Harrison Barnes: Game 2 Dominance Shows That He’s Turned the Corner


Apr 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos (41) and Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) watch as small forward Harrison Barnes (40) attempts to keep the ball in play in the second quarter during game two in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Game 2 was something to behold.

Not only did the Golden State Warriors have a historic shooting game, but it may have been the coming out party for Harrison Barnes, who came alive in his new role as the starting power forward with David Lee on the shelf.

For everything that Barnes is, physically imposing, smart and fundamentally sound, this performance has been a long time coming. Remember, he was still the number one recruit coming out of high school, and was potentially the No. 1 overall pick after his freshman year at North Carolina. So, there is no reason Barnes’ Game 2 performance to be a shock. It definitely wasn’t to Mark Jackson and his coaching staff.

But hold your horses. As exciting as Game 2 was, it should still be looked at as a work in progress. For various reasons, his performance, as tantalizing as it was, happened may have occured because it fits perfectly into Denver’s weaknesses at this point in time.

The power forward position is kind of a question mark for the Nuggets with Kenneth Faried still rounding back into shape after his ankle injury. Anthony Randolph, for all his physical gift, is not by any means a viable alternative to Faried’s energy and reckless abandon. In addition, if you are having to play Evan Fournier or Wilson Chandler, you’re at a loss on defense, and Golden State exploited that all game.

Apr 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets point guard Andre Miller (24) attempts to block the shot of Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) in the fourth quarter during game two in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Pepsi Center. The Warriors won 131-117. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of the ideal circumstances in this series, Barnes does pose a problem with his inside-outside game, albeit it being in its infant stages. He hit multiple jumpers from the outside, including a few uncontested threes, as well some post-ups against smaller defenders on switches (see example, 6’2” Andre Miller in picture to the right). It’s similar to the problem that Klay Thompson creates on smaller guards when teams switch on screens with Stephen Curry. Except, Barnes is much stronger and even bigger (less touch than Thompson though).  His post-up game is reminiscent of LeBron James for the fact that he should exploit it more, but, he doesn’t or hasn’t (yet).

In addition, the combination of Curry and Thompson spreading the floor creates instances where Barnes can use his elite physical tools to get to the rim. He is also dangerous in the open court or isolated in the half-court.

For instance, on the dunk that has been an endless loop on YouTube and ESPN, before Barnes received the ball, it had been swung from Curry (after a trap attempt that brought two defenders out of the lane), to Thompson (who had to be closed out on by Corey Brewer), to Barnes on the wing. If you look at the spacing in the clip, there is no one to help if Barnes gets by Randolph, which, of course, he does. The rest was history.

If Barnes does maintain the momentum from Game 2, it will be for one reason: He knows there is no one else to do the job. Lee is gone, and as solid as Landry has been, he lacks the ability to dominate like Lee. So, instilled with confidence from his head coach to be aggressive, Barnes had no fear of being yanked from the game, which eventually grew into supreme confidence as the game progressed.

The light bulb click for Barnes in Game 2. He hits a jumper and as he makes a face, almost to say, “that’s right.  It’s going to be a long night.” Confidence is crazy thing. With it, you are very dangerous. So right now, if I was the FBI (or the Nuggets), I would consider Barnes armed and very dangerous. And beyond the playoffs, if there was any doubt that tanking for Barnes was the right move, next season should be fun. I’m confident of that.