“A Jack of All Trades Is A Master of None, But What Happens When That Jack Starts Mastering Some?” –No one famous actually said this, I completely made it up but I think Shakespeare said something close. Regardless, it sounds cool, doesn’t it?
I went through a few different phases when I was younger trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life I went to business school and then law school, and I even tried becoming a rapper and actor before I eventually nailed down sports media as my pathway of choice. They tell you to “try everything in your 20’s” and I guess you could say I was a fan of the process of elimination. Ultimately, it helped me find what I actually wanted to master. Or at least try to.
I like to think that NBA players go through a similar process early in their careers before eventually finding what they themselves can master at a professional level and honing in on it. Finding purpose in life, find purpose in hoops. Fun stuff.
In all likelihood that process begins far before players even declare for the NBA draft. They are molded from the moment they pick up a basketball and their individual athletic dispositions (how tall they are, how fast they are, etc) play a part in narrowing things down for any given hooper.
Still, there are players who come into the league more ‘raw’ than others – more incomplete and less fully-formed and while that can complicate things at times – it allows the team that drafts them to experiment and shape that player in whichever form they’d ideally like.
Scottie Barnes was a raw, jack-of-all-trades type of player coming into the league. While his time at Montverde and FSU helped mold him into a big, playmaking wing with defensive acumen and the wingspan to show for it, he was still raw compared to others in his draft class. He was entering a situation in Toronto, with the Raptors, where his role was unclear, given where they were with the life cycle of their core at the time, and ultimately that uncertainty forced him into the wilderness.
‘Figure it out, kid’. Essentially.
It went about as successfully as you’d hoped. You know the story, Barnes won Rookie of the Year as the Raptors’ utility knife and seemed less raw than people expected him to be, especially offensively where his playmaking and interior scoring really popped off the screen.
Oftentimes, Barnes wore multiple different hats on any given night and he plugged in wherever he could. Maybe one example that best describes this is that Barnes was listed as one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA, according to B-Ball Index’s ‘defensive versatility’ metric and while that doesn’t indicate how well he guarded all 5 positions, he was near the top of the league in how often he was asked to guard different players in a game.
His usage was sporadic as well, as shown by the graph below which indicates the month-to-month fluctuation in usage rate through Barnes’s first 2 years in Toronto.
There are pros and cons to having to constantly adapt to different environments and work under the pressure of a team trying to win games — especially at a young age. But like a person who moved often when they were young — you learn a thing or two. You pick up different skills along the way. Start downloading information. And Scottie has one of the best computer processors the league has to offer.
Still, that role is now beginning to stabilize. Through the first 3 weeks of the 2023-2024 season, Scottie is being handed the most touches and highest usage of his nascent career. And he’s using the 2 years of information and data he gained and applying it to his new, larger, more prominent role… doubling down on all the little pockets of the game that he’s mastered.
And now he’s absolutely, positively thriving.
Barnes is putting up career numbers across the board. Career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, assist percentage, effective field goal percentage, 2-point percentage, steals, steal percentage, blocks, block percentage, defensive rebound percentage, and maybe most importantly, 3-point percentage.
Before we dive into what Barnes is doing, how he’s excelling, and what this means for his future – context is required.
In Darko Rajakovic’s offense, Barnes is being asked to do more of the initiating in certain sets, oftentimes being involved in the primary read of the action — versus in the past when he would be option B, C, or D.
Both Barnes and Raptors forward Pascal Siakam are being asked to serve as floor spacers more often, and while they have both miraculously hit on a higher-than-normal volume of their threes, Barnes has capitalized on those opportunities more often than his frontcourt mate has.
The same can be said for the Raptors’ general offensive context. The Raptors, as a whole, have struggled immensely with their half-court offense and despite multiple Raptors shooting well above their career averages, their spacing leaves a lot to be desired. Because safe for OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr (and hopefully soon Gradey Dick) the Raptors don’t have any feared or respected shooters. Opposing teams are willing to let this team beat them with a weary 3-ball rather than dominating on the interior.
Even in a game like the one against the Spurs where Scottie knocked down 5 threes — they still were more comfortable conceding the shot than allowing him to drive.
That’s led to an “adjustment period” for All-NBA forward Siakam, who struggled to start the year before putting up 31 points in a win against the Mavericks (my good friend Samson Folk detailed Pascal’s struggles in much more in his latest piece). But Barnes has been given the same scraps and has still seemingly excelled.
For example, Barnes is averaging a career-high 9.1 drives per game and still, despite operating in a closet of space, is shooting a career-high 48.5% on those drives. Among high-volume driving forwards in the NBA, that puts Barnes 11th, right below DeMar DeRozan and right above Zion Williamson. That’s really good, especially given the Raptors on-court context.
The Raptors have performed much better with Barnes on the floor. He’s +22 on the season, putting him second to Anunoby as far as most impactful Raptors’ go.
