For Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes, NBA success is right at his fingertips


Forget all the stark changes that Scottie Barnes will have to deal with in his rookie season with the Raptors — like the overall size, speed and skill of his opponents, the grind of 82 games, the constant travel, the adaptation to living as a grown-up instead of enjoying university life.

It will be a subtle difference he has to learn to live with, something fans watching on TV and in person are not likely to notice but will have much to do with how he does in his first NBA season.

How many fingers he has on the ball when he lets fly a jump shot.

It’s a tiny, almost indiscernible change that he’s working on and trying to perfect as the Raptors’ training camp gets into full swing at the OVO Athletic Centre.

“Just the release on my shot on my fingers,” Barnes said of the shooting tweak that’s been part of his routine since the Raptors took him fourth in the July draft. “Shooting off of two of my fingers, and just pushing to my side a little bit.”

“We’ve been working a lot the last two months. It’s just about getting reps at this point. I feel like I’m getting better at it every single day. Every day is just me getting more and more reps up, keep shooting, day in and day out.”

Much will be made — rightfully so — about Barnes’s personality, his energy and his work ethic in his first season, and that’s sure to endear him to fans. But what his coaches and teammates need to see is how he can play, how he performs. If you can’t play, personality isn’t going to mean a thing while sitting on the bench watching.

“What we want him to do is concentrate on a few areas that we feel are important,” coach Nick Nurse said of Barnes. “The first thing is, we want it to feel comfortable and natural at some point. And usually when you’re changing things, any kind of motor-skill thing that you’re doing, it feels really uncomfortable if you change just a little bit of something.

“Getting some of those things that line up to make the ball fly a little better take a little time to get comfortable, but that’s what we’re aiming for: something that feels nice and smooth and natural to him a little bit.”

Barnes’s shooting is the most obvious hole in his game at the moment, but that’s hardly newsworthy when discussing an NBA rookie. The speed of the game, the skills of the defenders and the 18-inch difference in the three-point line often conspire to set even the best first-year players back a little bit.

It’s putting in the time to make subtle changes to mechanics that’s important, — to understand why changes are being made, and turn an altered shooting motion into a natural one — that turns a young player into someone who can be counted on. It’s a painstaking process, but necessary.

“Each and every day, just getting more and more reps,” Barnes said. “It’s a process of, every day, getting more reps. Just constant shooting.”

It’s foolish to even speculate on what kinds of numbers Barnes will put up this season. He will get a chance. His defence and athleticism should keep him on the floor, and the scoring and shooting percentage will come.

Nurse said Barnes is going to play. The Raptors didn’t pick him No. 4 overall to sit and watch; they want to find out quickly what he’s got. And the more he plays, the happier the franchise will be with him.

“I would say that he’s going to get out there and play,” the coach said. “Probably not looking at the stats would be one way. Don’t judge him by that. I don’t have any idea of what kind of numbers he’s going to throw up; I know that’s kind of impossible these days.

“I think his shooting will start in a place and improve. I think his free-throw shooting will start at a place and improve. I think his decision-making will start at … you know, all those things.

“I’d probably judge him by the amount of minutes he logs this year. Because that’s the way he’s going to get better, is being on the floor.”


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