Scottie Barnes is an incredibly unique prospect, as he is more than just a point forward. He is a point guard in a large forward’s body, and has a strong case for purest PG prospect with wing dimensions we have seen since LeBron James.
If you wanted to predict upside based on the intersection of a few statistics: age, height, length, assist rate, and steal rate are likely the best choices.
Assist rate correlates with defensive ability as it is predictive of basketball IQ, and steal rate is correlated with ability to defend the perimeter. Having both of these traits in tandem with good dimensions is ideal for switchability, and it shouldn’t be surprising this list is littered with good defensive players.
Also assists imply some creation ability, and steals are correlated with being good offensively, so most of these players are at least competently offensively, and some of them very good.
Further, height enables players to see and pass over the defense, which can amplify the value of high tier passing.
So let’s look at top 40 wings since 2003 who are at least 6’7″ with 20%+ assist rate and 2%+ steal rate in a season where they were still younger than 20 on Jan 1st:
Evan Turner was included because he barely missed the age cut and the sample is so small otherwise. But outside of him and Julius Hodge who barely made the cut in all regards, this list is loaded with quality value selections in the draft. This also bodes well for Cade Cunningham, who in spite of his myriad flaws fits a profile that rarely flops completely.
How Does Scottie Fit In?
Barnes tops the list in assists and length, tied for 3rd in steals, and tied for 2nd in height is a scary intersection of traits. He often defended opposing guards for FSU, and has excellent potential defensively with the ability to switch 1-4.
Offensively, Barnes is perceived to be a limited creator, but he is arguably the 2nd best self-creator on this list outside of Luka. If we use hoop-math’s play by play data to measure self created FG’s at the rim in the halfcourt by removing assisted FG’s and putbacks, he leads this sample on a per 40 minute basis:
|Player||Mins||SC FG||per 40|
Note this only goes back to 11-12, which counts Middleton’s injury plagued junior year over his quality sophomore season, and Draymond’s senior year when he was 2+ years older than the rest of the group. And nobody else on this list outside of Luka was a particularly good creator at a young age, so this is another area where Scottie beats out the majority of a talented and successful group.
In summary: Scottie is taller, longer, better at passing, defending the perimeter, and rim self creation than the majority of a list littered with all-stars and quality role players and few busts. That’s a whole lot of goodness for a player projected outside of the top 5.
The most unique part of Barnes’ profile is likely is his shot creation ability for his size. Outside of Luka Doncic and LeBron James, he is arguably the best 6’7″+ playmaking prospect of the lottery era. Which sounds crazy at first, but most guys at that size aren’t great shot creators.
The numbers above present a clear case for him being better than Cade or Simmons. Giannis and T-Mac may have been better if they played college, but pre-draft were pure mystery boxes. Lamar Odom was more of a big with point forward skills than a pure perimeter creator. Evan Turner didn’t take off as a creator until being 2 years older than Barnes.
The biggest challenges to that claim are likely Paul Pierce and Grant Hill. At Barnes’ age, Pierce averaged 23.2 pts and 3.0 assists per 40 minutes and Hill averaged 18.5 pts and 5.4 assists compared to 16.7 pts and 6.6 assists for Barnes.
This illuminates why this hypothesis sounds so crazy and misaligns so badly with consensus– Barnes was more of a pass first player and not a huge volume scorer. And because he only played 24.8 minutes off the bench, he barely scored double digits at 10.3 points per game, thus is perceived as more of an elite role player than offensive centerpiece.
The eye test supports the data that a major percentage of his scoring was self created against set defenses. Barnes isn’t an explosive leaper, but he uses good agility to get to spots on the floor and finishes with his length and body control.
In terms of passing, he has excellent court vision and is willing to push the pace in transition. He plays under control and doesn’t force the issue, often making the simple pass. But he is capable of making difficult passes off the dribble, and his length helps him pass over the defense.
