Golden State Warriors: Breaking Down The Struggles of Harrison Barnes


Just when we thought the Golden State Warriors’ bench situation couldn’t get any worse, Harrison Barnes has become mired in a slump. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Just when we thought the Golden State Warriors’ bench situation couldn’t get any worse, Harrison Barnes has become mired in a slump.

In his last six games before Thursday night’s 10-point performance against the Clippers, Barnes averaged a gloomy 3.3 points on 24 percent shooting. The culmination of his frustrations came when he missed a wide-open corner jumper to beat Minnesota last Friday. It had to be a discouraging feeling for Barnes knowing the Wolves were doubling two players, purposely leaving him open, only to completely reinforce their strategy by missing a beautiful look.

Even before his recent struggles, Barnes had not been living up to the lofty expectations set for him by the front office this season. His playoff series against the Spurs, for better or worse, vaulted Barnes into an exclusive list of young players on the path to stardom. Many people believed, after Anthony Davis, Barnes possessed the most star potential from the 2012 draft class. Finding an impact talent outside the top five of a draft is the Holy Grail for a front office. Warrior fans were ecstatic, believing Bob Myers had found Barnes’ talent this late in the draft.

It’s a scary reality that we live in such a “what have you done for me lately” world, especially in the sports universe. As we watch the 2012 draft class in their second season, Barnes has gone from a valuable blue-chip asset to a pretty good young prospect. Players like Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, and even Terrence Ross have taken noticeable leaps in their second NBA seasons. One cannot fault the Warriors for Davis or Lillard because of where they were selected in the draft. However, Ross and Drummond were both taken directly after Barnes. Ross had a recent 51 point performance against the Clippers and Drummond’s impact is the only thing keeping Pistons fans from crying themselves to sleep. It’s still too early to tell, but there is no denying the conversation of missing on those two players is growing louder by the day.

Barnes has all the tools needed to become a great NBA player. While watching him this season, it’s apparent that he cannot simply rely on his athletic gifts to contribute to the best of his ability on a basketball court. There are concrete skills he needs to develop to realize his potential.

The main skill, in my mind, is improving his ball handling so he has complete confidence to make any move on the court. Currently, Barnes has a hard time breaking down a defender on the perimeter and often seems hesitant when he receives the ball in an advantageous position. I believe Barnes understands he has a lot of work ahead transforming his skills towards a more complete game. Improving such an important skill as ball handling requires time and patience from the individual and team. The problem is, the Warriors do not have the luxury of letting Barnes go through growing pains. This team is in “win now” mode.

Every moment a player is on the floor, his minutes must be productive. In an attempt to achieve better playoff positioning, the Warriors cannot give Kent Bazemore 10 minutes a night to help him become more confident or allow Nemanja Nedovic to have a 13-turnover game while he learns to play point guard in the NBA. Every game is important to the team, which hinders prospect development. Teams like the Bucks and Magic can allow their rookies to suffer through growing pains because losses are going to contribute to young player development as well as a potential top five draft pick. In a scary deep West, the Warriors cannot afford to give up wins for development.

Therefore, this is the Harrison Barnes we are left with for the rest of this season. Mark Jackson has continued to reiterate that Barnes will receive his minutes and opportunities. The key for Barnes is to make subtle adjustments to his decision-making when presented with those opportunities. Just a few tweaks to his thought process could help improve his contributions to the team as well as his confidence overall.

It’s no secret that a player’s likelihood of making a shot greatly increases the closer they get to the basket. This is why you see centers with the league’s highest field goal percentage most years. Centers are not the most skilled shooters in the league. Their shooting percentages get skewed because of shot distance resulting in the ranking of shooting percentage being defined as the player that takes the most shots near the rim. So, if a player is struggling with offensive confidence on the court, he should go to the basket to achieve higher percentage shots. Not only is a closer shot more efficient, but also the chances of earning a trip to the free throw line greatly increases.

The most efficient way of scoring in the NBA is at the foul line. Players make careers in the league by simply going hard to the basket to create contact to end up at the line. Currently, Barnes has a free throw percentage of 72 percent. The odds of him making both free throw attempts is (72%)2, which is 52 percent. Barnes is currently shooting 36 percent from outside eight feet. His new goal should be getting to the line as much as possible to create better scoring opportunities for himself and his team.

Below is a graph of Barnes’ shot distance distribution between this season and his rookie campaign. The percentage above each bar cluster is the percentage difference going from 2012/13 to 2013/14.

Barnes has increased his tendency to settle for a jump shot rather than getting to the rim. He is shooting near the basket 12 percent less this season compared to his rookie year. The more shots he takes near the basket, the higher likelihood the shot will go in the net. For a player struggling with his poise, simply seeing the ball go through the net can do wonders for a player’s psyche. Working to take more high percentage shots will contribute towards him regaining confidence.

Part of having confidence on a basketball court is having a plan before you receive the ball. Barnes has shown a propensity to hesitate in making a decision when put in advantageous offensive positions. When an offense is passing the ball from side to side trying to create a good shot, one of the worst things to do is hold the ball and allow the defense to recover.

Here is an example:

Barnes catches a pass immediately after rolling off a pick set for Jordan Crawford. The defender is late to react to the pass leaving a wide-open path to the basket for Barnes. The result of this play should be a dunk or at least a trip to the free throw line. Instead, Barnes hesitates in his decision-making and allows the entire defense to recover. At that point he decides to still make a play and attempts a tough fade away jumper.

A quicker decision needed to be made in this play. Barnes looks uncomfortable and confused with regard to how he should react.

The second video below highlights Barnes taking what the defense gives, being aggressive, and making a smart decision.

As soon as Barnes knows he has a smaller defender guarding him, he doesn’t let the defense recover and forces his way to the basket. Barnes could fall into three to four baskets per game simply by looking for mismatches and aggressively pursuing the basket.

I know it sounds cliché; but Harrison Barnes must simplify his game to get out of this slump and return to his contributing form. He must stop settling for jump shots and go to the basket.

All data is through 01/29/2014 and provided by