As the collective fan base euphoria settled after the Golden State Warriors improbably signed Andre Iguodala, supporters tried to understand what this addition meant for Harrison Barnes. Coming off an impressive playoff performance, everyone around the league believed Barnes had as much star potential as anyone from the 2012 draft class.
As a cruel reward for his contributions, he was replaced in the starting lineup. NBA enthusiasts understand that adding Iguodala to this squad boosts their awareness and lets everyone know Golden State is in the mix, but adding significant players cause a ripple effect throughout the whole locker room.
Barnes has not lit the world on fire in his second season, contrary to what most predicted. Is Iguodala to blame for the scuffles of this second year pro? And if so, what does that imply in terms of Harrison’s future with the Warriors?
A simple thought to try and understand the effect of Iguodala on Barnes is to compare Harrison’s growth last year to this year. Per 36 minutes, Barnes is scoring 13.7 points this season compared to 13.1 during his rookie campaign. That growth is not as high as one would like to see. Iguodala’s arrival gave Harrison an incredible opportunity to be the lead shot creator in the Warriors’ second unit and really assert his dominance over an opponent’s weaker lineup. So far, his scoring is around what is was when he was a starter last season, which is a bit disappointing. Iguodala relegating Barnes to the bench, in theory, could have improved his overall scoring, but so far it has remained about constant year over year.
The ongoing debate around this topic is Barnes value coming off the bench. Some players perform better as energy off the bench rather than starting. Manu Ginobli has come off the bench his entire career and seems to feed off becoming the spark for the second unit. Perhaps Harrison is not someone who is comfortable coming off the bench. Let’s explore this idea.
This season, Barnes has spent time starting and coming off the bench. Iguodala’s hamstring injury allowed Barnes to start 15 games this season. He was placed in the same role as last season; therefore, we would expect him to be a more efficient player in this role. When starting for the Warriors, Barnes has a -7.6 NetRtg compared to a 5.5 NetRtg coming off the bench. Andre’s role as a starter has pushed Barnes to a bench role causing people to believe Barnes’ ability is stunted going forward. However, Harrison has been a more efficient player coming off the bench than when he has started this season. This gives reason to believe that Iguodala’s arrival hasn’t had much impact on Barnes’ growth. I believe he is simply being misused.
As soon as Iguodala arrived, everyone simply penciled Barnes into the backup small forward position. Barnes had a mediocre rookie regular season primarily playing small forward. His substantial impact came in the playoffs when David Lee became injured and forced Mark Jackson to slide Barnes into a small-ball power forward role. This helped him eclipse 20 points twice in the playoffs and establish himself as a promising young prospect. Not having Barnes play power forward is a disservice to him and the team. His ability to extend defenses with his jump shot, especially with Lee’s midrange game becoming non-existent, makes the Warriors that much harder to defend. With Barnes at the four, the Warriors present the opponent with exceptional floor spacing and four 3-point threats. This situation is very difficult to defend for an opposing team.
It’s difficult to know if head coach Mark Jackson recognizes this situation. One part of me believes Jackson is stubborn and is reluctant to sacrifice size for a smaller lineup. The other part thinks that he understands Barnes should be playing power forward, but Lee’s contract forces Jackson’s hand. Having Lee on the bench would mean $18 million not contributing starter minutes. Economically, that would be a bad situation (See Amar’e Stoudemire). It seems like Lee is more of a culprit for Barnes second year struggles than Iguodala.
Lee has been playing very well recently. He has regained his double-double form that made him an All-Star last season. Also, the Warriors’ opening day starting lineup is still destroying teams, posting a NetRtg of 18.0, so the team is still performing with Lee in the lineup. However, it is frustrating to watch the Warriors believing players could be used more efficiently, if not for financial concerns.
Harrison Barnes becoming a heavily used power forward makes him a dangerous and unique player. At the moment, he is not being used in that fashion.
All data is through 12/26/2013 and is provided by NBA.com