This season has been tumultuous in a number of ways that the Indiana Pacers frankly are not accustomed to. However, if there is any cushioning for this difficult year, it’s that 2021 is THE season to struggle. The Pacers have not drafted in the lottery since they selected Myles Turner 11th overall in the 2015 Draft. At 34-38 to close out the regular season, the Pacers are currently 13th in the draft order, with a 4.8% chance at a top 4 pick, and 1% likelihood at the 1st overall selection per tankathon.com.
As the organization flips the page on this season and looks ahead to the next phase of basketball at the Fieldhouse, this year’s first round pick provides a real opportunity to impact the trajectory of the roster. Leading up to Draft Day on July 29th, I’ll be diving into and profiling a number of draft prospects across the board while also bringing on some great scouts and draft analysts to the Indy Cornrows podcast for extended draft coverage.
I bid you adieu and welcome you to the first profile of the 2021 Draft Cycle!
You’re the lead guard on a mid-tier ACC basketball team.
You’re tired, it’s been a long game, and you’re getting absolutely thrashed by Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles.
RaiQuan Gray just yammed on your frontcourt to put the ‘Noles up 17.
You get set to receive the inbounds and toil through the remaining minute and twenty-two seconds of the game.
The ball gets inbounded, you start upcourt, and already, the yelling and clapping has started. Scottie Barnes is going to press you 94 feet and revel in every second of it.
May 13, 2021
Scottie Barnes is a 6’8/9 (7’2 wingspan) draft prospect out of Florida State University. He was listed as a guard at FSU and was the lead ballhandler and playmaker in Tallahassee, but I personally would categorize him as a combo big, best suited as a four or five in the NBA. Barnes was ranked 5th in RSCI (Recruiting Services Consensus Index) after playing prep ball at Montverde Academy on what many consider one of the greatest high school basketball teams of all time. He’s been on the pro track for years now.
Barnes is consistently mock drafted as a top 10 player, so at the moment, it’s not the most likely outcome that he’ll be on the board when the Pacers draft. That being said, the lottery gods work in mysterious ways, and the course of the NBA landscape changes incredibly quickly and often without warning!
In diving into Scottie Barnes as a prospect, it’s important to highlight the importance of context. Context dictates so much for any player, but some players more than others, and after scouting him fairly in-depth, he’s a player highly dependent on his context. That’s not a bad thing in the slightest, rather an important note to make sure that he’s A. properly understood as a player B. lofty and unfair expectations aren’t placed on him.
Considering how context dependent Barnes is as a prospect, I want to view him through the lens of the Pacers’ current roster and how he’d fit. Caitlin and I talked on the season finale of Two Questions Two-ahh! about fit and talent, both agreeing that talent outweighs fit, but there has to be the right opportunity and capability for actualiztaion for a prospect in order to make the drafting make sense.
There’s a general idea that Barnes would be a great fit next to Domantas Sabonis (after a theoretical trade of Myles Turner) and I don’t agree for a few reasons.
Rim Protection and Defensive Versatility
Caitlin has written some fantastic pieces on how the Pacers can defend the paint without rim protection. I would posit however that while it is possible to protect the paint without a real rim proetction presence, it’s really difficult to do consistently and impactfully, especially considering the current construct of the Pacers roster.
So ideally, whoever steps into the starting 5 is a player who can provide some rim protection on top of solid perimeter skills, providing the lineup flexibility this Indiana team has sorely lacked for a few seasons.
Scottie Barnes’ wingspan, length, and height give off the impression that he’s a rim protector or could be. While Scottie is athletic in more subliminal ways in terms of quickness, reaction time, and lateral ability, he is not a vertical athlete.
What stands out here?
On the first clip, Scottie gets very little to almost no vertical pop off his backfoot trying to protect the rim. Why does this matter? Much like Domantas Sabonis’ struggles in defending 2 on 1 scenarios (Not on him, just a tough spot to put him in), it is very difficult to be a positive defender when put in pick and roll if you cannot jump off a backpedal.
On the second clip, even jumping in a more comfortable circumstance for a dunk, if Barnes had a slightly shorter wingspan, that ball hits the front of the rim. Routinely on his dunks, you see Scottie needing every ounce of oomph he has to extend and throwdown. Point being, Barnes is just pretty limited in terms of what he can do vertically. This isn’t an indictment of him or his potential, but again, it’s important to recognize how much the proper context matters.
Barnes can alter some smaller drivers at the rim due to his positioning and length, but the lack of verticality stands out when projecting to the NBA.
He’ll probably factor in occasionally as a secondary rim protector, cleaning up with his length and timing, but primary rim protection is likely asking too much out of Barnes. I envision Scottie as an elite rotational defender, relying on excellent positioning and exceptional help-side defense and intensity. Intensity has a tendency to be overrated or overstated when applying it to analysis, but not with Scottie Barnes.
He can guard down some, although I wouldn’t consider him switchable: He’s great at utilizing his length and moving his feet, but I take college tape with a grain of salt. By virtue of being an NBA prospect with 99th percentile measureables and high level feel, he’s able to eliminate drives from even happening when guarding NCAA level players on the perimeter.
Take this play for instance, Scottie slides his feet well and uses his length to corral his man, but he has just enough shake to get around him. NBA guards with better handles and burst will probably be a tough cover at least early on.
When scaling up to playing NBA guards and wings full-time, I think it’s less feasible that Scottie will be a switchable defender from the get go. I’d imagine on his rookie deal, he guards forwards and some wings as well as bigs who aren’t as much of a vertical threat.
