By: Yama Hazheer
It’s been easy for Warrior fans to omit Harrison Barnes from their minds, but you can’t blame them. With Stephen Curry rising to the occasion night in and night out and Klay Thompson flourishing at rates no one expected, it’s easy to forget about the former 7th pick Golden State had in 2012.
Barnes clearly had an atrocious sophomore season in the Bay Area for the Warriors. It doesn’t take an intelligent basketball mind to see why Barnes significantly regressed in 2013-14. Despite playing superb during the 2014 playoffs, Barnes was benched in favor of veteran Andre Iguodala the season after. Barnes had never come off the bench at any basketball level at that time of his career, resulting into dreadful play on the court.
He never complained about it to the media, the coaches, or his teammates however you could tell that Barnes was not thrilled about his role with the Warriors. Seldom do you lose playing time when you perform exceptionally well, especially in the postseason. His usage rate went from 17.7 to just 16.8 percent. His PER of 11.0 in his rookie season fell to under 10.0 in his sophomore year. Barnes started all 81 games he played in during his first season, but only started in 24 the season after.
Granted, Barnes played a few more minutes in his second year as opposed to his first, but he was coming off the bench with the secondary unit. There was no true ball handler on the court during many stints, which most likely caused Barnes frustration. He could not create his own shot at a consistent level, yet. Having Jordan Crawford and a disgruntled Steve Blake as the primarily “playmakers” made matters worse.
Barnes concluded his sophomore season averaging 9.5 points per game on a horrid 39 percent shooting from the field. His free-throw percentage also went down from 75 percent to 71. His defense was still there, but he looked lost on the floor at times because of his absent confidence. He ended the regular season with a 30-point game against the Denver Nuggets when most of the Warrior starters rested for the playoffs.
Not looking as fearless in his second trip to the postseason, Barnes struggles continued in the first round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. He regressed mightily, going from an impressive 16.1 points in his rookie season during the playoffs down to just 7.9 points per game his second time around. The Warriors desperately needed someone to fill the void of scoring because of the Clippers extra pressure on Curry, and Barnes was unable to take advantage when the team needed him.
Fast forward to 2014-15 and Harrison Barnes looks resembles the Harrison Barnes of old. Smiling on the court, playing hard-nosed defense, and making most of the opportunities he gets when he touches the ball, Barnes is now playing with pride. His averages have gone up; he scores 10.4 points per game while shooting an improved 49.7 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc. He is also rebounding a generous six times per contest.
Barnes athleticism and defensive skill keeps him relevant for the Warriors and his jumper is improving. His corner 3-pointer is one of the best in basketball right now and he can attack the basket with more ease now than in years prior. His rebounding has improved a ton, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Barnes combines his unique athleticism with his timing, strength to box out other small forwards, and tenacity to get above his opponent for the ball. Now in his third year, experience and higher basketball IQ is also playing a role for Barnes’ rebounding improvement.
People fail to remember Barnes is only three months away from being 23. There are rookies in the league that are older than him. At just 22, Barnes has already established himself as a role player on the NBA’s most elite team. When Klay Thompson was 22 years old, he averaged 16.6 points but on 42 percent shooting from the field. He could not create his own shot at the time and was nowhere near the defender he is today. In no way am I suggesting that Barnes will surpass Thompson’s level in the league or even reach it, but Barnes deserves some patience.
He’s not the best scorer, rebounder, or passer on the team but Barnes is showing flashes of what the team hoped they would get when they drafted the 6’8 small forward in 2012. He has become one of the more versatile players on the roster playing not only in his natural position, but also the role of a stretch-four and even center at times when Steve Kerr wants to go small. His maturity and calm demeanor resembles most of the team and it’s definitely something the Warriors can continue to build on.
Draymond Green was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft while Barnes was in the lottery; one has prevailed as a steal while the latter has been labeled a bust by some analysts. It’s unfair to claim Barnes a bust right now, even though he has not lived up to his expectations. He has been the subject of many trade rumors too, which is obviously something difficult for any player to deal with, especially with someone as young as Barnes.
There used to be a popular debate among the Warriors faithful about Barnes and Thompson and who the Warriors should keep on their roster in the future. Thompson is clearly the better player at the moment, but that does not necessarily indicate that Barnes won’t be here in the long term. The potential is still there for Barnes, even after the brutal season endured last year. He won’t ever be LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but Golden State should continue to invest in Harrison Barnes. His potential is still there and he can be a key to the Warriors success for years to come.
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