It was in November, the day before the Toronto Raptors were set to play the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, that the then 20-year-old deemed to be the future of the team and the man who helped set the foundation for the franchise in the mid-’90s coincidentally met at Saks Fifth Avenue in Boston. Scottie Barnes was doing “a little shopping” when he ran into none other than Damon Stoudamire.
At that point, Barnes had yet to fully embark on the entirety of a season that many are now calling perhaps the most impactful rookie season in Raptors’ history. But to have the chance to chop it up with a member of the inaugural Raptors team (Stoudamire won Rookie of the Year that season in Toronto, like Barnes) just seemed like fate.
“He was just really telling me to try to get Rookie of the Year, keep doing what I got to do and really take over this League,” Barnes says while on set of his SLAM 239 cover shoot.
That was Stoudamire’s first time meeting Scottie officially; he’d watched him play in high school and at different Nike EYBL and AAU events, but now he was actually seeing what Barnes was capable of doing in the League. Just a month prior to their meeting, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft had dropped a double-double on the Cs—in just the second game of his career.
“He was a matchup nightmare,” Stoudamire, who’s now an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, later tells us on the phone. “The good Lord doesn’t bless us with everything, but if [Scottie] figures out a way, and he doesn’t have to be a knockdown guy, but once he figures out his spots on the floor in terms of shooting the ball on a consistent basis, it could be dangerous. He would have cracked the code then because, I mean, everything else he has.”
SLAM 239 featuring Scottie Barnes is OUT NOW!
Barnes wasn’t even born when the Raptors drafted Stoudamire as their first-ever pick in 1995, or when he graced the cover of SLAM 11 in the spring of ’96 (subscribe here to the SLAM Digital Archive). When he got to Toronto, Stoudamire explains, the team was just trying to grow the game of basketball throughout Canada. But what he didn’t realize back then was that he’d ultimately be able to impact an entire country. Many after him have been just as revered—from Vince Carter and DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. All-Stars. Champions. Icons. But in this new era of the game, Scottie Barnes isn’t a glimpse into the future of Toronto. He is the now, and even the legends who came before him see that already.
“He has [an] opportunity to lead Toronto, but then be the face of a country,” says Stoudamire.
Excitement has been buzzing all around T-Dot about their superstar-in-the-making. His SLAM 239 cover shoot feels like a momentous occasion, from the Drake tracks blaring over the speakers (Honestly, Nevermind had dropped just a few days before) to Scottie singing along in between takes while he rocks a black and gold Swingman uniform and an icy, blinged-out chain that has an even icier “SB” for the camera. It’s the crowning of a new star in the North.
After all, it’s been three years since the Raptors won that historic, first-ever championship in 2019, and since then, the team has been well-equipped with an arsenal of All-Stars and bucket-getters who helped them make the playoffs every year except one. The arrival of Scottie has had the place boomin’ with hype around what’s to come, especially since the Raptors exceeded any and all expectations last season when they finished fifth in the East.
“I feel like I have the defensive tools, I really just want to put on the offensive end,” Scottie says. “Make my game more all-around. I’m just working on being able to get to the basket, being unstoppable on the floor. Scoring, being in the midrange area and just being a consistent shooter. Being able to knock down shots consistently, being able to carry myself in that way as being one of those top people in the League.”
He’d look at those goals every single day. Winning ROY was a major moment not only for him, but for his family. It’s one of the reasons why he surprised his mom, Kathalyn, with the news. He had watched her relentlessly sacrifice for him and his siblings growing up, working late nights to put food on the table and get them school clothes. “[She tried] to get a few pairs of shoes to go to school, try to have some swag going to school so we could carry ourselves with that confidence. She made a bunch of sacrifices for us. Even though we didn’t have that much, we were still some spoiled little kids, [wanting] everything, trying to flex.”
Winning ROY also meant something for Toronto, as Barnes became just the third Raptor ever to win the award, joining the company of Stoudamire and Vince Carter. “That award meant everything to me. Everything. All the hard work, effort I put in since I was a kid. It meant everything for the city of West Palm Beach, for the country of Canada, city of Toronto. Masai [Ujiri], Bobby [Webster]. They put their faith in me, and I put in the work. So, every single day, I try to carry that with me.”
Now, his Rookie of the Year trophy sits on a stand, right next to two Rookie of the Month awards, inside his game room at his house. Since the season wrapped up, he’s been mainly spending his offseason in his native Florida, while going back and forth to Toronto. It’s a place he’s now calling home, and he’s already found his go-to spots to eat at, too. “I got a couple. Harbour 60, Cactus Club. I just love the city. It’s beautiful.”
A few days before our shoot, Barnes was livestreaming when he raved about how hyped he was to be a Toronto Raptor. When we asked him about it, he didn’t hold back in letting us know how much he’s been embracing the city.
“It’s a blessing for me to get drafted to Toronto. I felt like it was just the best thing for me and the program,” he says. “I felt like I found the right home, with them being able to draft me…I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I feel like it was just a big thing that happened to me. It’s amazing. I feel like Toronto, they always support me, even the whole country of Canada supports me, shows me love. And it just feels like we’re all family.”
Scottie reveals he’s already on a text message/IG story-reply basis with Drake (“It’s really small talk, but we can tell that we’re brodies”). When he first arrived in Toronto after the draft, he even hung out with him at his mansion.
“His house is humongous. He got a lot of things that’s going on in there, it’s a dope house. He got the basketball court as soon as you walk inside, where he plays his league basketball. You know, he be killing ’em, but his house is fire. I think we put up like a couple of shots, but we were just getting to know each other. Just really chatting it up.”
