Harrison Barnes and Paul George are both integral parts of their respective teams’ successes this year. Both spend time at the small forward position (though George also plays a big shooting guard sometimes). Both stand 6’8. But when comparing these two promising young professionals, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
George had a phenomenal season, entering superstar conversations as the most dynamic player on an Indiana Pacers team that nearly ousted the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Barnes was serviceable all year, showing flashes of insane athleticism (Shout out to Nikola Pekovic). But in all reality, he wasn’t the star George was, but he could be in the future.
So let’s compare.
Statistics will show a lot of the differences. George rocked a 16.84 PER this year, on 17.1 points per game shooting 41.9 percent from the field. He also shot 36.2 percent from behind the arc, which is perfectly respectable. He added 7.6 rebounds per game.
Barnes finished with a PER of 11.08, scoring 9.2 points per game on 43.9 percent from the field (he has a slight edge there). He brought down 4.1 rebounds per game this year as well.
George played quite a bit more minutes, logging an average of 37.6 minutes each game compared to Barnes’ 25.4. All over, George had the better year. But when we say that, we have to take into account a couple of things. One, the experience disparity: this was Geroge’s third year in the NBA. If you compare Barnes’ stats to those from George’s rookie season, the argument could be made that Barnes played better in his first season.
So as far as current comparison goes, George is the better player. The intriguing implication, however, is can Barnes become the same player…or better?
The easy answer is yes. He has the athleticism and the shooting ability, and given that most of his plays are dunks, feeds and jumpers, he may already have the edge in shooting. He needs to maintain that, especially since 43.9 percent from the field on a team with a jump shot philosophy is nothing to sneeze at.
There’s a reason why this kid (wait, am I allowed to say that? He is only two and a half months older than me…but I digress) was the seventh overall pick in his draft class. What, then, does Barnes need to do? He needs to put more emphasis on his driving game because he moves well and already does an excellent job of it when he makes the attempts.
That being said, he defers to jump shooting too much, and he’s too fast and too well-sized at his position to not develop a strong slashing game. Who else do the Warriors have as a slasher? Answer: Brandon Rush. That’s not enough. He’s a very good shooter, and that’s a fantastic weapon for him to have. But that’s not what his team needs from him because Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry do more than enough of that kind of offense, especially given Thompson’s deficiencies at the rim.
That’s something George has made a big part of his game, and it’s a big part of the reason that Indiana was so successful this year. If Barnes can make that his primary skill, he could match and surpass a rising star.
So, when we compare these two young players, there are a lot of things to take into account. They have different styles, with George’s being the one Barnes should look to adopt, but the point remains that statistically and tangibly, Paul George has the edge…for now.