The worst thing Harrison Barnes has done in his professional career is perform before a national stage during the postseason.
After a relatively average rookie campaign with a few highlights here and there, Barnes went through what we might qualify as an out of body experience during the 2013 playoffs.
With David Lee injured, the former North Carolina Tar Heel became the starting power forward for the Golden State Warriors and looked like a stud. His play during the playoffs gave fans a taste of the package Barnes has to offer.
His potential seemed limitless at the time and consequently, expectations have become perhaps unrealistic. Bleacher Report’s Simon Cherin-Gordon offered this poignant observation:
There were proclamations that Barnes would be the league’s most improved player in 2013-14, and cries that the 21-year-old should replace Lee as the team’s starting power forward. The hype was such that many wanted to see Lee—the team’s first All-Star in 16 years—traded away.
Barnes’ potential and postseason showing garnered attention to the point that he is now being viewed as one of the top-five young prospects in the last 20 years of Warriors basketball.
It’s worth remembering that the 2013 playoffs were a small sample size in which the Dubs’ swingman happened to excel. He took advantage of the Denver Nuggets in the first round because they failed to adequately stretch their defense towards him.
The San Antonio Spurs respected his 3-point range and instead opted to switch in pick-and-rolls where they stuck Tony Parker on him. He was successful in these isolated settings and the hype took off from there.
There is a growing sentiment that Barnes is either a future All-Star or potentially a superstar in the making even. Mind you, there is little evidence to support this.
Barnes’ role on the Warriors is to score and well, it’s debatable whether he is actually good at it. He is converting a mere 43.7 percent of his shots in his young career, but he has shown some occasional flashes of brilliance.
The UNC product has had games where he has taken defenders off the bounce, posted up players and hit shots from long range. But he mixes those in with a few clunkers where he fails to manufacture double-digit shot attempts.
What’s more, he brings very little else to the table. He does not create plays for others and he is an average rebounder at best. Also, his defensive intensity and focus fluctuate from one contest to the next. Stars produce on a nightly basis and that simply is not the case for Golden State’s sixth man.
His PER (player efficiency rating) has been below average so far in his career, which means that Barnes should be aspiring to be a normal rotation player before even considering a prospective ascension to stardom.
The Kobe Bryant Path
Kobe Bryant started out his career with the Los Angeles Lakers as a second-unit player that saw minimal floor time early. In his first two seasons, the 2-guard actually saw less court time on average than Harrison Barnes has seen so far in his career.
Thus, some might be tempted to think that Barnes will follow into the footsteps of Bryant and start out his career slow before taking off and becoming a super stud. There is a flaw in that line of thinking though: Bryant was already really good in his first two years in the league.
Indeed, the eventual five-time champion was a reserve player because the shooting guard playing ahead of him was an All-Star. Eddie Jones was one of the league’s premier combo guards and consequently, Bryant rode the pine despite exhibiting the ability to handle the ball superbly.
Still, the Black Mamba demonstrated his star potential despite the limited minutes he saw. Through his first two campaigns with Los Angeles, Bryant averaged 20 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per 36 minutes.
Those two years combined produced a PER of 17.1 (the league average is 15.00).
Barnes on the other hand has a player efficiency rating of 10.9 so far in his career as we near the midway point of January. There is nothing to suggest that Barnes has superstar talent other than some of his physical attributes.
Luol Deng Prototype
Luol Deng is one of the league’s best two-way perimeter players. He brings a consistent defensive attitude to the table coupled with a solid but not great offensive repertoire.
Deng excels in one-on-one situations when he does not have to worry about help defenders getting in his way and in addition, he does a good job of knocking down shots to keep defenders honest.
He will rarely if ever blow the opposition away, but he will provide steady contributions with his scoring and assistance on the boards. Interestingly enough, Deng is just as tall as Harrison Barnes and has a couple of pounds on him.
Deng was a little more productive through his sophomore year with the Chicago Bulls than Barnes has been in his time with the Warriors, but the former Tar Heel can certainly work towards one day becoming a Deng prototype.
The former Bulls player was selected to the All-Star team twice and is a great complementary player. He is not the kind of talent to build around, but rather the type of player that should surround a superstar. That is likely where Barnes is headed.
Granted, the UNC product can obviously put all those things aside and one day become a great player provided that he addresses his weaknesses and turns them into strengths. That may take some time though given that he has yet to truly correct some the flaws in his game.
Have a look at the weaknesses that Jonathan Wasserman outlined for NBADraft.net prior to Golden State drafting the small forward:
Offensively Barnes’ most glaring weakness surrounds his inability to create easy shots for himself … His inability to create stems from his lack of an explosive first step … He’s also a work in progress playing on the perimeter since most of his high school career he was a post player … Most of his damage is done on the perimeter, where he struggles to move north/south and attack the rim off the dribble … Too one-dimensional, and hasn’t added an aggressive go-to move from one year to the next … If his outside stroke is off, he has the tendency to disappear and become a non-factor in the game … Physically he lacks the explosiveness to finish at the rim with consistency or ease … Tends to rely on athleticism and shy away from contact on the interior … Too upright defensively making him easy to get by … Generally inconsistent which is enigmatic considering his talents … Needs to add bulk and become more aggressive … He was a no-show in UNC’s final 2 tournament games, which could leave a bad taste in a scouts mouths …
An argument could be made that nothing has truly changed since this post was published in 2012. Thus, Barnes is an attractive piece at the moment because of his potential as opposed to his actual production.
Tapping into potential
Harrison Barnes can do some exciting things on the court and that makes him an interesting player for the Warriors. The team is hoping that his gifts manifest themselves into actual skill that shows up on a nightly basis and helps the Dubs win games.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Warriors’ top reserve is one of the best assets in the league precisely because of what he could one day become as well as the cheap figure at which Golden State employs him.
Per Sham Sports, he will pocket a cool $9.8 million roughly between now and the end of 2015-16 season. This is one of the reasons that teams could potentially contemplate acquiring him provided that the right deal presents itself.
For all the talk about potential, he does spark some interest around the league. Warriors World reached out to a few writers from sites of other teams to see what they thought of the Golden State’s backup forward and here is what James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom had to offer:
At 21-years old and just over a 100 career games played, it’s early to pass judgment on Barnes. Like Klay Thompson, advanced statistics haven’t exactly been kind to Barnes early in his career, but that may be a function of Golden State’s style of play more than anything else. What I like about Barnes is that he is a big, physical athlete that isn’t afraid to mix it up a little bit. And I like that early in his career, he is being asked to perform a specific role in the Warriors offense that matches his skill set.
With so many scoring options, the Warriors don’t need Barnes to be more than he is right now. But I suspect that he has a lot more to offer than what we have seen to date. For now, Barnes needs to concentrate on becoming more efficient as a scorer, rebound the ball better and continue to grow as a defender.
Projecting what a player can become is a tricky proposition because we stop seeing what he is and instead look at what many believe he should be. Andre Iguodala suffered through this during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers while Josh Smith has seemingly dealt with this this issue throughout the entirety of his career.
Barnes might be destined to become a player that never surpasses expectations simply because they are too high. That does not mean that he will not be a good NBA player, but rather that his path might take him there and nowhere further.
We should all accept Barnes for what he is: A second-year rotation player trying to figure out how he fits best with the Warriors.
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