Explaining Harrison Barnes’ Sophomore Slump
By: Corey Smith
As the 2012 NBA Draft approached, many Warriors fans were hoping to fill the need at small forward with one of the two options: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from Kentucky or Harrison Barnes from North Carolina. While many scouts were critical of Barnes’ lack of aggressiveness, the sophomore had lead the ACC in scoring the previous two seasons and was named Second team All-American by the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) during his second season with the Tar Heels.
After a relatively successful first season where Barnes was named NBA All-Rookie First Team, a breakout playoff performance where Barnes averaged 16 points and 6+ rebounds had Warriors’ fans excited for his second season. However, the acquisition of Andre Iguodala, presence of David Lee, and emergence of Draymond Green all played a role in what most considered a disappointing sophomore season for Barnes.
In my mind, there are two reasons for the drop in offensive production. He wasn’t playing with the first unit as often, so production slipped and since he was playing with the second unit and a focal point for defenses, he ended up taking more difficult shots during his second season.
Production with the “starters”:
I’ll begin by saying I don’t believe in putting a full 5-man second unit on the floor. I understand the goal of getting synergy with a second unit and keeping starters fresh, especially given Curry and Thompson finished 9th and 22nd in minutes while the other three starters missed a combined 47 games during the regular season. For this analysis, I’m going to look at the drop in production of Harrison with the starting unit. Barnes’ minutes only increased from 25 mpg to 28 mpg while points, rebounds, and assists didn’t see a drastic increase between his first and second year. In my mind, the most noticeable changes were decreases in FG, 3pt and FT percentage. Further, the increase in shot attempts (especially from the 3 point line) are generally representative of the year Barnes had. He took more shots and more threes, while making a smaller percentage.
As it related directly to Barnes, his numbers dropped partially because of his teammates on the court. Let’s first look at his production at the SF with the rest of the starters:
In the 2013-2014 season, the five-man unit of Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Harrison Barnes-David Lee-Andrew Bogut played together 8.75 minutes per game compared to 14 minutes per game in 2012-2013. Unsurprisingly, that unit was more productive in almost every offensive statistical category during Barnes’ rookie season. When looking at a four man unit of Curry-Thompson-Lee-Bogut, there are few statistical discrepancies between the last two years other than +/- (the Andre Iguodala statistic). In short, the statistical difference can be related directly to Barnes’ second season. The biggest factor was a lack of chemistry (due to the lack of minutes) followed by the evident decrease in confidence that resulted in Barnes’ averaging 6 ppg in March 2014.
Now, let’s take a brief look at what most people considered the second unit in 2013-2014: Blake-Crawford-Barnes-Green-O’Neal. That unit shot 37.5% from the field, 29.6% from three, while producing a negative +/- while being the 7th most common played lineup during the regular season. In my mind, playing a full five man second unit more than five minutes per game is not a recipe for success, proven by statistical and visual evidence.
Touches and shot attempts:
The increased defensive attention with the second unit resulted in more difficult shots being taking throughout the season. Barnes’ shots attempted in the restricted area decreased from 237 to 179 while his shooting percentage also decreased from 63% to 55%. Without the presence of Curry and Thompson to stretch the court, Barnes was forced to take more statically difficult shots. In his rookie year, Barnes took 246 non-restricted area 2s. That number jumped to 310 this past season while his shooting percentage on those shots did increase from 30.4% to 34.2%. While an increase is promising, it’s not offset by the lack of layups and dunks. During his rookie season, Barnes made 155 baskets inside five feet compared to 108 this last year. Barnes’number of assisted baskets (a fantastic indication of an easy or open shot) also dropped from 175 to 165. During his rookie year, 131 of Barnes’ baskets came from an assist with the previously mentioned starting unit. That number dropped to 86 this past year.
All of these things make sense when you think about it logically. If he’s not playing with the first unit, he’ll receive more attention defensively, take more tough shots because he was asked to produce with the second unit.
What can we take away from these numbers?
In my eyes, Barnes’s second season was exactly what I would have expected considering the circumstances. He is, generally, a player that benefits from the talent around him. When teams are doubling Curry, the surrounding players benefit. Barnes benefited some during his rookie season (although not as many teams were doubling), and not as much during this past year because they weren’t on the floor together as much (1674 minutes in 2012-2013 and 1331 in 2013-2014). Barnes also got a limited number of isolation touches on the elbow (.7 per game) and the post (.8 per game). While I’m not a fan of the isolation offensive (from the wing or early post entry), an increased number of touches would probably have resulted in more productivity offensively. Thinking about his physical ability to elevate over a guard or blow past a big, I’m surprised he wasn’t given the opportunity on a more regular basis to take his guy one-on-one.
What can we expect going forward?
Steve Kerr has touched briefly on spacing and offensive flow and I expect a bounce back season for Barnes. I think he’ll get more minutes with the top six or seven players (and subsequently less minutes with the second unit). I think his physical abilities need to be emphasized more with certain matchups. There is a time and place for iso-heavy offense and Barnes is the type of player that can take advantage of a mismatch.
A coach’s final thought: The jury is still out on the type of NBA player Harrison Barnes will become. If he puts in the necessary work during the offseason, I still see a very high ceiling.