Almost directly after it was confirmed that Scottie Barnes would be active for the Raptors Game 4 tilt against Philadelphia, news broke that Barnes had won the 2021-2022 NBA Rookie of the Year title, concluding an intense three-horse race with Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham.
All three players had their cases. Cunningham – the #1 overall pick – rounded into top form during the second half of the season, but was on a struggling Pistons team and didn’t play particularly well in the year’s initial moments. Mobley was an impact player all year long for the Cavaliers, but struggled with counterpart Jarrett Allen out of the lineup, and missed the last few weeks of the regular season due to injury.
While both Cunningham and Mobley were fantastic, there’s little doubt that Barnes was the most consistent throughout the year. On top of that, Barnes is a key contributor for a legitimate playoff team, while the other two names in the race were unable to qualify for the postseason.
Barnes was one of Toronto’s best players all season long, jumping immediately into the starting lineup and starting for all 74 of his appearances. The Florida State product finished the season averaging 15.3 PPG, adding 7.5 RPG and 3.5 APG. As good as the offensive numbers were, a bulk of his value came on the other end of the floor, where he proved to be one of the Raptors’ stingiest defenders even in his limited NBA experience. The 6’9 forward averaged over a steal-per-game at 1.1, and added 0.7 blocks-per-game for good measure.
Once the postseason came around, Barnes was on his way to a triple-double in Game 1 before an errant step from Joel Embiid sent him to the sidelines. Barnes had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists before his exit, and was forced to miss the following two games. Moments after receiving his Rookie of the Year award prior to Game 4, Barnes came off the bench for 25 minutes of action, scoring 6 points with 11 rebounds and contributing towards the team’s first win in the series.
Numbers aside, there is little doubt on the importance of Barnes to this basketball team. In games two and three without him, the Raptors looked disjointed and desperate for an extra wing defender that could create his own shot at the offensive end. It’s rare to say this about a rookie, but the Raptors need Barnes to be a competitive playoff team, and that without a doubt factored into the voter’s decision making.
Barnes becomes the third Toronto Raptor in history to win the award, following Damon Stoudamire in 1996 and Vince Carter in 1999.
The 4th overall pick Barnes was given the award to a standing ovation at the Scotiabank Arena, firing up the crowd before making his anticipated return to action.
Barnes and Toronto will try to extend their season further on Monday night as they enter another win-or-go-home situation in Philadelphia for Game 5.