Harrison Barnes vs. Terrence Ross: Who Wins?


On Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors will welcome the Toronto Raptors to Oracle for their first matchup of the season. The Raptors performed very well last year in the regular season, but floundered in the postseason, and did not get as far as the “Drakes” would have hoped.

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This is a new year, however. New jerseys, new logos, but the same Raptors team. The question this year is if they can build on their stellar play and improve, as they are a young team seemingly on the rise.

Their success as a team seems to hinge on one particular player: small forward Terrence Ross. Ross is a young former high draft pick, with tons of athletic ability, a dunk contest participant, who was recently offered a large contract extension based mostly off of potential, not actual production.

Sound familiar?

Yup, Terrence Ross is pretty much just the Harrison Barnes of the Raptors.

The two will square off on Tuesday in a battle to decide who is the best young second or third option small forward in the league. Which may not seem like much, but the money being offered to these guys is a lot higher than you would expect. Ross signed a 3-year, $33 million contract before the season, and Barnes recently turned down a 4-year $64 million dollar deal.

Barnes turning down that huge contract extension led to many Warriors fans on twitter to calling him “Harry B”, and making fun of “the senator” for turning down so much money despite not putting up huge numbers –  and these Warriors fans had a point. Barnes has averaged 9.8 points per game, 1.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds for his career.

While those are decent numbers, they are nothing that will blow you away. Those are definitely not numbers that you want to give $64 million to. The fact of the matter is, however, that Barnes really doesn’t need to put up bigger numbers. He provides invaluable defensive versatility, even guarding Zach Randolph last season in the Dubs’ series against the Grizzlies. He is an above-average three point shooter (40% for his career), and is a great finished around the rim. Most of his game, however, comes from 1-on-1 situations.

He seemed to stall in Mark Jackson‘s offense, where he was asked to lead the bench as an isolation scorer, but has done well in his limited role in Steve Kerr‘s motion based, heavy ball movement movement that awards crafty cutters and screeners. The great debate for Warriors fans recently has been if Barnes is worth big money, or if he should make around what Ross is making – which is still quite a lot, but not star-level pay.

On one hand, Barnes seems to be essential to the team as spaces the floor with his shooting, and is a superb perimeter defender. Andre Iguodala won’t be around forever (though we may hope otherwise), and if anyone can do it, then the Dubs can develop Harry into the next Iguodala. On the other hand, there is no reason that Barnes should be demanding so much money for such pedestrian production. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they sure do tell a lot of it, and Harrison’s numbers do not suggest a $64 million dollar raise.

So Barnes wants more money than his peer Terrence Ross, but is Barnes even better than the young Raptor?

Let’s look at what the advanced stats will tell us. Harrison Barnes averages .097 win shares per 48 minutes, under the league average of .100. Ross only averages .065 win shares per 48 minutes, well under the league average.

Now, you would assume that Harrison Barnes, a player who really only shoots when he is called upon, and is a relatively efficient player, would post a positive number in for an offensive plus/minus rating. That is not the case, however. Surprisingly, Barnes has averaged a -1.1 over the course of his career. This is simply shocking, but this number is largely due to his poor performances under coach Jackson, so there is hope for him yet under Kerr’s tutelage.

Over on the 6 side, Ross has a perfectly even 0.0 somehow. That isn’t a particularly good number, as it technically means he is contributing nothing, but at least it isn’t negative. For background, this stat measures how a particular player would score on a perfectly average team, surrounded by perfectly average players. So technically, on the most average team of all time, Harrison Barnes would actually score negative points, and Terrence Ross would contribute literally nothing.

So maybe neither of these guys deserve all of this money. So if they aren’t getting paid for what they have contributed in the past, it’s what they promise to contribute in the future. But do the Warriors and Barnes himself really think that Harrison Barnes is worth almost $30 million more than Terrence Ross?

The two seem to be pretty even across most major stats, and are honestly pretty average players at this point in their NBA careers.

Does Harrison Barnes deserve 4 years and $64 million? No.

Will he get it this summer? Probably.

That’s just how this game works, and, to be perfectly honest, there really isn’t much better out there. The league seems to be distinctly lacking small forwards, and the Warriors are lucky to have Harrison Barnes. He doesn’t contribute much statistically, but he is at least such a threat that defenses can’t just leave him alone. The same goes Terrence Ross in Toronto.

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To conclude, neither of these guys really deserve the money they are making if we were to look purely at their production. But they both offer a different dimension to the game with their athleticism and defense, that if the teams they currently play for won’t offer them these big contracts, another team will.

It should be an interesting matchup to watch on Tuesday. Tweet me @od1ll with your thoughts on the two.