He put up 6 straight 20+ point games to start the season including a 30-point, 11-rebound, 6-assist, 6-stock performance against the San Antonio Spurs in a comeback win. He’s been sensational in every single way and only 8 games into the season, many have declared that the leap is #here.
But okay, back to the jack-of-all-trades point here. Scottie experimented in a lot of different facets of his game in his first 2 years as a pro – but now it seems he’s excelling in certain areas, given the extra opportunity and it’s turning him from a jack-of-all-trades to a… Master of Some?
For all the questions that you may have about the sustainability of Barnes’s current hot streak offensively, there should be no questions about his improvements as a defender – something that was much more anticipated than any leap in scoring or creation.
Barnes came into the league with his defensive awareness as a selling point. In his first 2 years with the Raptors, there were spurts, nay, flashes of that defensive awareness but much like a lot of young defenders with potential, it took him a while to get adjusted to the professional game.
Year 3 – that awareness has been heightened. This summer I wrote about Barnes’s potential as a small-ball 5 just because of his strength, length, and overall awareness as a backline defender and a lot of that has come to fruition early in this season.
He is a menace as the weak-side help, often timing, anticipating, and telegraphing drives to the rim for blocks and deflections, categories that he currently leads the Raptors in.
As of right now, opposing teams are 9.1% less efficient at the rim with Scottie on the floor, ranking in the 98th percentile for his position and scoring 6.2 points per 100 possessions less in the half-court when he’s commandeering the defense. Teams also turn the ball over 3.4% more often when he’s using his length to prowl on the help side.
Add to the fact that he’s also putting up a career-high in rebounds and defensive-rebound percentage and not only is Scottie mucking up actions to help the Raptors get stops, but he’s helping close out those possessions with some dominant rebounding.
Some film to help prove the point.
He isn’t without his faults as a defender, though. The on-ball defense has improved this year and he is learning to utilize his length more to compensate for his lack of hip mobility, especially against quicker guards but there are still times when he unnecessarily pressures the ball handler, gives up switches too often and tries to out-smart offenses by skipping rotations to get to the spot he thinks the offense is going.
All of that is actually good because it shows effort and buy-in. But ultimately, it’s more the Raptors scheme. Just like how you wouldn’t maximize Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jaren Jackson Jr as defenders by asking them to guard guys one-on-one 30 feet away from the basket, you don’t want Scottie to be utilized as the primary defender. To their credit, the Raptors have done a better job this season of putting him in positions to succeed on that end.
And between Barnes and Anunoby, the Raptors have the perfect two-man game on defense to stop teams in a number of ways. That, in itself, is very promising.
Here are some of his flashes as an on-ball defender:
That being said, the times he looks great on-ball is when he’s guarding slower, bigger players. That’s where his viability as a small-ball 5 comes in. What’s great is that this creates a baseline for the type of star he can be in his prime. For example, in the Raptors game against the Mavericks, Barnes struggled offensively, shooting 4/15 from the field… but he still undeniably impacted the game in a positive way, plugging holes for the Raptors defense like prime Draymond Green and putting up 6 stocks (4 steals and 2 blocks) in the process.
Scottie is showing DPOY, All-Defense level potential here as a defender thus far this season, and with the Raptors putting him in a better position to succeed on that end, there’s no reason why this should slow down any time soon.
Shooting & The Half-Court Creation Correlation
Barnes’s astronomical shooting numbers this season begets everything offensively. It’s opened up the rest of his game.
And it goes without saying that what Barnes is doing as a shooter right now is unprecedented. Prior to the Mavericks game, he was shooting a whopping 42% from behind the arc on 5.4 attempts a game, which would put him in the top 20 to start the year as far as high-volume shooting goes. He’s hitting on 69% of his long mid-range jumpers, which is unparalleled. For example, the best Kevin Durant has ever shot on long mid-range jumpers is 64% and he is one of the greatest mid-range scorers of all time. DeMar DeRozan, another great mid-range scorer, his career-best? 56%.
Clearly, Barnes isn’t going to keep this up, but that’s okay, he doesn’t need to. At the very least, this is an indicator of growth in the shooting department for a player who was deemed a non-scorer coming into the league. The uptick in shooting has helped up Scottie’s scoring output and has differentiated him from secondary offensive option to primary offensive hub this season.
The fact that Barnes, before his 0/4 shooting outing against the Mavericks, had a stretch where he knocked down 43% of his catch-n-shoot threes on over 4 attempts a game and 40% of his pull-ups on over 1 attempt per game is very good! It shows that he’s capable.
But now it’s about the normalization of those numbers and where they might fall. That’s tough to gauge, ultimately. Development isn’t linear and every player’s shooting curve is wildly different.
But… let me nerd out for a second.
I asked a friend of mine to look up college freshmen from 2016 to 2022 who were 6-foot-8 or taller, and hit at least 25 mid-range shots, shot 40 free throws, shot 60% or better on them, and made at least 10 threes. Why that arbitrary number? It fits nicely with what Scottie put up at FSU.
