Let's start with this: Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri are really, really good at their jobs.
This isn't to say the Toronto Raptors made the right decision on Thursday night by selecting Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick over Gonzaga's do-it-all point guard Jalen Suggs. It was a controversial pick and one that will be analyzed for better or for worse for many years to come. But what we do know is Webster and Ujiri took the player they believed has the most long-term upside, the player they felt was the best available at the time, and the player they think gives the organization the best chance to bring another championship to Toronto.
It's not hard to see why the Raptors fell in love with Barnes. He's 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2.75 wingspan and is cut from the same cloth as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. He's versatile, switchable, and gives Toronto a scary three-handed defensive monster that should pose nightmares for opposing teams.
"I just don't ever not want to talk about his defense," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Thursday night. "He's got some desire and he's got some length and he's got some anticipation and toughness to play that and I think that may be where he really excels before it's all said and done."
Defensive analytics are always a little tricky in basketball, but Barnes ranked as a "very good" man defense defender and an "excellent" isolation defender, according to Synergy. He's quick enough to defend opposing guards and has the length to switch up a few positions and take on power forwards and occasionally centers with relative ease.
"I don’t back down from nobody," Barnes said. "It’s about how tough you are, whatever you’re willing to do. I’m willing to do those things. I’m tough when I’m on the floor. I’m not gonna get bullied. I sit on defense. I guard full court. I guard the ones, the twos, the threes. I take pride in that stuff."
While Toronto didn't have very much success last season with its small-ball lineup that saw OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Chris Boucher share time as the team's lone center, Nurse still wants to have the flexibility to deploy a center-less lineup in certain situations. He said it's not something he'd like to use all game — as the Raptors were occasionally forced to last season — but he sees value in throwing Anunoby, Siakam, and Barnes on the court together to disrupt opposing teams with their speed and length. All three of those wings measured almost 9-feet tall in standing reach at their respective draft combines with Barnes, the shortest in standing height, measuring the tallest in standing reach of the trio.
"He’s got a bit of a knack for anticipation. That’s why he gets into lanes," Nurse said. "Not only his length — he has outstanding length, and that helps him — but he has the feel to do that. He reminds me of two guys we already have, OG and Pascal."
There is, of course, the other side of the coin with Barnes where the concerns start to pop up. This is where some faith in the Raptors and their first-class developmental system is going to have to come in.
Barnes is not a very well-rounded offensive player right now. He has no problem getting out and running in transition, even bringing the ball up the court after defensive rebounds, but he posed almost no shooting threat in college. He shot 11-for-40 from behind the arc in college and his half-court offense was considered "average" by Synergy. Considering Toronto's lack of half-court creation and how desperate NBA teams are for offensive shot-making these days, this is where the pick gets a little bit confusing.
Clearly, the Raptors see something in Barnes that the box score stats and scouts outside the organization didn't think warranted a top-four pick. Barnes said Toronto made him shoot a ton at his pre-draft workout and whatever happened in Tampa seemed to prove to the Raptors that Barnes has the offensive potential to warrant their top pick.
"Let’s put it this way, his shot isn’t broken," Nurse said. "People talk about his jump shot’s broken, it isn’t broken. I think there’s probably a few little mechanical things that we’ll probably look at, as we do with everybody. And then it’s going to be up to him. I think there will be some things we think we can look at, there won’t be a ton, there will be a few, and then it’ll be up to him to put in the work."
If it's tweakable, the Raptors should have confidence that Barnes will get that done. Despite getting almost no sleep Thursday night following the draft as his phone filled with text messages, Instagram DMs, and Snapchat messages, Barnes was up early Friday morning in the gym.
"Went there about 8:30 in the morning," he said Friday morning. "My trainer was already here, so we just went there to go workout for about an hour, hour twenty, just getting right to work so I can just be prepared."
That's something to bet on. If it comes together for Barnes, if he can be this defensive unicorn with octopus arms and quick feet and add some offensive impact, the Raptors will have shocked the basketball world and found another gem. They turned down "incredible" offers for the No. 4 pick to take Barnes, Webster said.
Will it pay off? I don't know, but I'd bet on the Raptors' front office. At the very least their track record suggests they've earned the benefit of the doubt.