Harrison Barnes: What We Know

Three years ago when Harrison Barnes played on Christmas Day, his stat line of 12 points on 38% shooting but 13 rebounds was a perfect illustration of Barnes as a player. There was always going to be some ying and yang, pluses and minuses.  It was hard to wrap your arms around Barnes as a player because he often disappeared and then he often made big shots and then he often was invisible again. He wasn’t on the fast track to stardom but he did have a very specific skillset and often, it appeared, he was very comfortable existing in someone else’s light, rather than creating his own and basking in it.

When he joined the Mavericks after being on a title team in Oakland, the perception of Harrison Barnes was mixed. Many thought he needed a resurrection. Others believed he was the same person, just in a different uniform, who came up way short and appeared frozen at times, scared even. It was a no-brainer, the Warriors were not going to re-sign him, his NBA Finals notwithstanding. It wasn’t all Barnes fault. He just made the decision very easy with his performance. Even if Durant went elsewhere, the Warriors were looking for excuses not to re-sign Barnes.

In sports, geography can change the always fragile perception meter. Pages can be turned.

The face of the franchise for any team has to carry the team to wins and furthermore he has to be good enough to convince other talent to want to join him. The Mavs aren’t there yet. For Barnes to reach the altitude the Mavs want he has to be surrounded by an elite point guard and an explosive power forward. Frankly, they have to moved beyond Dirk Nowitzki. The impact of Dirk tilts everything away from Harrison Barnes; he is competing with a legend. He is in his shadow. The Mavs have yet to begin a new chapter.

But, still the question remains, has Barnes delivered on his promise?

Yes and no. He is playing fewer minutes than last season, taking fewer shots, draining more free throws. His defensive rebounds are way up, his offensive rebounds are slightly down, his PER is near identical to last season. Star players cross the 20.0 PER but Barnes PER is only 16.2.

The negatives: his defensive rating is terrible. His three ball has lost some air and he’s struggling with mid-range shots.

Barnes has suffered on the road, particularly on the defensive end. His three ball is considerably worse away from Dallas, 29.4%, and he doesn’t get to the line as much.

Then and Now Points FG% 3-Point% Rebounds Off. Rating
Golden State Warriors 10.1 44.6% 37.6% 4.6 108
Dallas Mavericks 19.1 46.1% 33.1% 5.5 106

Even though his usage is way up from his Golden State days, his consistency is a work in progress. He is making 35.3% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 36.1% of his pull-ups. This year, he is ranked 78th among small forwards when measuring on-court impact. (Real Plus-Minus).

Clearly the Warriors, on track for their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, don’t need Harrison Barnes. But the Mavs are a better team right now (and in the future) with him but it appears as if Barnes doesn’t have the star gene for a number one option, the ability or the mental talent to carry a team. He is looking more and more like a number two option.

The Warriors helping themselves to the luxury lane by landing Kevin Durant benefited Dallas by default. It was never their intention, but the Warriors did the Mavs a favor. Free agents with Barnes skill level have bypassed the Mavs for more glamorous places. Getting Barnes checked a big box for the Mavs future. A max free agent is hard to come by and with the new collective bargaining agreement free agents will be impossible to rip away from their teams.

First question in rebuilding a once great team: do you have a significant talent? The Mavs can say yes. Next goal: an elite point guard. The  Mavs can say: we are developing one.

As for Barnes, Dallas gives him the opportunity to meet his potential. Everyone can’t be a Steph Curry star.  But Barnes can compliment a superstar. Right now it is still a learning curve. How to deliver when the pressure is on him,  night in and night out, and how to be a leader and make players better. We won’t really get to see the true Harrison Barnes until he emerges from under the Dirk Nowitzki shadow and no one else is taking the spotlight so it will truly be all eyes on him.


photo via llananba