Before Golden State
During the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, amidst the chaotic rebuilding era, the Golden State Warriors finished the year with a dismal 23-43 record, guaranteeing them the seventh pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
The draft class that year contained massive potential, with players like Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard already emerging as All-Stars this past season. The Warriors selected Harrison Barnes with the seventh pick of the draft.
Barnes was touted by ESPN as the nation’s top high school player in his class when the University of North Carolina recruited him. His ability to get to the rim and finish emphatically earned him the nickname “Black Falcon” which still stands today. Barnes’ size, frame, length, long strides, and a respectable outside stroke made him a desirable candidate for lottery teams in 2012, although he had underwhelming performances in his last NCAA tournament.
The Warriors selected him based on his massive upside, as his fluidity and athleticism demonstrated. Although Barnes still had much to prove when he entered the NBA, he was expected to be a serviceable small forward within several years.
An unfortunate ACL injury to Brandon Rush early in the 2012-2013 season may have been a blessing in disguise for the young rookie, who started 81 games and averaged about 25 minutes per game.
While not extremely consistent, Barnes showed promise during the regular season with memorable moments including poster dunks on Nikola Pekovic and Ersan Ilyasova. Barnes, who averaged only 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds during the regular season, stepped it up considerably during the playoffs, largely due to increased minutes given to him because of David Lee’s hip flexor tear.
Barnes increased his production greatly during the postseason, averaging 16 points and 6.4 rebounds, and his outstanding play during Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs helped the Warriors notch a much-needed victory. He was selected to the NBA All-Rookie first team.
After a promising postseason, Barnes had fairly high expectations going into his sophomore year.
However, the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and a foot injury during the pre-season may have hindered his growth. Barnes was moved to the bench as a sixth-man after starting for most of his life. While his playing time increased from 25 to 28 minutes per game, his season averages remained almost completely the same, if not worse. He only put up 9.5 points per game last season, and his shooting percentages dropped considerably to just 39.9% from the field and 71.8% from the charity stripe. He shot 43.9% from the field and 75.8% from the free throw line during his rookie season.
To make matters worse, Barnes noticeably played with less confidence. On many instances during a spot-up, Barnes would look hesitant to pull the trigger, and many times he would use a predictable move to get to the rim only to turn it over or force up a contested shot.
Barnes’ regression can be attributed to Mark Jackson’s hockey-style rotations and his complete lack of offensive play-calling. For most of the season Barnes was to be the delegated scorer off the bench. Jackson tried to run isolation plays through Barnes (and almost everyone else on the roster) only to see the opponents cut the lead that the starters built on many occasions. The only thing Barnes was consistent at was his hesitancy.
With the hiring of head coach Steve Kerr and the addition of a revamped coaching staff including Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, we can hope to see Barnes and the rest of the team begin to flourish.
Kerr has stated how he wants to implement a motion offense akin to Gregg Popovich’s Spurs and Phil Jackson’s Bulls. This would mark the end of Mark Jackson’s “give it to one player while everyone else stands and watches” offense.
While Steve Kerr lacks head-coaching experience himself, he brought in veteran assistants in Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, who can certainly aid in maximizing the strengths of the roster. Barnes can expect to improve this upcoming season with a more structured offensive system and a coaching staff that will most likely cause less internal beef that Jackson did.
Not only does Barnes need to improve his free throw shooting, but he also needs to develop a more reliable outside stroke. This will open things up for him, as he can begin to drive to the rim more aggressively after a pump fake or even spread the floor. With an upgraded offense, Barnes could perhaps cut to the rim more often without the ball, a la Kawhi Leonard. He also needs to draw more contact, as he only averages 2.3 free throw attempts throughout his career, which isn’t optimum considering Barnes’ main strength is slashing. Overall, Barnes must be more decisive on the court, and then things will begin to fall into place.
While Barnes suffered an obvious sophomore slump, it is much too early to declare him a bust. Through hours of work in the off-season, Barnes could develop into the player we all expected him to be. He has all the physical tools necessary to be a very good player in today’s NBA. A player with his frame, length, and leaping ability can be hard to come by. Barnes just needs to find the confidence to utilize those tools and become consistent. With Kerr taking the reigns, perhaps we could see the Black Falcon finally unleash his true potential.