The uniqueness of Scottie Barnes as a prospect made NBA comparisons difficult to draw in preparation for the 2021 NBA Draft.
How do you project a 6-foot-9 point guard in a power forward’s body that can literally do a little bit of everything on each end of the floor? Is he like Draymond Green? Boris Diaw? Jabari Parker? Those names (which all were pre-draft comparisons) show the range of what pundits felt Barnes could end up becoming in the league.
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As it turns out, the best comparison is one that might have seemed ridiculous ahead of the NBA Draft, but a quarter of the way through Barnes’ rookie season, it’s impossible to ignore the shades of Giannis Antetokounmpo in his game.
I mean, come on.
It’s hard to think of any other player than Antetokounmpo when watching Barnes spin through the lane for a dunk or, more impressively, go coast to coast with three dribbles for a transition slam.
…He went coast to coast for a dunk with three (!) dribbles.
The unique blend of length and athleticism possessed by both Antetokounmpo and Barnes allows them to do things that other NBA players simply cannot do, which makes for a great surface-level comparison between the two. The comparison goes much deeper, of course.
Now, this is the part where I clarify that I’m not saying that Barnes is going to become a multi-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP like Antetokounmpo did in his first eight seasons, but I’m not, not saying it, either.
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Because Antetokounmpo’s ascension to superstardom is probably the greatest example of exponential growth and development in the history of the league, it isn’t ridiculous to say that Barnes is much more advanced than Antetokounmpo was at a similar juncture.
It’s a fact.
Because context matters, it’s definitely worth highlighting the fact that the two came into very different situations as rookies.
Antetokounmpo was selected 15th overall by a Bucks team that had qualified for the playoffs a year prior, finding himself in and out of the starting lineup as a developmental project. Barnes, on the other hand, was the fourth overall selection by the Raptors, who are in the process of ushering in a new era of basketball.
While Barnes will be the primary subject of the attention of the Raptors’ esteemed player development program in the coming years, he entered the league as a much more polished product, ready to contribute at an NBA level.
That said, it is worth noting that Barnes turned 20 years old before playing his first NBA season while Antetokounmpo made his NBA debut at 18 and celebrated his 20th birthday in December of his sophomore season.
So it’s only fair we compare them at that juncture, too, right?
Even at the same age, Antetokounmpo’s production in Year 2 wasn’t quite at the level of what we’ve seen from Barnes during his rookie campaign.
While Antetokounmpo’s averages of 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in his third season bear resemblance to Barnes’ rookie numbers, he made the All-Star leap in Year 4 and was named MVP just two seasons later.
Just as the exponential growth from Giannis should serve as a testament to his hard work and the developmental staff in Milwaukee, it should also be a cause for Raptors fans to be excited for what is to come from their star rookie — both this season and in the years to come.
As absurd as it may seem to compare a 20-year-old rookie to an all-time great, there are layers to it. Of course, there are the measurables and the numbers and even the jaw-dropping plays, but what about the things that can’t be measured at a draft combine, quantified on a stat sheet or analyzed on film?
Barnes has got that, too.
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After making his unofficial Raptors debut at the Summer League in Las Vegas, Barnes penned a letter in The Players’ Tribune titled “What’s Up, Toronto?” In it, Barnes spoke about his passion to win and win big, explaining his anger about not having the chance to compete for the Summer League title by saying “that just shows the love I have for this game and this city because all I want to do is play hard for this team. And I’m looking forward to showing y’all that more and more.”
It’s one thing to talk about it but it’s another to back those words with action, which brings things full circle for Barnes. While Antetokounmpo was a healthy scratch in what would’ve been the first-ever meeting between the two, Barnes displayed his passion and fire by taking on a different challenge.
According to The Athletic’s Eric Koreen, head coach Nick Nurse said that Barnes’ response to learning Antetokounmpo was out was a declaration that he’d step up to guard Bucks star Khris Middleton.
“Scottie stepped up and said, ‘I’m gonna guard him, I’m gonna guard him hard.’” – Nurse on Barnes taking on Middleton challenge once Raptors knew Giannis was out.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) December 3, 2021
Middleton finished the night with 22 points (on 8 of 20 shooting) with Barnes guarding him for 34.7 partial possessions, according to NBA.com Stats.
The mentality that Barnes possesses is what allows him to take on challenges in such a way, which shows up in the box score and in the film. And while the parallels with Antetokounmpo will forever be there, Barnes is in a position to forge his own path in the league as the Raptor’s next franchise cornerstone.
The rapid ascension to stardom is only beginning.