TORONTO – Scottie Barnes has built a reputation on and off the court for being energetic in his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors.

Beloved by his teammates for his selfless play and positive attitude — often emphasized with a hug — Barnes will make his NBA post-season debut on Saturday when the Raptors visit the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their first-round series. But is Barnes, only 74 games into his NBA career, ready for the grind of the playoffs?

“I got a big hug from him this morning, if that’s any indication,” said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse with a laugh. “Yep, he’s good to go into Game 1.”

Barnes is, predictably, excited to be in the post-season. The 20-year-old said he and his Raptors teammates have been working all season to get to this point.

“I’m happy for my first playoffs with people I love to be around,” he said at OVO Centre, Toronto’s practice facility, on Friday. “I’m just excited. It’s been a good season.

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“We worked hard, we prepared throughout the season, to get to where we’re at. You’ve just got to keep going.”

Barnes is a front-runner for the NBA rookie of the year award after averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists this season. His strong play has impressed the Sixers, with head coach Doc Rivers telling reporters on Thursday that Barnes is “amazing.”

“He was good on film, but he’s way better in person,” said Rivers in Philadelphia. “If you saw Scottie Barnes and didn’t know he was a rookie, you would swear he’s been in the league for 10 years.”

Raptors forward OG Anunoby said that it’s not the quality of Barnes’s play that has impressed him, but how far the rookie has come in just one season.

“He’s gotten better as the year’s gone on. He’s eager to learn … he’s not afraid,” said Anunoby.

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Nurse agreed with Anunoby’s assessment of Barnes, adding that he expects the young Toronto forward will continue to grow in the playoffs.

“We just saw him getting stronger, more physical, more energetic, more hugs,” said Nurse. “(He) just kept getting stronger as we went here, and that is motivation, that’s success.

“Its success, leading to more motivation, all those kinds of things I think that he embodies.”

According to Barnes, playing has been his best education this season.

“I’m getting better every single day, working on my reads, finding the X-outs (defensive rotation), doing different things like that,” said Barnes. “Learning more defensive schemes from different teams.

“This helps you be prepared because a lot of teams run the same stuff, but they have different stuff that goes with it, but most of the stuff is the same. So I just recognize it and then learn from that.”

Game 1 tips off at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday and Game 2 is also in Philadelphia on Monday night.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press