It was a chance meeting in a hallway days before Raptors training camp began, the kind of run-into-your-teammate-on-an-off-day encounter they go through endless times in a season.
Pascal Siakam was headed one way, Scottie Barnes the other and the usual greeting might be a fist-bump or a hello or some basic acknowledgment of a teammate.
“We were doing physicals and I was walking out and he was in the hallway, and he was trying to give me one of those high (chest) bumps like you do in the game,” Siakam recalled. “And I’m like just walking in the facility; it’s like I hit some game-winner or something.”
Welcome to Scottie’s World, where everything’s new and fun and exciting and the energy is coursing through him like electricity no matter how mundane the task is.
“I think he’s just he’s just an exciting kid, like he’s exciting to be around,” Siakam said “He just has a great presence and it’s really, really fun to see.”
Fast forward a few days to the first time the Raptors took to a court in public, an open scrimmage in London on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
It was the same players doing the same drills and scrimmaging against each other as they have been since about late July.
But it was far from just going through the motions for the effervescent rookie Barnes.
“You saw Scottie today screaming and yelling and jumping around,” laughed teammate Fred VanVleet after that 90-minute workout. “He (inadvertently) kicked somebody so you never know what you’re going to get.
“You never know what to expect but you’ve got to love just the pure energy and hustle and just guys that are excited to be out there, just that joy for the game.”
If nothing else, in his short, short time with the Raptors, the 20-year-old Barnes has infused the team with a youthful exuberance that’s been absent the past few seasons.
“I’d say it’s just me being me, me being me on the court,” Barnes said. “I like to win. I like to make winning plays. I like to bring my energy to practice.
“No matter where I’m at, I’m going to be who I am. That’s what you’re going to see me, being enthusiastic, bringing positive energy to the team, picking everyone up, just trying to prepare us for whatever we need.”
So far — and even the pre-season is still in its infancy — Barnes’ enthusiasm has been impressive. He has a way of energizing players on the court with him, it helps him have an impact all over the floor. He’s young and excitable and if that allows him to have an impact on the game, it’s great.
“At this level, you can’t be shy,” he said. “You can’t be trying to look too cool. It’s just the dirty things that you need to do on the floor, that’s what’s going to need to be happening.
“It’s not really that hard. I’m not a shy guy. I’m just going to be who I am no matter where I’m at.”
The aspect of Barnes that allows his older, more sedate teammates to accept his excitable nature without rolling their eyes is that fact he’s shown he’s got some very solid, multi-dimensional skills that are going to help the team win games.
Coach Nick Nurse is adamant Barnes will get a heavy load in his rookie season, shifting all over the court. In just two pre-season games, Nurse has used him as a primary ballhandler, a power forward and a wing, a kind of a jack-of-all-trades piece that fits well into what the team was the roster to become.
It’s what endeared Barnes to the team’s brass long before Toronto took him with the fourth pick in last summer’s draft. Team president Masai Ujiri, general manager Bobby Webster and director of scouting Dan Tolzman were tracking Barnes for years through appearances with the United States national age-group programs and through one year at Florida State before they chose him.
They knew what kind of player — and person — they were getting and did not hesitate to make him Toronto’s highest draft pick since Andrea Bargnani was the No. 1 choice in 2006.
There are certainly parts of his game that need to improve but that’s not an issue for an organization that’s shown its player development program is one of the best in the NBA.
Barnes still isn’t a great NBA shooter by any stretch and his free throw shooting is suspect but he can have an impact on game while still fine-tuning those skills.
And that is what’s going to endear him to his teammates, who remained bemused by his personality.
“He brings energy to everyone,” OG Anunoby said during training camp. “He’s singing with the music, he’s always dancing. It’s fun to see, it’s fun to be around.”
The act might already be getting old fast except Barnes is able to back up his enthusiasm and his talkative nature with his play. Teammates notice guys who talk big and play small; they don’t see that in the six-foot-seven native of Florida. He’s loud and he’s energetic but he’s also good.
“We’ve all got to communicate with either other on the floor and off, so I definitely hear him out there a lot,” VanVleet said after Barnes’s pre-season debut Monday against Philadelphia.
“Even better than that, when you do a lot of talking, you’ve got to hold your own so that’s great that he’s speaking up because now the spotlight is going to be on him even more with his teammates, so I think that was great for him and he’s been vocal since he got here.”
Barnes’s impact has already made him a fan favourite even though he’s only been on the court in Toronto once in the pre-season. But it’s also made him a hit with all of his teammates, including 35-year-old veteran Goran Dragić, who has seen a few rookies come and go in his career and seems to have developed a unique relationship with Barnes.
“I mean, he’s hilarious,” Dragić said. “He’s so funny. Good kid. Works hard, you know you’re going to see him to be first in the gym, last to go out. He got that personality that it’s unique, and I really like him. So we hung out a couple of times. And, yeah, he’s got a bright future. I can already see that.”
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