Playmaking and Gravity
Coming into the NBA, Scottie Barnes is not a shooter outside the paint; he took shot 27.3% on 55 total jumpers last season, including 28% on 39 three-point attempts. I’m not worried about the jumper, because we’ve seen so many players come into the league without an equitable shot devlop one by the end of their rookie deal. However, how is Barnes impacting an offense without a viable jumper?
My comp for Barnes actually would be Thad Young without a refined postgame and probably a bit better of a handle coming out of the draft. Both possess phenomenal court vision, similar blends of athleticism, top notch defensive rotations, and a high feel for the game. I wrote quite a bit this year about gravity and playmaking both on Indy Cornrows and elswhere and my opinion of Scottie is that he’d best be utilized the way in which Thad was used much of this year in Chicago prior to the trade deadline.
While most of Barnes’ utility at FSU came operating the pick and roll, that’ll be more of a side-dish than entree for him at the NBA level. He’s a solid ballhandler, but most of his versatility as a passer comes through his outstanding floor vision. He isn’t particularly bursty and the handle can be pretty high and a little mechanical, so he tends to struggle to create separation from his defender.
He’s a very high feel offensive player with a great understanding of where his teammates are at at all times, finding cutters or the open man. His ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes stands out when watching him.
Ideally, the optimal way to utilize Barnes’ best traits offensively will be in the DHO game, inverted pick and rolls, as a connective outlet passer out of the high paint and post, and short roll passer outside of some secondary actions in sets.
He’s also great at ripping and running off of defensive rebounds, getting downhill quickly and finding the open man.
While I think there’s potential for an at least average defensive fit, the offense is where the issues come in for Barnes with Sabonis. When Scottie didn’t have the ball in his hands at FSU, he was often relegated to the corner, and at the next level, that’s going to clog up an offense.
Scottie just frankly will not have a lot of gravity, but because of his ability to playmake, he can attack an already bent defense or grease an offense at a high level with connective passing and decision-making. He would often be employed to bust zones for FSU, in essence using his lack of gravity against temas for not having to guard him. By slipping into space and using his vision as a connective passer, he can create advantages that he cannot with his dribble from the perimeter.
His own scoring is fairly raw and is something that will be a work in progress for him moving forward. He relies heavily on a floater off two feet that goes in more than you’d think, but I’m a little aprehensive to judge how it’ll translate to the NBA.
When he striggles to creat separation, he normally falls back onto that floater if he can’t get to the rim or find an outlet pass.
By virtue of playing point guard at FSU, he was regularly guarded by much smaller players and still relied on the floater. That’s not an indictment of his talent, but it is indicative of his lack of verticality. When guarded by like-sized players, I’m curious to see how that floater falls for him and what counters he can start to develop.
He has solid touch and has flashed some semblance of a post-game with decent footwork on running hooks and up and unders, but they’re not something he would regularly go to. If he can continue to hone one or two moves to attack mismatches out of the post, that could go a long way in building himself up as an individual scorer.
Overall Fit & Closing Thoughts
Intensity is often just a buzz word that can be overapplied, but Scottie Barnes defines intensity to a T.
Scottie Barnes is going to be a high impact player on a good teams in both the regular season and postseason, but it may take a while for him to fully expand his game to reach the level of two-way impact he’s capable of. Again, the context is so important for him and where he gets drafted to.
I love the potential fit of him and Myles Turner, as Myles is one of the best 5’s in the league to pair Scottie with. The defense would be absurdly good between the two, and Scottie brings versatility offensively as well. The 4/5 pick and roll between the two could be lethal and they’d give you the versaitlity and ability to play any number of defensive schemes and systems (Although less may be more after this season). Barnes is quick enough to hedge and recover, he already is and is going to be a significant impact player at the nail, he’s a great communicator. I’m not sure he’ll ever have the stocks numbers to generate the same buzz, but in terms of all-around defense, Scottie Barnes will likely be an All-Defense or borderline defensive contributor during his peak.
Due to Scottie needing to occupy some of the same spaces and scenarios that Domantas Sabonis already does, and at a higher level, makes it difficult to envision their fit. I’d add that during the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons, the Thad Young/Sabonis pairing was a significant plus both years, +4.8 pp/100 and +5.2 pp/100.
That being said, Thad was much more advanced than Barnes on both ends and particularly on offense, with more individual scoring ability and some floor spacing. The two could work together with time, but that brings into question what the Pacers are trying to do at the moment. If they shift and go younger, I can see it. If they’re still trying to go all in and win right now, I’m less certain. If Scottie were available to be drafted by the Pacers I lean towards selecting him regardless and figuring it out from there. Talent reigns supreme, but making sure that player gets put in the right chances to thrive is paramount as well.
So much is up in the air. How does Kevin Pritchard view the roster? In regards to Turbonis, I tend to lean into trading whomever gets back the most in return. Does trading Domas and selecting a player like Scottie coupled with whatever the return is for Domas push the team in a new and better direction? I’m not sure, and the same can be said for Myles. It does however seem certain that wholesale changes will be made this offseason. Player’s like Scottie Barnes forecast the future, full of potential that has yet to be fulfilled. Whatever the Pacers do with their pick, it’s a real opportunity to positively impact the trajectory of the Indiana Pacers.
For an expansion on the ideas and analysis in here, I’m joined by the wonderfully insightful PD Web. We dive into the Pacers roster and how Scottie Barnes would make sense on the team as well the importance of team context for him. This is a great conversation with some fantastic analysis from PD. If you haven’t already, check out his work on Patreon. It’s all free to read!