Here is that list of players sorted by free-throw percentage. As you can see, yes, Barnes was the worst free-throw shooter of the bunch.
Some of those players have turned into pretty good shooters. Others have become good creators in this league with an inconsistent jumper. Some are still trying to figure it out. A wide range that is set to show you the wide range of possible outcomes.
But, I also did an experiment of my own. I took 7 bigger, playmaking types of forwards that entered the league as non-shooters, similar to Scottie, and charted out their own progression as a way to compare to what Scottie’s currently doing. Hopefully, it’ll help us project where he might land.
I chose Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum and Julius Randle. Now some of these guys panned out as shooters, others stagnated, some wildly inconsistent, and others just fell off a cliff. But at the very least, it should give us a wide range of options for where Scottie might be headed.
I didn’t want to overwhelm people with all the charts and graphs so here is a link to all of them but some of my general takeaways:
- Attempts come first then comes the improvement in percentages, most of the time.
- Oftentimes, growth as a mid-range shoot is an indicator of growth as a 3-point shooter.
- Players who tried to become high-volume 3-point shooters but didn’t succeed… eventually leaned on the mid-range game as a counter.
- Players who eventually became elite high-volume 3-point shooters stopped attempting as many mid-range shots.
- Players often start with catch-and-shoot threes and then transition to pull-up shooting.
What does this mean for Scottie? Well, it’s still hard to tell. The fact that he is attempting more threes and stepping into them more comfortably is a great sign. Even if he levels out this season at 33-35%, it would be a massive step in the right direction for a player who was deemed a non-shooter coming into the league.
His jumper does look better. I’m no shot doctor but it looks smoother than it did in his rookie season and it looks much more fluid than when he was in college.
40% of Scottie’s half-court self-creation this season has come in the form of pull-up jumpers. The rest is a mixed bag of attacking titled defense and cooking smaller matchups in the post. Otherwise, the catch-n-shoot jumpers have helped as a decent chunk of his off-ball scoring. And the majority of his points still come in transition.
That being said, here is all of Scottie’s self-created makes in the half-court so far this season. As well as all of his pull-up and catch-n-shoot jumpers.
Transition Stardom & Post Hub Dominance Continues
The Raptors continue to emphasize the transition this season as a way to keep their offensive efficiency respectable. Get stops, force turnovers, and get out in transition in order to maximize the athletes that are on this team.
That style also helps bring out the best in Barnes’s game. He’s 3rd in the league in fast break points this season only behind Donovan Mitchell and Anthony Edwards and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Maybe more than anything, the one thing the Raptors have been asking Barnes to do even more is push in transition off of a live rebound and that has added a new dynamic to his game because that allows him to show off his cerebral playmaking ability much earlier in transition. Hence, the career-high in rebounds to start the year.
There’s honestly not much to say here other than he’s one of the very best in the league in transition and the Raptors aren’t going to change that any time soon.
Enjoy these highlights as a token of my appreciation.
As far as the post-scoring goes, this is something that Scottie has hung his hat on even more to start this season. He’s putting up 0.86 points per post-up, which isn’t all that great in comparison to his teammate Pascal Siakam who is putting up a whopping 1.2 points per post-touch, but ultimately, it’s an area where he has consistently been able to find easy points — especially when finds a mismatch he likes.
Barnes isn’t the shiftiest or burstiest so oftentimes his pick-n-rolls turn into mismatching hunting so that he can get a smaller defender on him and take advantage. Throughout the course of the game, teams start to load up on these actions, and that opens up his playmaking even more.
Whether it be through post touches or dribble-hand-offs and other actions, there’s one thing for sure…
Barnes has been able to generate a ton of open threes for his teammates, particularly in the half-court.
In fact, Barnes is in the top 10 in 3-point assists this season generating over 24 3-point assists for his teammates. So far this year, Barnes has made 43 passes that led to 3-point attempts, with Trent Jr and Schroder benefiting the most among his teammates. As a point of reference, SGA has consistently been one of the best 3-point generators in the league and he’s at 62 three-point passes on the year. Those numbers should only improve for Scottie once the team context is more well-suited to a player like him, with shooting and ball-handling being the priorities.
Ultimately, the main thing is clear — Scottie is maximizing on all these areas right now and he’s turning into a star because of it.
The jack-of-all-trades approach to his game through the first 2 seasons of his career allowed him to experiment in different facets of the game and see which areas he could thrive in and he’s doing it as a post-hub creator, transition star, and defensive quarterback.
Even that description alone merits All-Star and future All-Defense and All-NBA considerations. And depending on where the scoring and shooting normalize we could be talking about a potential MVP candidate one day.
But for now – even despite the short-term uncertainty around this roster – the silver lining has persistently been the enigma that is Scottie Barnes.
The leap is here.
From jack-of-all-trades to Master of Some.