Shaquille O’Neal, the retired four-time NBA champion, would definitely have been proud of 6’10” Scottie Barnes’ performance against the Washington Wizards. The once-supreme paint beast has griped about the lacking influence of traditional big men for a decade now, but after 40 minutes of play, the 4th overall pick out of Florida State was starting to show future all-star potential with his tenacious defense and jaw-dropping paint presence.
Barnes and the Toronto Raptors played a road game against the Wizards on 21 January at Capital One Arena. The game was the second in NBA history where two Japanese players faced each other: Toronto’s Yuta Watanabe and Washington’s Rui Hachimura.
The first quarter got off to a slow start as the Raptors trailed by as much as double digits. However, as the second quarter began, the Raptors took advantage of 9 Wizard turnovers and scored 18 points off of them. With 1:36 remaining and the Raptors trailing by 2, Barnes’ steal secured Toronto the ball. After running back following an empty offensive possession, Barnes not only had court vision to read the incoming pass into the post by Wizard number 26, Spencer Dwinwiddee, but he also hustled knowing their transition defense wasn’t set. So that, if the pass came through, it could lead to an open 3 in the opposite corner. With this quick game reset and steal, Pascal Siakam finished the play with a layup. The Raptors entered halftime with a 55 – 54 lead.
With both teams neck to neck early in the third, Barnes’ led the team with 10 points and demonstrated his versatility perfectly—not only was he a dominant inside scorer, but he also showed off his range and exceptional ball handling. 5 seconds down on the shot clock with Raptor possession at 8:03, Barnes drove straight into the post, but instead of bullying his defender down low, he pulled back with quick hesitation and shot a smooth elbow jumper. It was the farthest field goal he had made up to that point in the game. The Raptors finished the quarter with a 22 – 6 point run.
Early in the fourth, the Raptors held the score at 95 – 77. However, Washington outscored Toronto and limited the team to 29% shooting; the Raptors blew their 18 point lead late in the game. With 1:10 left, Wizard Montrezl Harrels’ dunk tied the game at 102. Fred VanVleet’s tie-breaking three gave the Raptors the much needed advantage, and they were able to scrape the win, with the final score being 109 – 105.
Rookie Scottie Barnes had a career-high night of 27 points, eight rebounds and one assist. VanVleet scored 21 and 12 assists, and Siakam also scored 21 points. Toronto coach Nick Nurse used a nine-player rotation, whereas in previous games against the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, the Raptors had had a tight seven-player rotation.
Wizards’ star player, Bradley Beal, talked about Barnes’ performance in a post-game interview: “Tonight, he looked like a star. He was making jump hooks all night. He was breaking us down. He wasn’t doing anything crazy. He kept his game simple.” With Scottie Barnes’ pure dominance and drive, the entire nation has high expectations for the Raptors rookie.