Harrison Barnes was the number one college prospect of 2010. Kawhi Leonard was the No. 48 prospect. Barnes went to the University of North Carolina. Leonard went to San Diego State. Barnes was a pre-season All-American before he played a minute for his Tar Heels. Leonard earned his accolades being named to the All-Mountain West Conference team as freshman. Barnes went in the top 10 of the NBA draft. Leonard went 15th overall.
But early on in their respective NBA careers, Leonard is the superior small forward. Leonard, now in his third season with the Spurs, posses a lot of qualities that Barnes lacks. More importantly though, Leonard’s Spurs allow the young small forward to play a specific role: defend and shoot threes.
Leonard has found his niche on the Spurs, and Gregg Popovich maximizes Leonard. Leonard, thanks to his 7 foot 3 inch wingspan and 9.8-inch by 11.3-inch hands, is an elite wing defender. He is able to guard LeBron James as well as Chris Paul. He has developed a corner three-point shot and is a capable offensive player in the Spurs system. He averages a mere 12.3 points per game, but collects 6.3 rebounds and dishes out 1.8 assists per game.
During the Warriors playoff run last year, Barnes looked to be an emerging star averaging 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 12 games, but this season, Barnes has looked lost for stretches at a time.
This March, Barnes has been especially horrific. He is averaging only 6.5 points and is shooting 21 percent from three in 26.8 minutes of actions. Thursday night when the Warriors defeated the lowly Bucks, Barnes shot a dreadful 0-of-7, followed by a 1-of-6 showing against the Spurs on Saturday. He has especially struggled this season coming off the bench. Even after what is almost a full season coming off the bench, he does not look comfortable. Barnes was injured at the start of the season and it seems that those missed games on really set Barnes back. Don’t get me wrong, he has played well in spurts and on occasional nights, but especially compared to Leonard, Barnes is yet to feel comfortable in his role.
Barnes is a good defender because of his long 6 foot 8 inch frame, but he is an inconsistent shooter and needs the ball in his hands to make a true offensive impact. Leonard, however, has developed into one of the best-corner three-point shooters in the NBA and seldom takes more than three or four consecutive dribbles.
Barnes, only in his second season, still has time to develop into one of the best small forwards in the league. But for right now, the Spurs’ forward is on another level.