It was just over a week ago that Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse challenged Scottie Barnes to trust his three-point shot. Up to that point, Barnes had made just two threes in his first 14 games. He looked hesitant when he’d get the ball behind the arc, almost always looking to pass out of the open three instead of letting it fly.
“He can do it,” Nurse said back on November 19. "He needs to stretch out because it's gonna be there. To me the sooner he starts attempting the sooner it will become part of his game. And what are we waiting for?”
Well, Nurse’s confidence in his rookie appeared to pay off even in a 112-97 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Barnes' development is what this season is all about for the Raptors. If winning was the priority Goran Dragic would have been a part of the rotation this season. Instead, Toronto has decided to focus on development, on making Barnes, Dalano Banton, and Malachi Flynn into the best possible versions of themselves.
That’s why Nurse yanked Barnes less than two minutes into the game Sunday. Toronto’s first-round pick committed two turnovers in the first 65 seconds and Nurse needed him to know that’s unacceptable.
"I came out the game starting real slow, quick two turnovers, bad turnovers but it was just, Nick subbed me out the game," Barnes said. "It was a good thing to do."
Barnes didn’t let the rough start faze him. Instead, he showed off the kind of shooting Toronto has been looking for from him and, frankly, anyone who is willing to provide it these days.
"They believe in me, coaching staff, players, they believe in me, just keep encouraging me to be confident out there on the floor, being able to shoot the ball when I've got the open shots," Barnes said. "It's a lot of hard work that's put into it, so not be afraid to."
Without OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., Barnes was the one providing floor spacing for the Raptors. He attempted nine threes in the game, converting on four of them, scoring 21 points total. It was the most threes he'd made in a game since Grade 11, he said.
"My man was helping off me a lot," Barnes said. "Really trying to be in the gaps so most of the time I was just wide open."
The most impressive of the bunch came in the third quarter when he surveyed the half-court looking for a pass before calling his own number and draining another three over Jaylen Brown’s outstretched arms.
"It’s more important for us spacing wise, I think, in the overall flow of our offense," Nurse said of Barnes' shooting. "You see when somebody drives there are open lanes because there are shooters everywhere. It just improves overall flow and spacing for the offense. Not only does it open up his three-pointers but it opens up other people’s driving lanes."
The Raptors’ big problem Sunday was once again their defensive aggressiveness. While they did hold the Celtics to just 41.5% shooting, Toronto couldn’t stop fouling. In the first half alone, Toronto sent Boston to the line 20 times, surrendering more free throws than made field goals before halftime.
VanVleet Continues to Do it All
Again, where would the Raptors be without Fred VanVleet? He truly is the most valuable player for Toronto and without him, Toronto’s offense would be in loads of trouble. He connected shot 8-for-16 Sunday night, nailing five three-pointers for a game-high 27 points.
Despite all the missing bodies Sunday afternoon, Chris Boucher couldn’t crack Toronto’s rotation. His minutes evaporated with Yuta Watanabe’s return and now Isaac Bonga has jumped him in the rotation, at least for the time being. It’s a major issue for Boucher who will hit free agency following the season.
"He’s got to handle it like a pro," Nurse said. "When he gets his chance he has to be a little more consistent. I mean he’s not the only one that needs to come off the bench and play more consistently. That doesn’t mean scoring or anything. That’s just engaged and playing hard and rebounding and blocking shots and things he should be able to bring most nights."
Up Next: Memphis Grizzlies
The Raptors will continue their homestand on Tuesday when the Memphis Grizzlies come to town looking for revenge after Toronto clinched a 126-113 come-from-behind victory in Memphis last Wednesday.