To say Harrison Barnes’ sophomore season in the NBA hasn’t panned out as the Warriors hoped would be an understatement, and his struggles have consequently thrust him into the midst of a great deal of trade speculation as the Feb. 20 deadline draws ever closer.
Yet, despite the magnitude of Barnes’ struggles, Warriors fans shouldn’t be too quick to write the young forward off. Perhaps most importantly, the return that the Warriors would get for Barnes in a trade would be greatly diminished given the young forward’s uninspired play. Selling him at his lowest point of marketability would bring little in reward, which means it’s reasonable to question how much, if at all, any type of deal could benefit the Dubs.
This partly explains management’s refusal to entertain any discussion revolving around Barnes per Marcus Thompson II of Inside Bay Area:
While fans might be disappointed, the Warriors aren’t biting. General manager Bob Myers would deal Barnes only in a blockbuster that would significantly improve the roster, according to league sources.
Additionally, keeping Barnes on wouldn’t cost the Warriors much. They owe him $2.9 million this year, then just over $3 million in 2014-15 ($3.05 mil. to be exact), according to Basketball-Reference.com. Looking ahead even further, Barnes’ contract includes a team option of $3.87 million in 2015-16. To put that in perspective, the roughly $9.8 million that Barnes would receive over the next three years is significantly less than what Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala will each earn this season, and even a hair under Stephen Curry’s 2013-14 salary.
What really concerns everyone, however, is Barnes’ level of production, but there’s more to it than his 10.50 PER this season. Yes, the results have been ugly, and the performance everyone expected has yet to materialize. But before being too quick to judge, let’s consider the circumstances. Context is especially important in this situation because assessing Barnes isn’t fair without also considering who is generally around him on the court.
When Barnes has come in off the bench, he’s often been on the floor with a point guard who can’t distribute the ball effectively. (Toney Douglas, anyone?) Of course, Douglas is gone, but acknowledging that Barnes has played without a solid ball distributor for a disconcertingly high amount of the time he’s in the game is important. Also, it’s not as though opponents have to fine tune their game plans to stop Marreese Speights, Kent Bazmore, and Draymond Green, Barnes’ frequent counterparts on the court. That’s not a knock against Green; rather, it’s to point out that he’s not quite on the same level as the starters. (Though some would beg to differ.)
The point is that stopping Barnes is much less of a challenge for a defense when the Warriors forward is on the floor with Speights and Co., as opposed to with Curry, Lee, et al.
Then, when Barnes is on the floor with Curry, who averages 9.0 assists per game, the former’s performance improves drastically. Just consider Barnes’ production when he was given a starting role earlier this season. During Andre Iguodala’s 12-game absence, Barnes stepped in and shot a respectable .439 from the floor, a total that far eclipses his .416 overall rate, while averaging a steady 14.5 points per game. He even added 4.8 rebounds per game. Those aren’t superstar numbers by any means, but any NBA team would be thrilled to have a sophomore putting up numbers like that.
Better yet, Barnes has proven that he’s more than capable when it comes to the one aspect of the game that seems to plague the Warriors the most: ball security. Indeed, Barnes turns the ball over only 1.2 times per game, despite averaging 29.3 minutes per contest, which is, by far, the best ratio among players who receive significant minutes on the Dubs. His Turnover Ratio ranks 82nd-best in the NBA, putting him in the top 25th percentile among the 331 qualified NBA players this season.
But despite the lack of turnovers and the promising play when given a starting role, Barnes is still undeniably struggling this season. (His True Shooting percentage of .500 ranks 241st in the NBA.)
Part of the problem is a lack of confidence. I wrote recently about Barnes’ struggles being partly attributable to his unwillingness to score in the paint—rather, his lack of aggressiveness. That’s something that can easily change, especially when considering that he’s shown his ability, especially in the playoffs in 2013, to score around the rim:
Say what you want about Barnes’ inefficiency, but his struggles have done nothing to diminish his athleticism. As long as that freakish ability is still present, the potential exists. It’s up to Mark Jackson, the rest of the coaching staff, and, perhaps most importantly, the veteran players, to bring out the true ability that we’ve seen flashes of in the past, and even this season.
Here’s another thing to consider: Warriors fans undoubtedly remember the trades that have taken place during the last decade or so that have resulted in some of the best players on the team leaving just as quickly as they came. Acquiring Brendan Wright for Jason Richardson and getting Richard Jefferson for Stephen Jackson left a bad taste in the mouthes of Warriors fans.
Could the next failed trade feature Barnes for a washed-up, too-costly veteran who contributes little to the team, à la Jefferson? Perhaps even acquiring someone like Luol Deng (who isn’t a washed-up veteran), with whom Barnes has been linked, isn’t worth the shorter-term benefit at the cost of potentially long-term talent. It could be just another added pain for Warriors fans to see Barnes blossom into a star on another team, so why make the move when the cost of keeping him is so modest?
That’s not to say that past failures should dictate the Warriors’ present (or future) moves. But at the same time, learning from the abundance of mistakes that the Warriors front office has committed throughout the last several years could pay dividends, especially in this case.