It wasn’t long ago when Harrison Barnes was the top recruit out of high school, a “lock” to go first overall, and drawing comparisons to Kobe Bryant.
However, while draft pundits were predicting his NBA future, Barnes struggled at UNC and never really developed into a scorer until Roy Williams started Kendall Marshall at point guard.
There’s a lot to like about Barnes’s game. He’s an excellent athlete, he has great and consistent shooting form, and has all the tools to be successful. Like an IKEA bookcase, Barnes has all the pieces and individual parts of a future superstar/bookcase, but it’s very likely that it will never be put together.
The Black Falcon is an average rebounder, and a poor passer, and a little lackadaisical on defense. There is certainly potential on all three fronts; Barnes has the strength and leaping ability to be a major factor on the boards, and has the length and quickness to be a roadblock on defense. But his only marketable skill – right now, at least – is scoring. And when he hits a slump, his entire game breaks down and isn’t worth having on the court.
Barnes excelled as a number one option throughout high school and college, but on the Warriors, he’s behind Curry, Lee and Thompson in the pecking order. Barnes is the least-polished scorer on a team full of scorers; he doesn’t have the first step of great slashers nor the ferocious handles to create space for his shot. He’s relegated to being a spot-up shooter and cutter, a role that he’s neither suited for nor accustomed to.
Barnes is surprisingly an efficient shooter. He shoots a league average 35% from behind the arc, but an effective 38.4% off catch-and-shoots, good for 52nd in the league. But if Barnes hits a slump, like he is now, he doesn’t have the skill-set to compensate for the missed field goals. Slumps aren’t uncommon in the NBA, but they are painful. To make up for the lost opportunities, the best players draw fouls and get to the free throw line. But not only does Barnes not draw fouls, he also hasn’t shown the requisite toughness to finish through contact in the paint. Too often Barnes simply pulls up for a quick jumper, which has become unwatchable and a source of frustration for Warriors fans and people who like watching basketball. He averages 2.1 attempts per game, and only makes .5 of them, good for a paltry 26.5%. If he take the pull-up jumper out of his arsenal all together, his field goal percentage rises from 39% to 44%, and his eFG% rises from 48.5% to 55%.
But perhaps Barnes simply was never good. His stats are certainly down from last year, but the difference is negligible and can be chalked up to “sample size” and “deviation”. The root of Barnes’s elevated expectations was his performance in the playoffs, where he dominated the Spurs and the Nuggets from the power forward position.
In reality, he was just scoring on an advantageous matchup, and still contributed little outside of points. It’s unrealistic to expect that Barnes can exceed that performance this season, but again, he has the tools to do almost anything in the future.