The Ascension of Harrison Barnes

During the NBA Finals, watching the rainbow like trajectory of a Harrison Barnes corner three became the most heart wrenching two second interval Warriors fans can remember. At the end of each rainbow was a clunk off the side of the rim and a slump of the shoulders of Warriors fans.

Fast forward, to July 4 and hours after the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. Barnes was headed to Dallas on a four year deal worth $94 million dollars. Warriors’ fans and most of the NBA laughed at Barnes receiving such a lucrative contract after his abysmal play in the NBA Finals last June. Barnes’ play helped the Cavs elude the death lineup with his paltry efficiency in the final three games of the Finals.

Barnes shot 5-32 from the field, including a 2-14 dud of a performance with Warriors playing without a suspended Draymond Green in Game 5. Barnes couldn’t find the rim on the biggest stage and it seemed unlikely he would re-sign with the Warriors in the offseason.

The Dallas Mavericks have an aptitude for bringing out the best in budding players with potential. Specifically, Rick Carlisle has mastered the art of bringing out the best in players who have talent but have not had the right situation to play in.

In 2013, Carlisle made O.J. Mayo look like a right handed James Harden with the reign he had over the Dallas offense. Mayo had his best season with Dallas but has yet to rekindle his stellar play without Carlisle guiding him.

Last season, Carlisle resurrected Raymond Felton enough to have him be the best player in a playoff win against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Carlisle knows where his players need the ball to be effective and it’s no different than with his best player, Dirk Nowitzki. If you wanted to you could make an hour long montage of all of Nowitzki’s points scored off the right mid post during the Mavericks 2011 championship playoff run.

This season, Barnes has had the chance to be Carlisle’s next reclamation project and it has produced results from Barnes in his first year in Dallas.

Barnes is averaging 20 points a game on 47% shooting from the field. The Mavericks have boosted Barnes’ usage by 10 percentage points, from 14.9 to 24.0, according to ESPN.com. Recently, the $94 million dollar man has been enjoying some of his best play of his career at his new position of power forward. Since his rookie season with Golden State, Barnes has seen his percentage of minutes at power forward increase from 13% in 2012-13 to 60% this season.

Barnes playing the 4 brings the Iowa native back to his sweet spots on the floor where he was effective while at UNC. Barnes’ ability to take burly power forwards off the dribble for pullup jump shots and finish against size at the rim has made him successful this season.

At times with Golden State, Barnes was confined to the corner with inches to operate off the dribble and out of the post. Now, only Lebron James, Jimmy Butler, and Giannis Antetokounmpo average more post up touches at the small forward position. On fantasy teams, Barnes is listed as a small forward, but due to an injury by Andrew Bogut in early January, Barnes was thrust into the 4 position and the Mavericks were 11-5 in the first 16 games with their new lineup.

Based off his performance this season, many would have Barnes as their top candidate for most improved player, but Barnes has not improved. Barnes was always capable of this kind of performance, he just needed the freedom to do it. The surprising part of Barnes’ play has been his consistency.

This season alone is very reminiscent of the season Jeff Green had in the first year after Boston’s Big 3 went their separate ways. Green would show the ability to score at will and the readiness to be the man in Boston. The difference between Green and Barnes is that Barnes doesn’t disappear into the corner like Green had the habit of doing. Barnes can be effective defensively when his shot isn’t falling, having played under Steve Kerr who needed Barnes to defend at a high level to make Golden State’s death lineup deadly.

Under Carlisle, Barnes gets consistent touches on a nightly basis and has the license and the ability to control the ball rather than to defer to a Stephen Curry or a Draymond Green. Barnes himself has been the benefactor of Dirk Nowitzki deferring to him as a result of his age and waning play.

For the time being the Mavericks will be a fringe playoff team as long as the 7-foot German is under contract. After his time is up the Mavs may want to think about acquiring players to compliment Barnes.

At age 24, Barnes still has room for growth in his all-around game. Career averages of 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists don’t warrant a team to be built around you, but players like Jimmy Butler, Demarcus Cousins, or even Blake Griffin would be realistic options for the Mavs to weigh in the post Dirk era. Until then Barnes is now one year into proving he can be a top scorer in the NBA. He has three more years to prove he’s a top player in the league.

 

photo via llananba