Scottie Barnes is the best role player in this draft
But can he be more than that? And just how worried should we be about his defense?
Scottie Barnes is connective tissue.
He’s a glue guy, a role player that is built to do all the things on a basketball court that don’t necessarily show up in a box score. In an era of versatility and switchability, point-centers and small-ball lineups, Barnes is precisely the kind of player that teams are looking to fill out their roster with.
What he’s not, however, is a guy that has the potential to one day be a star on his own accord.
The guy that I like to compare Scottie Barnes to is Draymond Green.
Green is a special player, a unique combination of skills that allowed him to slot alongside generational talents like Steph, Klay and, eventually, KD to create a dynasty in the Bay. It’s enough that Green should end up getting into the Hall Of Fame. I truly believe that. He’s as good as anyone at elevating the great players around him, but Green has never been a guy that can carry a team on his own. He’s not the guy that is going to turn Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre into anything more than, you know, Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre.
This is the role that you would be drafting Scottie Barnes to play.
Defensively, Scottie is great. At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds with a wingspan that is pushing the 7-foot-3 mark, he has the size and strength to be able to guard centers at the college level. He also spent the majority of his time on the court for the Seminoles defending point guards for 94 feet. There aren’t many players that can actually defend every one from point guards to centers, and he is one of them, at least at the collegiate level.
Barnes definitely has the ability to be a playmaker on the defensive end. He has quick hands and can pick the pocket of smaller players that are loose with their handle. He’s also a terrific team defender that has a real knack for grabbing the ball out of the grip of a dribbler that turned his back. He’s active, he’s disruptive, he communicates, he blows up offensive sets with his switching. To be fair, a lot of this has to do with Florida State’s defensive scheme, but it is worth noting just how well Barnes executes this scheme. He’s everything you expect a Leonard Hamilton player to be. Your defense is just better with him out there.
Most importantly, he busts his ass on that end of the floor, no questions asked. Caring is half the battle defensively, and Barnes cares. He’ll put in the effort, there will never be a doubt about that.
That said, he does have some very real limitations defensively right now. Barnes’ strength is his mobility at his size and with his length, but he is not a super-explosive, quick-twitch player. He can move his feet and he can slide to stay in front in isolation, but he did get burned enough by guys that aren’t NBA players to make me question just how well he’ll be able to defend the best of the best in the NBA. For someone whose role will be as a defender first and foremost, struggling to stay in front of the likes of Paul George, or Jayson Tatum, or LeBron would be an issue.
I think the best word to describe him is stiff. To me, this comes through when Barnes is asked to close out on the perimeter. He has a bad habit of getting too high and worrying about contesting a shot at the cost of allowing a straight line drive. This is something that can be coached out of him, and flexibility is something that can be developed by NBA strength trainers.
Offensively, Barnes is unique. He played the point for Leonard Hamilton’s team despite the fact that he is the size of NBA power forwards. He is very comfortable with the ball in his hands, and was actually quite effective operating ball-screens. He’s a terrific passer that can make all the ball-screen reads that he’ll need to be able to make at the next level. This is absolutely his best skill offensively. He can hit shooters in the weak-side corner. He can read what a tagger is doing and where the help is coming from. He’s on target with his lob passes. He has the size to see over the defense. He’s just a terrific, terrific passer.
That passing also comes through in transition, which is actually where Barnes is at his best as a scorer right now. He’s really effective as a grab-and-go artist, and that should translate well to the next level. His creative passing and vision shines through here as well, especially when his bigs run the floor. Guys are going to like playing with him because he’ll put the ball where it needs to go.
But beyond that, his offensive game is really a work in progress. He has no elite scoring skill. He’s a good driver when he’s going right, he has long strides and can finish above the rim, but he’s really right hand dominant. Even when he does drive left, he has a tendency to come back to his right hand to finish.
The bigger concern, however, is his lack of shooting touch. His three-point stroke isn’t a lost cause right now, but he did just shoot 27.5 percent from three this past season. His release takes hours to get off, but it looks workable when he has time and space. Shooting 62.5 percent from the line isn’t great, but again, I’m not convinced he can’t get there with time in the gym. For my money, the issue for Barnes as a shooter is the off-the-dribble stuff. Opponents can just go under screens against him, and even when he gets to his “pull-up”, it’s entirely ineffective, unnatural and awkward. There’s no elevation on the shot, no rhythm. If you’re a defense, you want him shooting these.
So, as you might imagine, the shooting is the swing skill for Barnes. Get it figured out, and he could make All-Star teams eventually.
I know I mentioned Draymond Green earlier, but I think that comparing Barnes to Patrick Williams is a much more effective way to put him into context as a prospect. Like Barnes, Williams is a physical specimen that came off the bench for Florida State before becoming a top ten pick; he went fourth to Chicago last year. But Williams, who is no where near the passer that Barnes is, was a better shooter in college and shot 39 percent from three as a rookie. He’s also a better athlete with better feet on the perimeter, which makes him more effective and versatile.
Most importantly, however, Williams is 25 days younger than Barnes, who turns 20 three days after the draft. He’s the age of most sophomores, and that does change the math a little bit.
His ceiling, especially offensively, is limited.
Which is why I just don’t believe that Barnes is ever going to be elite himself. He’s never going to be a guy that carries a team on his own. Like Draymond, what he does best is defend, is pass the ball, is compete. He’s the glue that makes all the other pieces fit.
He’ll elevate the talent around him, and on the right roster, that’s something that will be incredibly valuable.