It was mid-March of last season and Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was posed a question: What position does Scottie Barnes play?
Traditionally, the answer would be something like “small forward” for a player listed at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds. But this Raptors organization is anything but traditional.
“Point center,” Nurse replied with a smirk. “No, I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding. I don’t know. … He’s played pretty much all of them. I’m not being too dramatic that he played center one night and point guard the next . But he kinda did, or kinda has.”
Point Scottie, if you will, wasn’t quite a common occurrence for Toronto last season, but, at times, it worked brilliantly. The Raptors narrowly outscored their opponents in 662 regular season possessions with Barnes on the court without a traditional guard, by cleaning the glass. In the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, especially when VanVleet was forced to leave the series, that Barnes and Pascal Siakam duo helped Toronto force a Game 6 and nearly stave off elimination.
“I think we sorta got forced into that but now we know it as a certainty that we can do that,” Nurse said during his season-ending media availability. “We’ll certainly be more comfortable doing that from the get-go next year.”
This summer, Barnes and his personal trainer Brian Macon have been preparing for the possibility that Barnes sees even more time at the point guard spot next season. They’ve been in the gym working to fine-tune Barnes’ handles, decision-making, and his half-court attack. To Macon, moving Barnes to the point guard spot shouldn’t just be a wrinkle in Toronto’s attack, it should be a focal point.
“It’ll take a lot of wear and tear off of Fred having to handle the ball so much, and it’ll allow him to do what he does really well and that’s score, come off actions, and look to shoot, shoot the ball,” said Macon, acknowledging VanVleet’s 43.3% clip on catch-and-shoot three-pointers last season.
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“And Scottie is so unselfish that the more, I mean, we looked at it, the more he has the ball in his hand, especially off the rebound, really good things are gonna happen because it’s very hard to stop a guy like that with your opposing point guard,” Macon added. “He’s coming full speed so it’s very hard to stop him in transition even if they outlet it to him. But even so, in the half-court, he proposes so many matchup problems and he’s such an unselfish player that you want him to get those matchups and those mismatches and you want him to take advantage of it because you know that he’s gonna wholeheartedly make the right play every single time.
“I think he’ll just be able to handle all the pressure and you can’t really get up into him and pressure him.”
Not only would Barnes move to the point free up VanVleet to play more off-ball, as Macon acknowledges, but it would take some of the load off VanVleet who was forced to carry Toronto’s offensive burden for far too much of the season.
“A lot of times they’ll put a lot of pressure on Fred, you know, pick him up 94 feet just to try to wear him down because he’s kind of like the head of the snake but if you put Scottie up there, you free up a lot of that and you free up a lot of your guys to kind of do what they do best,” Macon added. “So I think he’s ready for it. I thought he was ready for last year, but I definitely think he’s ready for it now.