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Why did Masai Ujiri pass up on Jalen Suggs for Scottie Barnes?

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The 2021 NBA Draft was heralded as a franchise-defining moment for the Toronto Raptors – and especially Masai Ujiri.

The wily President, whose brave moves since he joined in 2013 led to the organisation’s first Championship, has drafted well in recent years with the lower first-round picks – Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Malachi Flynn all come to mind.

But with the franchise’s first top-four pick since 2006, this was a chance to stop polishing rough diamonds – and acquire a ready-made gem.

And yet, once again, he went left-field.

On our podcast ‘Balling In The 6ix’ a couple of weeks ago, we discussed the three top prospects for Toronto with the No.4 pick. Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and the most likely pick, Jalen Suggs. Jonathan Kuminga was mentioned as an alternative option.


But the scouting books and college film had to come out again on our most recent episode – for the Front Office surprised us all by choosing Scottie Barnes, out of Florida State.

Many were disappointed – especially after Suggs’ exploits in March Madness – but as the dust settles, it’s worth looking at exactly why Barnes was preferred.

He defines himself as a 6’9 PG – he also struggles with shooting, putting him firmly in the Ben Simmons mould.

Realistically, he plays as a versatile point forward, who is not only elite defensively, but who has wonderful court vision and the ability to execute pinpoint assists.

At Florida State, he was known for defending any position from 1 to 5, often heavily pressuring the opponent’s point guard from half-court.


And on the offensive end, he can do it in transition with his length and speed – but he’s not bad dictating play in the half-court either.

Barnes reminds some of Draymond Green, in that aspect. Averaging 4.1 assists off the bench in college, he could take some of the playmaking burden off VanVleet and OG Anunoby, allowing the duo – who are excellent shooters – to do their thing.

This also gives Nick Nurse a Siakam alternative in transition offence, making the Raptors more formidable on the counter-attack.

But more importantly, Barnes defines the archetypal Nick Nurse player. Strong, quick, lengthy and able to defend multiple positions. It’s perfect for the small-ball philosophy the Front Office has shifted to in the post-Kawhi era.

As for the concerns over his shooting, there’s a reason Barnes himself said that it’s all they made him do during his pre-draft workout in Toronto. The coaches and analysts clearly saw something right – or at least, easily fixable.

Barnes has a massive ceiling, but a distinctly average floor – while he doesn’t come with the explosive excitement of a Jalen Suggs, it’s time to – once again – trust the Front Office on this one.

We broke down more of Scottie Barnes on our podcast, Balling In The 6ix – the number one Toronto Raptors podcast based in the UK. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook or our website.

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