The Golden State Warriors would not have made it out within an eyelash of the Western Conference Finals without significant contributions up and down the roster. However, a case can be made that the growth of Harrison Barnes was the largest reason why the Warriors flourished when many thought they couldn’t. Therefore, one could say that the progression of Barnes’ game is the significant theme going into an offseason with many question marks for an up and coming team.
The bigger question, though, is just where will Barnes’ game end up in the future.
During the regular season, Barnes’ numbers were rather pedestrian. But his numbers do resemble another up and comer in the league who was integral to his teams success. Their two season statistics are listed below with Barnes on top.
Comparison of the Barnes and the other player are very similar in the regular season. Granted, this other players’ team played a bit slower pace, but, the minutes are similar and the overall production is identical.
In the playoffs, the two players also had significant injuries that led to their roles being increased during their playoff runs. Both players become responsible for much more than just filling a role. They became primary options in the offensive and defensive schemes. Here are their statistics side by side for their respective playoff runs.
Again, the two players’ statistics are very similar. Remember, playoff basketball usually results in slower pace due to the ability to scout other teams’ plays and tendencies. We all saw the pace of the Denver Nuggets slow down as the series went on, as well as the Spurs series when Games 5 and 6 resulted in the games being very bogged down and ugly. So, the comparison of these two players during the playoff run is more apples to apples.
Who is the mystery player? Drum roll…..Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler.The same Jimmy Butler who become so important to the Bulls that he had to play every minute three straight games during their postseason.
Butler is heralded as one of the up and coming players in the league due to his versatility and athleticism. He has also made Luol Deng expendable, which is no easy task. He is also in his second season in the NBA. What does this mean for Barnes?
Well, it means he is going to be more than serviceable in the league. Next year, you should his stats climbs in shooting and free throw percentage as he becomes more adjusted to the rigors of the pro game. More importantly, you should see his attempts go up a tick as well for multiple reasons.
First, he should be more comfortable in the offense. So, in areas where he differed or was reluctant to shoot in his rookie year, should now become times where he knows he must shoot. In addition, the experience of the playoffs has given him the confidence he lacked during the regular season. He became a viable go-to option during stretches of games and that should continue going into next year.
But, there are a couple of issues that may hinder Barnes’ inevitable climb. The first being the presence of two players in the position he flourished at during the postseason–the power forward spot. If David Lee does not get hurt, are we even having the discussions regarding the Warriors’ great run? Probably not. For everything David Lee is, he is not the mismatch nightmare that Barnes is for traditional power forwards.
The athleticism, quickness and shooting range Barnes possesses coupled with his size and strength, creates early 2000 Lamar Odom-type match-up problems for other teams.
The other is Carl Landry. This may be a blessing for the Warriors, and they do not know it. The best lineup the Warriors had on the floor during the playoffs did not include Landry. It was a four “smalls” and Andrew Bogut. This lineup spread out the floor and gave Barnes the driving lanes to take the large power forwards off the dribble or create mis-matches against opposing point guards.
For everything Landry is, he is a flawed basketball player that can be replaced by giving Barnes more minutes in that slot. In addition, Barnes has the ability to guard positions one to three now, and perhaps power forwards in the future (sounds like what Jimmy Butler does for Chicago).
For Barnes, the conversation about his future is an interesting one because it would not have been possible without David Lee’s injury. It may lead to more small-ball lineups next year for the Dubs because they proved they could still rebound and defend with the current personnel. Therefore, Barnes’ numbers should see a decent hike next season to about 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one block with the percentages resembling 47 percent on field goals 40 percent three-pointers and 80 percent on free throws. But, these increases will only occur if Landry is not retained, which he shouldn’t be, for multiple reasons, but that’s another matter.
It should be the Warriors’ priority to bet on Barnes for the franchise’s future, much the same way that they did during the playoff run, if they want to take the next step.
The best comparison I can give is how James Harden developed. It took Harden four years before he came the bearded beast he is now, and he doesn’t have the physical gifts or pedigree of Barnes. Therefore, season No. 2 should be a transition season to season three where we could all be seeing the Warriors led to the NBA Finals by their own trio of superstar in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.