Friday night, a 20-year-old Scottie Barnes took the court against the great LeBron James. It very easily could have intimidated the Rookie of the Year candidate who at this time last year was playing college ball for Florida State. Yet for Barnes, it was any other game.
The Toronto Raptors rookie had one of his most dominant performances of the season against James and the Los Angeles Lakers. While it wasn’t enough to secure the win, it was a statement game from one of the NBA’s brightest young stars.
After the game, Barnes made an even greater statement when asked what LeBron meant to him growing up. In short, he wasn’t quite as effusive as other players his age might have been.
Scottie Barnes had a career night against LeBron James and the Lakers
With only 12 games left on the schedule, Barnes is running out of time to solidify his ROTY argument. But a few more performances like what we saw on Friday won’t hurt his case in the slightest.
The 6-foot-9 forward scored a career-high 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting. Along with racking up six assists, he also pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds in Toronto’s 128-123 overtime loss to LA.
Barnes started each half with a bang. The fourth pick of last year’s draft scored 10 and 12 points in the first and third quarters respectively. But the rookie’s play wasn’t enough to beat LeBron, who finished with a game-high 36 points.
Friday’s contest was another example of what’s quickly becoming the norm for the talented rookie. Barnes, who came off the bench for the Seminoles as a one-and-done freshman, has averaged 20.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.8 steals over his last 11 games. For the year, he ranks third among all rookies with 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Barnes was brutally honest when asked what LeBron meant to him
Every new generation of NBA players looks up to the superstars who came before them. So as you can expect, many of today’s top young players grew up admiring LeBron James long before they became his peers.
Barnes isn’t one of those players.
After his career night against LeBron’s Lakers, Barnes was asked what LeBron meant to him as a kid before he entered the NBA. The 20-year-old then delivered a response that few would have expected from someone his age.
“I was really a big Kobe [Bryant] fan. So they were really rivals and stuff like that.”Scottie Barnes
In Barnes’ defense, he didn’t spend the next several minutes praising the Black Mamba. The rookie still acknowledged what the 37-year-old King has accomplished across 19 seasons.
“LeBron’s done so much for this game,” Barnes explained. “Of course, he’s a Hall of Famer [and] someone that’s so influential in this game that paves the way for so many people. … So of course he was influential for a lot of young kids like me.”
Barnes’ playing style is far more similar to LeBron than Kobe
As a native of West Palm Beach, FL, Barnes must have stayed up late to watch Kobe’s Lakers over LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat. Yet ironically, the 6-9 forward resembles James way more on the basketball court.
Barnes has largely been utilized as a “point forward”, bringing the ball up the court and serving as a top facilitator despite his bigger frame. It’s a role James, who’s also 6-foot-9, has been doing since entering the league in the fall of 2003.
Meanwhile, the late Bryant was always a shoot-first player. He was the prototypical two-guard and a constant threat to hit opponents for 30 a night. James may settle for 25 or 26, but he’ll also have eight rebounds and seven assists. Although he proved on Friday that he can score, Barnes certainly falls more into the latter category.
It will be fascinating to see how Barnes’ career progresses in Toronto. Perhaps one day, he’ll become the basketball idol for a brand new generation of players to root for … or in some cases, root against.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.