When evaluating a young player, especially a rookie, one must be extremely careful. Players might hit their stride early, impressing everyone from scouts to fans to opposing coaches. Conversely, and the more realistic of the scenarios, players will struggle early, forcing doubt to cloud their stock as they try to find their place within the league.
With that said, 63 games into a season should be enough time to at least have a logical guess as to what exactly a player’s outlook is going to be. There will always be exceptions, but coaches, players and fans alike would like to know what they have with a given player.
More than three quarters into their rookie seasons, we have a good understanding of what the top picks in the draft are, what they’re ceiling is or how they will affect that given situation they’re in.
We know Anthony Davis is on his way towards becoming an interior force, we know that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — albeit a terrible jump shot — will serve as a quality starting forward for years to come, we know that John Wall and Bradley Beal will be a great scoring tandem even if the Wizards can’t defend anybody, we know that Dion Waters compliments Kyrie Irving very nicely, we know that Thomas Robinson is an athletic freak who is still very much struggling given his unlikely scenario (top-5 pick getting traded) and we know that Damian Lillard is a franchise point guard.
This leaves me to the Warriors and their rookie forward Harrison Barnes.
Like his starting counterpart Klay Thompson, Barnes has become an enigma of sorts. The Warriors drafted Barnes for his athleticism and polished offensive game. Fine, but we’ve only seen only a slight glimpse of that this season. Defensively, especially as of late, Barnes is struggling keep up with his defenders on the perimeter and averages the same number of rebounds as Stephen Curry. He wasn’t drafted for his defense, but given Barnes’ athleticism the defensive prowess one would expect with that size has been noticeably absent.
Despite the Black Falcon soaring every other game, Barnes has looked tentative on the offensive end. He often looks surprised when he gets the ball, as evident in the crucial play down the stretch in last night’s game when Barnes had the chance to tie or take the lead, instead clanking a baseline jumper.
Looking at his season long shot chart, that spot on the floor is actually his best, shooting a combined 12-for-26 (46%). Still, the bigger picture lies within Barnes’ overall contributions on the offensive end. He’s had a shaky jumper all season and doesn’t drive to the basket with enough consistency to warrant any type of “go-to” status. It’s early, but the signs aren’t so re-assuring.
When do we worry?
Barnes has been receiving starter minutes since the first game of the season, and as we’re now inching closer towards the playoffs do we see any significant improvement since then? One ability that Barnes continues to show is his ability to finish around the rim. This skill-set — absent from both Curry and Thompson — is a refreshing sight and something the rookie forward should do more of. If that means less jumpers, then so be it. During an intense playoff chase, Barnes shouldn’t be working on his jumper at this point, and even though many of those are inevitable, Barnes should still be looking to drive first (getting to the line also) and shooting later.
He’s a frustrating prospect simply because we know he can be so much more. The skills are there, the execution isn’t. For every high flying dunk or impressive up and under in the paint, there is a missed mid-range jumper or clanked open three. Is it so much a “rookie wall” as it is sheer inconsistency? The Warriors hope it’s just the infamous “rookie wall” (as each Warriors rookie has hit), but if the Warriors have any chance at winning playoff games Barnes will have to play to his strengths and put himself in positions where his failures won’t be pre-dominant.
It’s early, it’s 63 games into his rookie season and he’s been thrown into the fires by starting every game of his first season in the league. Harrison Barnes’ career is just beginning, and so is the criticism. The glimpses of future greatness are there, but many keep wondering if those will be just that, glimpses. In a season where the playoffs are now expected from this team, Barnes must realize who he is now before he can improve on what can come later.