Barnes is not the most physical player. He is merely decent offensive rebound at 7.4%, his FT rate is a pedestrian 0.32, and his defensive rebounding rate is a paltry 11.1%. This is likely in part attributable to him playing on the tallest team in the country and frequently defending opposing PG’s, even picking them up in the backcourt, but is nevertheless underwhelming.
Further, he has a disappointing 2.1% block rate for his dimensions and can be prone to getting beat off the dribble as well as mental lapses that cast doubt on his basketball IQ. He has an easy path to being good and possibly great on defense, but has clear room for improvement at this stage.
His biggest wart is his lack of shooting, as he made just 62.1% FT and 27.5% 3P on low volume. This is a significant turnoff in the modern NBA, but it’s also not clear that he is THAT bad at shooting. He attempted a meager 66 FTs on the season, and was a mere 5 makes away from being a respectable 70%.
From 2017-2019 he shot 166/246 (67.4%) FT’s between Montverde, AAU, and FIBA and 17/52 (32.7%) from 3P. The FT sample is especially significant since it’s 4x his NCAA sample and players tend to make significant shooting leaps from ages 15-17 to 19. And his stroke visually looks decent, so most likely he is truly a 68%+ FT shooter.
His low 3PA volume indicates that he still isn’t fully comfortable from 3 range, but if he is truly a ~70% FT shooter who ran bad during a COVID shortened season it’s plausible that he may develop into an average or better NBA distance shooter longterm.
Ultimately it’s rather exciting that he has a number of unique strengths, and his only major flaw is only soft coded at the moment and may not even be that bad. Barnes is likely going to be a useful player, and if he learns to shoot he is loaded with upside.
Simmons has some major advantages over Barnes, as he was 1″ taller, more athletic, and the far more physical player in college. He had a significant advantages in rebound rates (9.6/26.5 offense/defense vs 7.4/11.1) and free throw rate (0.77 vs 0.34), and is a better prospect than Barnes.
But there are ways in which Barnes can close the gap on Simmons, as he has a handful of small advantages. 3″ more wingspan, better assist (31.7. vs 27.4) and assist:TOV (1.66 vs 1.42), and aforementioned self-creation (1.55 vs 1.15).
The variance is whether Barnes learns to shoot. He isn’t going to be a worse shooter than Simmons, and he can be better by a significant margin. And if his shot comes around, he has an easy path to being Simmons’ level or better.
Cade Cunningham has been compared to Ben Simmons with a shot, but his strengths are nowhere near on par with Simmons since he lacks Simmons’ athleticism and physicality as well as his point guard ability. The player who has a real chance to become Simmons with a shot is Barnes.
Much like Barnes, both players had a 7’3″ wingspan and a point forward skill set. Yet they were underrated on draft day, both going 15th overall.
Kawhi had outlier improvements to his shooting from college, and Giannis had an outlier development arc including 2″ of growth. So it’s obviously highly optimistic to compare Barnes to these guys. But when big, long wings who can handle and pass end up developing well, they end up developing REALLY well.
Barnes needs a number of things go well to come close to these guys, but based on his unique strengths we cannot rule out the possibility that he becomes an eventual MVP candidate like we can for the vast majority of prospects.
Green is the common upside comp for Barnes, as both heavily lean on their length and instincts to make an impact as versatile defensive players. Barnes is taller, longer, and more athletic, and Draymond has a higher basketball IQ.
In spite of being smaller, Draymond is stronger and plays bigger with much better rebound (9.6/23.8 vs 7.4/11.1), block (4 vs 2.1), and free throw rates (0.48 vs 0.32). It’s unlikely Barnes will be able to match Draymond’s ability to defend as a small 5 or his overall defensive value with his warts on this end.
But Barnes can nevertheless be excellent in his own rite defensively guarding 1-4. And he offers far more creation ability offensively than Green, as well as the possibility of developing into a better shooter in time. He has potential to be significantly better on offense.
They have some stark differences, but it’s easy to see how Barnes can match or even exceed Draymond’s overall value with more offense + physical tools and less defense + IQ if he develops well.
