With a successful encore season, Barnes will become the face of the Raptors franchise

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The Toronto Raptors aren’t like many NBA teams. They don’t have a single face of the franchise. Many people share these tasks. Fred VanVleet is the all-star and player leader, Pascal Siakam the All-NBA double performer. Masai Ujiri is the boss of bosses, Nick Nurse the conductor of all business on the pitch.

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And then there’s Scottie Barnes.

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The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year raised the franchise ceiling considerably as he took the hoops world by storm last season. His combination of jaw-dropping skill and athleticism and built-for-stage personality makes him the prime candidate to be the Raptors’ most identified person for years to come.

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Even if he doesn’t quite get there this season, during Monday’s media day it was pretty clear that where Barnes goes in 2022-23 will have a lot to do with what’s next for this team. A lot of the questions asked of Ujiri, Nurse and the players who came on stage were about the precious sophomore.

Ujiri did his best to contain expectations a bit, pointing out that the Boston Celtics duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have gradually achieved star status through experiences and adversity, saying, « Young players take time in this league. »

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But then Ujiri admitted he thinks Barnes is ‘going to take another leap this year’. The vice president and team president doesn’t even know how to sum up Barnes as a player.

« Honestly, Scottie is one of those guys like you can tell what this guy is going to be? He’s one of those players of the future. Like, I don’t know how to describe him, » Ujiri said.

He’s built like a striker, with more muscle added all the time as he grows into his body (Barnes only turned 21 last month), but prefers to play point guard and has the skills to passing and dribbling to initiate the attack. He also has what all good point guards have: a love for helping his teammates succeed, as OG Anunoby noted on Monday.

Barnes mentioned he went to Florida State because that program promised to let him play point and he hopes to do a lot in Year 2 (which should also help VanVleet get some good rest deserved).

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« Who knows what position he plays. He’s one of those guys who just plays basketball and he’s an amazing basketball player who wants to win. Can pass, basketball IQ, will learn to shoot – I think that will come with time – an amazing teammate, an amazing person, but so dynamic on the pitch. The growing pains will come as usual, but you saw a player and someone who is committed to winning. I am excited about his progress,” Ujiri said.

The nurse seems in favor of giving the ball to Barnes and letting him shake things up. The coach is also excited about how Barnes hasn’t hit the dreaded rookie wall.

« He kept getting stronger, playing harder, being more physical 70 games whereas the year before he had his feet up after playing 35 games or whatever in college » , said Nurse. « So it was unique, I thought I’d see him play more physically. So the effort and physicality is going to take him a long way, and we know his skills are getting better as the days go by. Shooting gets better as the days go by. days,” Nurse said.

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« So those things will help him move up the ranks and stuff. »

On that front, Barnes said winning games is the priority, but from an individual perspective, « really just trying to take it to the next level trying to build defensive teams, stars, etc. »

A year ago at this time, no one, except perhaps Barnes himself, expected him to mount a rookie-of-the-year caliber first season. Expectations may have risen from the outside, but Barnes remains level.

“I feel like I’m going to take the leap, but I’m just going to be who I am on the pitch most of the time. I don’t really think too much, I know what I can do, how I impact the game on both sides of the pitch,” Barnes said.

“I know I can play defense at a very high level. So really try to take the next step. And then I know what I can do in attack but keep trying to add things to my game. »

If Barnes does an encore as good as his opening act, there won’t be much debate about who the face of the Raptors franchise is.


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