Barnes continues to show growth and versatility in win over Hawks –

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TORONTO — The night began with a sort of challenge from Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to his second guard/forward/center Scottie Barnes.

Since putting the finishing touches on a fantastic Rookie of the Year campaign, Barnes has worked hard to extend his reach and improve his jump shot. As the fruits of that labor begin to be felt, Nurse wants to make sure the talented 21-year-old doesn’t stray too far from what he does best.

“It’s natural, I think, for a lot of guys who come in and do a lot of work on their shooting, they want to put that work on the ground,” Nurse said, just before his team hosted the Atlanta Hawks. Monday. “But you always have to remember that it’s kind of an added extra, and don’t forget your bread and butter.”

“I have already had discussions with him about this. The most important thing for me with him is [he’s] have to go to the basket. He was not [doing that] enough this year… I feel like he’s not going out there and using his physical size and strength to punish people on the edge.

So, naturally, on Halloween night, Barnes came out dressed as Steph Curry. Four minutes into the game, he drilled a back three over the outstretched arms of Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter. Trailing the game on the very next possession, Barnes took a pass from Gary Trent Jr. and walked into three more on the other side of the floor. Then he hit his third consecutive triple, this one from the top of the arc. Finally, his fourth attempt in four possessions — a deserved heat check — rolled around the rim and out.

While Barnes’ offensive profile continues to develop, his shot selection remains a bit of a work in progress. But it didn’t work out. He was a young star who was learning to take what the opposition gave him and, most importantly, make them pay. Even his coach was impressed.

“Obviously he was feeling it tonight,” Nurse said of Barnes, who had a career-high five three-for-nine attempts in Toronto’s 139-109 victory.

Barnes’ development is on schedule, as Monday’s game showed. In six games, his numbers are virtually identical to last season: 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals. But, given his role and team background, tally stats were never going to be a good indicator of his Year 2 growth. It was always going to force us to look deeper. And it was all there against Atlanta.

In last Wednesday’s win over Philadelphia, Barnes started at center and was the main defenseman for 76ers star Joel Embiid. Now, with the injured Fred VanVleet out of the lineup, he was playing point guard and chasing down the speedy Trae Young. Even in a league that’s less and less positional and on its most versatile team, going from guarding one of the best and biggest physical men in basketball to one of the fastest and most dynamic guards of the game in less than a week is a notable event.

He also gave us one of his finest defensive performances. Last year, Barnes seemed much more comfortable holding the position than defending smaller, faster players on the perimeter. But here, he didn’t just hang out with Young. The two-time All-Star had one of the worst games of his NBA career.

With more height and length than Young is used to seeing, Barnes played a big role in shutting down the Hawks star. Young scored 14 points, less than half his season average, and committed 10 turnovers, more than double what he had combined in the previous four games. He shot 3 of 13 and made just one of his five three-point attempts.

“It shows how versatile he is,” said rookie Christian Koloko, who started at center on Monday. “He can play any position there, basically. The good thing is that he is willing to do it. When coaches tell him to play all five, he’s cool with that. Other people, if you tell them to play all five, they’d say, “No, I’m not a center.” But he’s ready to do it for the team, which shows what kind of player he is.

At the other end of the field, he was a stable presence for a Toronto offense missing its most important player – or, at worst, the second most important – in VanVleet. Barnes recorded eight assists and just two turnovers, and the Raptors edged Atlanta by 31 points in 33 minutes.

More often than not, he did the right readings in transition. After catching Young’s pass late in the first quarter, the former fourth overall pick led the break and found Precious Achiuwa for the dunk. With his vision and size, he also has the unique ability to see over defense and make plays that smaller guards might not see. A few times, one in the second quarter and the other in the fourth, Barnes was able to throw the ball over a Hawks defender and find Koloko in the pick and roll.

“It helps a lot with him just 6-8, 6-9, or whatever they say he is,” Koloko said of Barnes, who is listed at 6-foot-9. “Running the pick and roll with him I think they tried to blitz him and it just allows him to see over defenders [and make the pass]… It’s amazing to have someone who can play point guard and he’s 6-9.

As for the jumper, after making just 30% of his three-point attempts as a rookie, Barnes is 11 for 21 from long range to open the new season. The sample size is small and it’s due to some regression, obviously, but it’s a good place to start.

It was a goal for him during the summer. With a few mechanical tweaks to his release and a ton of reps, he shoots the ball with confidence and gets results. Now it’s about finding the balance, and most importantly, continuing to read the defense and taking what the opposition give them.

Last season, almost 60% of his field goal attempts came within 10 feet. In his first six games, that number dropped to 45%. Thirty percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, up from 20% a year ago.

So far, Barnes hasn’t noticed a big difference in how teams approach him. Most of them will need to see that his improved shot is durable before making the adjustment. If and when they do, it opens up even more options for Barnes, both as a goalscorer and a playmaker.

“I feel like they’re really challenging me to shoot the ball,” he said. “But I worked on trying to be consistent with my jump shot.”

“Last year I feel like I was pretty good at painting. I feel like when I get into painting I get easy looks, easier finishes for me Being able to get down, get into the paint, be aggressive, be able to kick shooters, that opens up so many different things for our offense.

As he becomes more adept at taking those reads and figuring out when cover calls for him to shoot, attack the dribble, or make the pass, he will become even harder to stop. Gradually, we watch him take these steps.

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