According to Scottie, Drizzy let him know then that he had to put on for the city. “He just told [me] that the city’s gonna love [me], just really put on for the city. Do what we got to do.”
In his rookie debut against the Wizards, Scottie showed glimpses of exactly what he could do, from a lefty sky hook for his first bucket to dishing out an elite bounce pass to Chris Boucher in the fourth. Nick Nurse called his performance “OK,” but also pointed out, “I think we see a really good player there.”
For Barnes, the mindset early on was to do what it takes to win by making the right plays and putting in the effort, whether it’s rebounding, passing or guarding the best player on the court. When asked about what he expected for himself early on in the season, “winning” is the one word he mentions over and over again. “I felt like coming into the season, I really just tried to focus on winning, try and do whatever it takes to win…I really tried to focus on those little things, and then I knew everything else would carry on to the court with me.”
Scottie’s always been competitive. Growing up, he’d compete with his older brother in school and try to get better grades than him so he could show it to his mom, hoping she’d give him a few dollars. He wanted to play on his brother’s basketball and football teams, too, even though everyone was a few years older. He started playing organized basketball in third grade at the Salvation Army on a team that was mainly made up of fourth graders. Scottie then went on to become a five-star product in high school—he played at the University School alongside Vernon Carey Jr and then with Cade Cunningham at Montverde before suiting up at Florida State, where he earned ACC Freshman of the Year honors.
Now he’s channeling that same drive into everything he does, from video games (“[I’m] the best out of all my friends in [NBA] 2K, top three in [Call of Duty]”) to whatever challenges were thrown at him on the court this past season—from guarding all five positions against the Bulls, Celtics and Wizards in October, including superstars like Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal. By November, he was logging 35 minutes a game, but as Nurse previously said, “one of the first things to instill” is playing the “full 48.”
When asked about his early season performances, Scottie points out that for him, it was a matter of maintaining the energy. “I would say in the beginning, I showed a lot of energy, but you got to really try to find those ways of channeling it [differently] because sometimes you can express way too much energy and then that next possession, you get really tired…Being at Florida State, I played a good three, four minutes, and then I would get subbed if I was too tired. But now, it’s just like, you got to be able to maintain that energy throughout the whole entire game for however long you’re playing.”
On a team full of different personalities—from “chill vibe types” like Fred VanVleet and Isaac [Bonga] to “funny guys” like himself, Justin Champagnie and Dalano Banton, according to Barnes—it also helped that the team fully embraced him and allowed him to be himself on the court, especially OG Anunoby. “He was really telling me to be me on the floor, each and every single time. That really [gave] me that confidence when I stepped on the floor to be who I am, keep being aggressive, attacking.”
In December, Barnes dropped a double-double against the Knicks, was a defensive ace with those five blocks against Sacramento a few nights later, and then followed that up with a 23/12/5 stat line against Brooklyn, while being matched up against Kevin Durant, making him the youngest Raptor ever since Tracy McGrady to put up at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 dimes. By January, Bradley Beal was already calling him a “special” talent and saying he “looked like a star” after Barnes put up 27 against the Wizards.
The Raptors went on an eight-game winning streak going into February, and after the All-Star break, Scottie was averaging just under 20 points per game. When he dropped a 31-piece on the Lakers in March, even the King let everyone know what was up.
“I saw Scottie Barnes for the first time in seventh grade and I told one of my good friends that this kid is going to be special,” LeBron James said after the game. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Looking back on the season, Barnes says he’s started processing the game quicker, too. “I felt like on the court I really know where I could get to my spots, can score the ball at [and] how I can just set my presence throughout the game, on both ends of the floor. I feel like I’ll be able to make more of an impact on the game because I really just found ways to really just attack the game. I got smarter throughout the year, and I just really realized how the NBA works with the calls and all the little things about the game.”
This same team that had missed the playoffs the year prior soon found themselves in a first-round matchup against Philly. Barnes nearly had a triple-double in his playoff debut—15 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists—and despite missing Games 2 and 3 with an ankle injury, another SLAM 11 cover star, Magic Johnson, saw that the promise was all there. “There’s definitely a lot of ‘Showtime’ in him,” Johnson told the Toronto Star.
While the Raptors lost that series, it’s clear that things are really looking up in the 6ix. Their 48-34 record was a vast improvement from the previous year, and Barnes is making it clear that his past season was really just the beginning. “This is just us getting our footing together, but I feel like we’re gonna take that next step to try to make a deep playoff run and be one of those top teams in the League.”
And as for his own goals, this offseason has been all about prepping his body for the demand of the 82-game regular season (Barnes started all 74 games he played in), while also sharpening the tools he’s well-equipped with. You might’ve already seen recent videos of his “revamped jumper” circling around the internet, too. Scottie’s already looking ahead at the type of player he wants to evolve into. Him adding to his already extensive bag? Dangerous.
“Be who I am on the floor [and] be able to keep developing my playmaking [and] really just improve my scoring,” Barnes says of what will take him to the next level. “Keep [doing] what I do on defense, but just amping it up to another level where I can change the impact of a game throughout the court. Really taking over on the defensive end where I can get multiple stops, being able to be so active on the floor where I can just alter shots, change shots, just give teams different looks where I can have that presence. Talking, communicating and kind of just step up my role of being a leader on this team. I feel like that’s really what’s going to take me to that next level.”
Deyscha Smith is an associated editor at SLAM. Follow her on Twitter and IG, @deyschasmith.