Harrison Barnes exhibited great confidence during the 2013 playoffs and it is fair to wonder whether that will result in him becoming a better player once the 2013-14 season opens up.
During his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, he had his ups and downs, which is on par with just about every first-year player. This was mostly evident on offense where he had some really good games and also some bad ones.
During the course of the 2012-13 campaign, Barnes simply did not always maximize his talents while playing with his teammates. He did not move particularly well off the ball and his 43.9 percent conversion rate from the field was less than stellar.
The former Tar Heel was a decent 3-point marksman but did not attempt enough long-range shots to truly be considered a threat from downtown. Consequently, he was not always an ideal fit for a team predicated on floor spacing and 3-point shooting.
There was some hope he could help out the Dubs in isolation situations given his height, but Barnes was fairly average on this front. According to Synergy Sports, the Warriors’ swingman hit 34.6 percent of his isolation field goal attempts in 2012-13.
And yet, a mostly inconsistent rookie season turned into a huge success by the time the postseason arrived. David Lee was forced out of the lineup due to a torn hip flexor and Mark Jackson consequently changed Barnes’ role.
The North Carolina product became Golden State’s small-ball power forward and opened up Pandora’s Box of offensive sets. Barnes took bigger players off the dribble and finished at the rim with great regularity.
Also, he increased his amount of 3-point attempts because bigger defenders were afraid of closing out on him given the ease with which he dribbled past them.
Jackson would not stop just there with his first-year player though. Towards the end of the regular season, the Warriors had begun using Barnes in post-up situations. Here’s an example of Barnes flashing his back-to-basket game against James Harden of the Houston Rockets:
Barnes is actually strong enough to back down players of his own size but he lacks the polish needed to consistently generate the shot he wants in this setting or even off the dribble. That is one of the reasons he only converted 38-of-132 (28.8 percent) mid-range jumpers in his first 81 regular season games per NBA.com.
Whether in the post or off the bounce, Barnes had a knack for attacking his defender but then settling for contested jumpers. Consequently, he was not a very good post player in his debut campaign. The Warriors’ swingman hit 37.6 percent of his shots that originated from post-ups in 2012-13 per Synergy Sports.
During the 2013 postseason however, that became less of an issue. The coaching staff realized that by using Barnes as a screener in the pick-and-roll game they could get defenders to switch assignments.
As a result, Barnes spent parts of the playoffs being defended by players such as Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Tony Parker and Gary Neal. For those of you reading this inattentively, those players are all point guards. Hence, they do not have the length or the strength to guard the 6’8’’ forward.
Watch here as Parker does his best to put the clamps on Barnes:
The former Tar Heel used his strength and a solid drop step to get a layup out of that post-up possession. Watch what happens when Barnes’ defender takes away the baseline and forces him towards his help:
Barnes simply patiently backed down Parker and then took a mid-range jumper that his defender did not have the length to bother. This explains the contrast between his regular season mid-range shooting figures versus his playoff numbers albeit in a smaller sample size.
NBA.com tells us Barnes converted 17-of-35 (48.6 percent) mid-range jump shots in 12 playoff games. He was simply afforded a good deal of opportunities against smaller players and that allowed his offense to flourish. Have a look here at the fade-away jumper he hit over Parker:
It is fairly evident that Barnes thrived as a small-ball power forward and there is no reason to believe that will change going forward. That puts the coaching staff in an interesting position vis-à-vis the role of the former UNC player.
David Lee is arguably the second-best player on the Warriors and thus will start alongside Andrew Bogut. The Aussie’s brilliant defensive showing in the 2013 playoffs helped the Warriors push the San Antonio Spurs further than any other Western Conference opponent did in the postseason.
Bogut is an eraser on defense and also does a good job of setting screens and occasionally feeding cutters. Hence, he will also be in the starting lineup. In other words, Golden State will predominantly play big in 2013-14 unless the front office pulls off a trade that alters the makeup of the roster.
Given that Barnes was inconsistent at small forward but performed well as a stretch four, it would appear he will be headed to the second unit.
Should the Warriors’ playoff star remain in the starting lineup at the expense of Klay Thompson, the Warriors will not be able to post him up or run him through pick-and-rolls with two big men consistently on the floor. It will undoubtedly shrink the court and make it easier for opponents to throw extra defenders at Barnes, something that did not happen in the 2013 playoffs.
However, coming off the bench places him in the exact same role he occupied with the Dubs during their postseason run. Whether he inserts the game for Bogut or Lee, Barnes once again becomes the small-ball power forward.
In that setting he will once again operate in sets that took full advantage of his skillset. The new version of Barnes the Warriors saw at the conclusion of 2012-13 is the one they hope to see going into 2013-14.
Granted, if he has improved his game, it might be incredibly difficult to keep him out of the opening five-man unit. The big winner in all this though is fairly obvious: the Golden State Warriors.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].