in all-white and tucked into a turtleneck and blazer with a floral design -- not to mention the flashy flower pin on his lapel -- Scottie Barnes walked up to the podium after a big hug from mom and a celebratory dance with his brother, representing the Raptors’ newest hope. 

Toronto has fond memories with the fourth overall selection, having selected Antawn Jamison and flipping him to Golden State for Vince Carter in 1998, then drafting Chris Bosh fourth overall in 2003.

“I want to be known as someone that just puts in the time, puts in the work, someone that’s great, that just does it all,” Barnes said. “Striving for greatness, I’m going to keep working, staying in the gym, I just want to leave that legacy that I’m that guy that I can really be.” 

By all accounts, Barnes’ personality stands out just as much as his game. He exudes confidence in both his walk and talk, is adamant about being focused on always making the right basketball play, and takes tremendous pride in representing his home city of West Palm Beach to the fullest.

“I like seeing other people be happy, that’s just who I am,” Barnes said. “I’m a natural leader. I’m a guy who encourages other guys to be better. I like seeing people be great at what they love doing. That’s just who I am, the natural guy that I am. I’m a caring guy, a loving guy. No matter what, I just want to spread love and positivity.” 

Barnes has been on Toronto’s radar since he was around 16-years-old, representing the USA in junior international competition. He’s won three gold medals across the U16, U17, and U19 levels and was a five-star recruit out of high school, where he played on a Montverde Academy team that included Cade Cunningham, this year’s top overall selection.

During his freshman season with Florida State, Barnes showcased his remarkable defensive prowess coming off the bench, often defending the opposing team’s lead ball-handler and wreaking havoc upon them above the 3-point line while his 7-foot-3 wingspan exemplified why he had no qualms switching onto bigger players closer to the basket. 

Offensively, Barnes is comfortable getting the ball up the floor in a hurry courtesy of both his long strides and the time he spent as a point-forward in college. Developing his jumper will be the main area of focus in the NBA, as he attempted 40 three-pointers in his lone college season, making just 11 (27.5%). With the natural instincts he’s exhibited for the game that are seen in both his decision-making and vision, Toronto’s front office saw more than enough reason to bring Barnes into their culture.

“As we all see and we all know, the positionless-ness of the NBA now, I don’t think you can have too many of these big two-way wings,” general manager Bobby Webster said, regarding potential concerns of having too many similar players on the roster. “So, I think from a positional standpoint, we don’t see it as any overlap, we see it as let’s have all five guys look like him and OG (Anunoby) and Pascal (Siakam) and all of that.”

Days before the draft, Webster made clear the franchise was looking for mentally tough, hard-working, and versatile players who play both ends of the floor while also providing the best long-term potential. In the Atlantic Division, the Raptors will be forced to contend with the perimeter size and skill of Kevin Durant and James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks. Having the likes of Barnes, Anunoby, and Siakam being able to share the burden of defending those stars will be a delight to head coach Nick Nurse.

“I like the look of those three guys on the court because all three of them can do a lot of things, and that’s usually advantageous to our team,” Nurse said. “I like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that. And I think this gives us a chance to do that with those three guys.”

With two second-round selections at No. 46 and 47, the Raptors made a bit of history for themselves by selecting a Canadian -- Dalano Banton from Toronto -- for the first time in the franchise’s 27-year history. Banton played at Nebraska last season and is another selection who fits the prototype of a point-forward with great size and feel. Toronto then selected David Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard out of Louisville who thrives on making his teammates better with his playmaking.

With the completion of the draft process, the Raptors’ Tampa experience comes full circle. Webster confirmed that the organization would be closing up shop in Florida, then turning their attention to free agency, and Las Vegas for summer league.

One chapter closed, a new one set to begin.

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