As a rookie, Harrison Barnes had a promising season as an important part of a Golden State Warriors team that was tied 2-2 with the San Antonio Spurs heading into game five of the Western Conference semifinals. However, be it because of Andre Iguodala’s addition changing his role or some other unknown reason, Barnes’s second season was a comparative disaster. Other than on-ball defense and transition scoring — aspects he can be easily effective in due to his physical profile and by playing hard — Barnes was found wanting in all other areas of his game.
There was a big difference in the way in which he was used. Barnes spent 1318 of his 2058 minutes in his first season in five-man lineups that had all of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee in them. Once the Warriors acquired Iguodala, however, head coach Mark Jackson installed the veteran in Barnes’s place and designated the 21-year-old as the leader of his second unit. A second unit is a mostly outdated concept, as it is now widely understood that the best way to manage your rotation is by staggering minutes in order to always have one of your best players on the court and limit the drop-off in production once you substitute. Jackson, however, was not much of a forward thinker in that department.
As Iguodala dealt with injuries that held him to 63 appearances, Barnes still had opportunities in his absences to log 593 minutes with Golden State’s aforementioned most gifted offensive trio. Yet throughout the season, Barnes was mostly cast as the go-to option of dreadful units built of five reserves, lineups that lacked much talent in the way of shooting and passing outside of Draymond Green. With Jarrett Jack gone to Cleveland, the Warriors struggled to find a capable backup point that provided his combination of shot creation and off-ball usefulness, going from Toney Douglas to Jordan Crawford to Steve Blake. To try and circumvent those issues, Jackson emphasized playing through Barnes in the post.
It is actually understandable as to why that was. Barnes has impressive footwork for a wing player and a varied post game, utilizing two-step running jump-hooks, pull-up face-up jumpers off jab-steps, turnaround fadeaway jumpers, and spins left to take it to the basket. He was somewhat effective, too, particularly so when guarded by smaller players, showing good patience using his lower body strength to back them down or create separation. And although Barnes was only an OK scorer in comparison to the rest of the league, ranking in the top 100 on a per-possession basis, his attempts from three- to 16-feet away from the basket – a low percentage area, in general – increased from 31.5 percent in his rookie season to 36.3 percent in year two.
He did, however, only look to score from the post. Scoring off post-ups is a lost art, as increasingly often nowadays, teams post up to draw a double team and kick the ball out to generate a more valuable look from three-point range, moreso than to score. However, Barnes was not that sort of offensive catalyst, passing out of the post on less than a fifth of his post-ups and teammates averaging just 0.727 point per possession off those passes. With defenses keying on him without Curry and Lee in to ignite ball movement, Barnes further struggled scoring out of dribble penetration. He was held to 38% shooting on 223 drives, only able to take less than a quarter of his shots at the basket and held to 59.2% shooting there. Barnes is an incredible athlete who, it figures, would be a much more efficient finisher at the basketball because of this, but he does not consistently play up to his level of athleticism. Barnes’s physical tools are also not enough on their own to get him to the rim; he has a tight handle when dribbling from side to side, looking to dribble the ball low in traffic, but struggles at recognizing the second line of defense, has not shown many instincts passing off the bounce, and also did a lot of catching-and-holding. Of the team’s rotation players, only Thompson, Jermaine O’Neal and Marreesse Speights passed the ball fewer times per game, and those are all also better finishers.
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Every now and again, Barnes will explode off the ground and remind you of the kind of physical specimen he is. However, he was more likely to do so in his first year (his dunk-attempt rate dropped five percentage points as a sophomore), when he was in a better position to attack closeouts with his explosive first step and long strides. Barnes struggled badly as his own shot creator, shooting just 27.8 percent on 97 attempts in isolation and held to 0.62 point-per-possession on 69 attempts off pick-and-rolls, averaging three free throw attempts per 36 minutes.
With regards to his jump shot, Barnes looks like a good shooter when shooting off of the catch. He does not possess a particularly quick trigger, especially in comparison to Curry and Thompson, but he has a smooth release with good mechanics. Even then, though, the ball did not go in as much as it should. Barnes hit only 40 percent of his approximately 192 catch-and-shoot attempts, and while 40 percent of his attempts were from the corner, he hit them only at a 35.5 percent clip. In fact, if you discount his three-point shooting in transition (44 percent on 38 attempts), he hit just 33 percent on jump shots in the half-court.
Barnes played with good effort on defense and leveraged his athleticism to make an impact in individual defense. He held opponents to 33.3 percent shooting in 83 plays defending in isolation, and allowed just 0.87 points per possession in 167 defended pick-and-rolls. His short range quickness is particularly impressive, as he can take an extra step inside to help seal the lane and return to his man with great momentum to intimidate average shooters when the ball is swung to them. However, his off-ball statistics were not as flattering, and he ranked outside the top 45 in defensive rebounding rate among position peers. Overall the Warriors defended better on a per-possession basis without Barnes on the floor, even though he shared a third of his minutes with interior defensive anchor Andrew Bogut.
Barnes, then, needs to have a bounce back season. In his first two years of the league, he has shown flashes of effectiveness at all facets of the game, but he has also shown little in the way of being able to adapt effectively to his own scouting report and developing his skill set. Many players stagnate as sophomores, but Barnes arguably regressed as the team around him improved. He needs to quickly reverse this trend, especially with his extension window opening up next summer. Perhaps, with a new coach and some slightly different personnel, this will happen.
Photo credit: Jeff Gross