With their recent success and wealth of young talent, the Golden State Warriors are considered a team on the rise. But despite Stephen Curry’s star-power, how far they rise may be dictated by the development of Harrison Barnes. Barnes, the karmic reward for Charles Jenkins’ 2011-12 late season heroics, David Lee’s “unfortunate” injury, and most definitely not shameless, calculated, and committed tanking, has the highest ceiling of any non-Curry player on the roster.
Though he may not realize it, Barnes is extremely athletic, as Nikola Pekovic can confirm. While his athleticism may be his greatest asset, Barnes rarely appears to be fully engaging his athletic ability. Offensively, he will often resort to his nonchalant, rehearsed and entirely inefficient mid-range jumper over a drive to the rim. Barnes’ lack of aggression with the ball is further accented off the ball. He tends to disappear for lengthy stretches, and rarely actively puts himself in position to affect the game.
Barnes’ general lack of aggression is not inexcusable. While his playoff performance may suggest otherwise, he was often the fourth or fifth scoring option for the Warriors, and rarely was required to create offensively. However, to maximize both his and the Warriors’ potential, Barnes will likely need to expand his role offensively, and develop the skills that allow him to do so.
The problem facing the Warriors, a problem they likely do not mind having, is that established young talent already occupies much of the role Barnes may seek to grow into. Curry and Klay Thompson appear set to be the Warriors’ primary offensive weapons for years to come, barring any core changing trade. Barnes’ offensive attack would likely be different from Thompson or Curry’s. Offensively, the ideal Barnes repeatedly attacks the rim, taking advantage of his athleticism and finishing ability and draws help defenders, opening Thompson and Curry.
Barnes’ ability to fulfill this role is limited by his currently no better than mediocre dribbling ability. He often appears very rigid when moving on the court. He is a capable dribbler, but lacking the ability to quickly react to his defenders movements, he is restricted to committing to a move or destination and picking up or clearing out if he cannot beat his man.
Thompson suffers from the same dribbling deficiencies as Barnes. Both players’ potential can only be maximized if they develop their dribbling ability, and both will likely spend countless hours attempting to improve their handle during the offseason. The potential impact of this practice is unknown, and the Warriors may struggle to find sufficient in-game situations for each player to develop their abilities.
Now that they expect to contend for a playoff spot, the Warriors will likely not be able to dedicate regular season possessions to Barnes and Thompson’s development. Though Jarrett Jack may think otherwise, the Warriors are at their best offensively with the ball in Curry’s hand, and the margin for error next season may be smaller than Warriors fans expect.
It is difficult to predict Thompson and Curry’s impact on Barnes’ development. While they may limit his growth, Barnes could also have an experience similar to Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. With Curry and Thompson as an offensive safety net, Barnes may be able to expand his game without being immediately relied upon to support the team, and can refine his dribbling skills without having to compromise his development for immediate team performance.
The development of Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and the Warriors’ young core is expected, but for the Warriors to approach a high level of contention a core similar to the current one, several players will have to make drastic improvements.