Toronto’s Scottie Barnes captures NBA rookie of the year honours

Toronto's Scottie Barnes captures NBA rookie of the year honours
Chants of "Scottie! Scottie! Scottie!" rained down at Scotiabank Arena Saturday as Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes was named the NBA's rookie of the year.

Chants of “Scottie! Scottie! Scottie!” rained down at Scotiabank Arena Saturday as Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes was named the NBA’s rookie of the year.

News of Barnes’ award broke less than an hour prior to tipoff in the Raptors’ 110-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. He had missed Games 2 and 3 of the best-of-seven playoff series with a sprained ankle and was cleared to play just before the elimination game began.

A pre-game ceremony honouring Barnes drew joyous applause from Toronto fans excited about both the award and his return to the Raptors’ lineup. After the game, Barnes said he was touched by the crowd’s reaction.

“They’re family,” he said. “They’re cheering me on and supporting me throughout the whole year.

“I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s a real family.”

The No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft, Barnes is the third Raptor to win rookie honours after Damon Stoudamire (1996) and Vince Carter (1999).

Barnes learned that he had won the award during a video session before Raptors practice on Friday. Carter came on the screen and said that only three Toronto players had ever won and started listing them off in order. Barnes’ teammates mobbed him before Carter could point at the camera and say “you.”

“I was wondering why’s he talking to us about it, it was just going on and I was starting to realize,” said Barnes. “Of course, it was a goal of mine all year to try to win it but I really tried not to overthink it, tried to do too much.

“I just did my role and do what I had to do when it helps us win as well.”

Carter’s video message to Barnes, the Raptors’ reaction to the announcement, and a message from Stoudamire were all featured in the video tribute at Scotiabank Arena. Barnes stood at centre court during the pre-game ceremony and Raptors president Masai Ujiri presented him with the rookie of the year trophy to a loud ovation from the fans.

“We are incredibly proud of Scottie, and are thrilled and grateful that his hard work has been recognized with this honour,” said Ujiri in a statement. “What you see on the court is exactly who Scottie is: enthusiastic. Joyful. Athletic. Skilled, and a winner.

“We — and our fans — loved seeing his development through this season, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Barnes stepped forward and held the award over his head to an explosion of cheers from the Raptors faithful, hyping the crowd up ahead of the critical game.

Pascal Siakam said that seeing Barnes honoured gave an emotional lift to Toronto after it lost to Philadelphia 104-101 in overtime in Game 3 on Wednesday.

“We’ve been losing a little bit so obviously it’s not really a fun atmosphere out there,” said Siakam. “I think being proud of a teammate, being happy for your teammate, knowing the hard work that they put in to be able to have that type of recognition, it gave a good mood to the team.”

Barnes was a game-time decision for the Raptors on Saturday, with head coach Nick Nurse saying that the rookie sensation had to pass a fitness test before being cleared to play.

It didn’t take long for Barnes to show that he was, indeed, healthy.

The crowd rose to its feet again with 6:11 left in the first quarter as it was announced that Barnes was checking into the game, replacing OG Anunoby. He made an immediate impact, grabbing a defensive rebound on the first possession he was on the court.

Barnes had two points — both from free throws — and five rebounds in the first half, helping the Raptors to a 54-49 lead by intermission. He finished with a team-high 11 rebounds and six points in 25:34 of play.

“We got a great boost off the bench from Scottie with his rebounding and just his presence,” said Nurse.

The 20-year-old Barnes averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds on 49.2 per cent shooting in his first season with the Raptors. He averaged 35.4 minutes per game, first among all rookies, and was the only rookie to rank in the top five in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill/The Canadian Press

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