Scottie_Journey to All-Star

Scottie Barnes' journey to NBA All-Star

The reality hit Scottie Barnes when he was packing. He was going to All-Star, he was going to be an All-Star. He was picking out the clothes he’d wear to arrive at his first All-Star practice and media day Saturday afternoon, the fit he’d wear to the Gainsbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday evening, and whether it came between grabbing his toothbrush or debating over shoes, it finally felt real.

“Thinking about those little things just makes it all kick in,” Barnes said Saturday in a quiet moment after his first mobbed All-Star podium availability.

Barnes was named an All-Star in early February, after Joel Embiid was ruled out due to injury, and had been keeping his focus on the season at hand. Asked about his ticket to Indianapolis in his postgames leading up the All-Star break, and he admitted it was surreal, an honour, but he couldn’t yet picture it. It makes sense, too, when considering the backdrop the announcement came against: recent trades of two of his teammates and vets, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. A lot had happened to the Raptors, and by extension to Barnes, in the brief span of 2024.

It also makes sense that it was the minutia of packing a suitcase, an experience of repetitions and necessarily slowing down to consider the days ahead, that made it all finally catch up.

“Getting closer to the moment, thinking how surreal it actually is and how it’s going to be, what’s the feeling’s going to be like,” Barnes says, remembering how it dawned on him finally on the Friday of All-Star weekend, “I think that’s the moment where it really kicks in like, you think about Okay, damn you’re actually about to go play in an All-Star Game. What are you going to do when you get out there? How is it going to be?”

It’s not Barnes’ first foray into an All-Star weekend, he was chosen as a Rising Star last season. In that event, Barnes took some time to bring his comfortable confidence and easily toggled explosiveness to the floor. When he did, in an almost languid lope to the basket for a one handed, slow-motion windmill dunk the announcers fittingly called “Kawhi Leonard-like”, Barnes put his emphatic stamp on the night.

When East team coach, Doc Rivers, named his starters for Sunday night's game, he picked Miami’s Bam Adebayo over Barnes and Trae Young to start. The decision will give Barnes the same chance to settle in and absorb the energy of the night before hitting the floor. It’s less a question of nerves — though every All-Star has an inevitable moment of in-game realization that they’re finally there — than it is an act of tuning in.

It’s fitting that Barnes’ Rising Stars alumni, Tyrese Maxey, will be alongside him for the inaugural ride. Even if the Sixers are a Conference rival for the Raptors, Barnes and Maxey’s trajectory have cut a closely parallel path. Maxey’s maturation this season, the honing he’s done of his speed and athleticism, are akin to the same growth Barnes is doing. Their teams may be in different places, but Barnes sees it, and sees Maxey shouldering the same recognition he is.

“Credit to his skills and the hard work he puts in. He’s doing really well over there,” Barnes says, “[He’s] scoring multiples in big games, 50 balls, his team is winning, his success is,” Barnes pauses to think then says simply, “I’m proud of him.”

The two were paired together with Atlanta’s Trae Young in Saturday night’s Skills Challenge as Team All-Stars. Barnes shined in the Team Passing and Team Shooting rounds, helping Team All-Stars tie with Team Pacers (Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, and Benedict Mathurin) and win against Team First Picks (Victor Wembanyama, Anthony Edwards and Paolo Banchero), respectively. Barnes and Team All-Stars forced a tiebreaker round to determine the winner of the Skills Challenge, a half-court shootout that Team Pacers nabbed with a better time, leaving Team All-Stars as runners-up of the night.

Maxey had alluded to the growth of he and Barnes, and the improved showing they expected to have in the Skills Challenge, during his All-Star podium.

“That was Rising Stars Scottie and Tyrese, not All-Stars Scottie and Tyrese,” he said with a chuckle, “so we have a chance.”

Even without the win, Barnes was grinning for much of the night, taking to the at times hypnotic LED floor with his typical infectious energy and encouragement. It was a first glimpse of those traits for some of the tens of thousands of fans in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium, and will be again at the Pacers Gainsbridge Fieldhouse tonight.

While Raptors fans and a growing swath of NBA fans know what to expect from Barnes, given the career-best season he’s having for scoring, a steady uptick in rebounding, and adding the feel for a solid three-point shot he can deploy on a whim, the platform of an All-Star game will add an entirely new level of visibility to him as a future face of the league. That awareness goes both ways. The current All-Star roster was lobbed with questions about their favourite All-Star Game moments, sequences that stuck with them and made them want to be named one themselves. When Barnes was asked, he shook his head and noted, “As a kid I don’t even think I watched it, I didn’t even have cable.”

So when it comes to what Barnes wants to flaunt for that big audience, and even with plenty of All-Star Game complimentary skills in his arsenal (intuitive passing, rim-rattling dunks), it makes sense that like his reaction to being named an All-Star, Barnes isn’t inclined to get too far ahead of the moment at hand.

“I’m an in the moment guy,” Barnes says with a smile. “We’ll see what happens when we get there.”

Written by Katie Heindl