Harrison Barnes and the $95 Million Gut Check

If a player’s status is dependent upon his achievement in the NBA playoffs, then Harrison Barnes was an abject failure in 2015-16. Barnes June swoon of a performance has attached labels to him of overrated, soft and not a max player. Shrugging the criticism off like unnecessary dirt on his suit, is Mark Cuban. He is banking on the fact that Barnes on-court behavior in the playoffs is not indicative of what he is capable of. The Dallas Mavericks have signed Harrison Barnes to an offer sheet of $95 million. The Golden State Warriors have a decision to make: match the max offer or let Barnes go to Dallas without compensation.

A big chunk of the Warriors 24-0 start was with Barnes on the bench, injured. Without Barnes, the Warriors prospered. With Barnes (in the playoffs) they faltered and some would say they choked.

What the Warriors need is a defender who can derail the Russell Westbrooks and Damian Lillards of the world. They need more size up front. Barnes is expendable.

And yet…

Barnes fits in with the entire Strength In Numbers archetype the Warriors have created to define their culture. Here is a player who was a number 7 pick in the 2012 draft and was always asked to do less. Barnes had to sacrifice and was willing to do so which says everything you need to know about his pscyhe and it is also his biggest flaw. There’s not a lot of dog in Harrison Barnes and in the NBA Finals he came up looking soft. The Warriors needed him when Draymond Green was suspended, they needed the number 7 pick to show up and he was miserable with all the pressure heaped on his shoulders.

Furthermore, his misery played with his head. He missed wide open shots at the rim, he missed jumpers with no one around him, he fumbled the ball. The more intense the pressure, the more scared Barnes seemed, with his game looking more and more hapless.

The theory behind Strength in Numbers is that everyone is important. It is about the team. It is “we”, not “me”. And that is how Barnes failed the Warriors in the NBA Finals. He wasn’t being asked to do everything. Just to do his part. Make an imprint. And he couldn’t.

In the regular season, Barnes posted a line of 11.7 points, 46.6% shooting, 38.3% from three, 4.9 rebounds. He was ranked 37th among all small forwards in Real Plus-Minus. Metta World Peace was ranked ahead of him. His was the 62nd best small forward when measuring defensive impact, worse than Matt Barnes and rookie Kelly Oubre. His regular season PER was 12.3; his playoff PER was 8.6.

In the playoffs, he made 23.5% of shots 3-10 feet. His offensive rating was 101. His defensive rating was 109. In 2015, it was the opposite. His offensive rating in the playoffs was 109 and his defensive rating was 104.

There is no escaping his misery. In Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he shot 0%. He had 0 assists. He had 0 steals. His plus-minus was -20.

In Game 7, he made 25% of his open shots. He had one assist. Of the 10 shots he attempted, he missed 7. He had 0 offensive rebounds.

The reason the Warriors are not NBA champions is that Harrison Barnes was their worst player. Of the players who played 20+ minutes a game, he had the lowest field goal percentage (35.2%), the lowest offensive rating (92), the highest defensive rating (112), the lowest true shooting percentage (43.1%), the lowest rebounding percentage (8.1%). In 7 games he had 5 steals and 3 blocks.

The Warriors rewarding Barnes after that catastrophe of a performance and giving him a $95 million max deal seems ludicrous, like they are blind and did not see what the rest of us saw.

Or, you can look at it another way.

Strength In Numbers really matters. It’s irrelevant what Barnes individual numbers were in the Finals. He is a valued piece of the Warriors narrative and he will be rewarded for that, for being one of the group, a valued entity for a team the front office and ownership wants to keep together.

Since drafting Steph Curry, the Warriors have been ahead of the curve, risk taking thinkers. If rejected by Kevin Durant, it makes sense for them to base their Barnes decision on what has brought them here. The epicenter of their success is not a what have you done for me lately report card, but you are one of us. We believe in you. We take care of our own. You are family.

If the Warriors are committed to their Strength In Numbers philosophy, they will match the offer sheet for Harrison Barnes, even if it hurts to do so.

 

photo via llananba