SloMo has near identical dimensions to Barnes and was similarly disruptive on defense. The major difference is that Barnes moves in regular motion, and was able to self-create for himself and teammates better as a freshman, which is a fairly significant advantage.
Anderson had a better NCAA FT% (73.5 vs 62) which has finally translated into a decent 3 point shot this past season at age 27, but he was a decent rotation player before then and now solidly good. He also had a much better NCAA DREB% (23 vs 11.1) and had the better basketball IQ to help compensate for his slowness.
It’s not a lock that Barnes will be as good or better than Anderson in the NBA, but he is a clearly superior prospect and on average should be better than Anderson. Given that Anderson would likely be worth a top 10 pick in this draft, it’s not a bad soft floor to have.
The scary comp on this list is Evan Turner, as the only player who badly underperformed his draft slot outside of Julius Hodge. But he doesn’t actually belong on this list because he was a disaster offensively during his age 19 freshman season, with poor efficiency on middling usage and more turnovers than assists.
He was crafty enough to learn to become a good creator in the Big Ten in each of his next two seasons, but ultimately his style of dribbling endlessly failed to translate to the NBA as a non-athlete with t-rex arms who never learned to shoot. And even then he still had a couple of OK enough seasons for Boston at ages 26/27 where Brad Stevens was able to trick Portland into paying him 4/70.
That’s quite a few flags that went into Turner’s career of mediocrity. It’s unlikely that Barnes flops that hard.
Josh Jackson could be loosely added to the list as he just missed the cut for assist rate at 18.2%. He also had 5″ less wingspan and was 6 months older than Scottie as a freshman and a bit less proficient at getting to the rim. Again, it’s unlikely Barnes flops as hard.
Scottie vs Cade
Perhaps this is an insane comp to make, as my twitter feed certainly believes it to be.
Cade has one really big advantage over Barnes in shooting, whereas Barnes has a number of smaller advantages: 1-2″ of height/length, better passing, defense, and motor. Athletically they are in a similar tier, and Barnes likely has the edge as a ball handler.
Cade shooting 40/85 from 3P/FT vs Barnes 28/62 on more than twice the 3PA is a massive advantage, but it is somewhat mitigated by Cade outperforming his priors of 16/57 3P (28%) and 143/191 FT (74.9%) whereas Barnes underperformed 17/52 3PA (32.7%) and 166/246 FT (67.4%). How much is more genuine improvement vs sample size variance is a pure guessing game, but Cade needs to become a god tier shooter to really be great, whereas Barnes only needs to become decent.
Given how close their priors were, it is clear that Barnes becoming a decent shooter is more attainable than Cade becoming outlier good.
For a quick and dirty comparison: Cade posted 104.2 ORtg on 28.6 usg and Barnes 107.5 ORtg on 25.4 usg. Using the exchange rate of 1.25 points of ORtg being worth 1 point of usg, that would put Barnes at a slightly worse 103.6 ORtg than Cade if he matched his usage.
If Barnes shooting luck was even slightly bad and/or Cade’s was slightly good, Barnes is suddenly the more efficient offensive player on top of being the superior defensive prospect with better dimensions.
This shows in their respective play styles, as Cade likes to just go and take whatever shot he can create or pass to whatever teammate he sees, while Barnes is more patient in waiting for an efficient opportunity to come available.
Everybody loves shooting for its spacing value, but for a top 5 pick that you are drafting to be an offensive hub, efficient decision making should weigh far heavier.
Granted, it’s a close debate and difficult to make a definitive statement on who will be better based on one COVID shortened season. But it’s difficult to see the case for Cade being better by any substantial margin with only one significant advantage with weak priors.
Personally, I would take Barnes’ multiple advantages as these all translate to more upside than the relatively linear value of shooting.
Barnes is clearly behind Evan Mobley who is the obvious #1 in this draft. But after Mobley he has the next most attractive talent, and I rate him as the 2nd best prospect on the board.