Harrison Barnes: Perception and Reality

The perception of Harrison Barnes six months ago as Barnes entered free agency was heavy on pessimism as most objective observers, remembering the last thing they saw, drew a conclusion about Barnes through the lens of his disastrous NBA Finals performance in which he 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. The Warriors were all in on Kevin Durant. And even if Durant went elsewhere, the Warriors were looking for excuses not to re-sign Barnes and he gave them a big one with his Finals performance. So enter Mark Cuban and his money and Harrison Barnes signed for the max which, because of perception, had people scratching their heads.

Didn’t you see how he imploded against the Cavs?

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

On the year, Harrison Barnes has had a solid campaign being the go-to option for the first time in his career without Steph Curry on the wing or Klay Thompson running off of screens. Barnes productivity (20 .1 points, 5.3 rebounds) doesn’t lend itself to All-Star consideration when Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are putting up 26.3 points and 25.5 points respectively at the same position. But it’s a good first step in Barnes establishing himself as the face of the Mavs franchise once Dirk puts in his 20th year and walks away for good.

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. Yes, they pummeled an atrocious Lakers team but for Barnes to reach the altitude the Mavs want he has to be surrounded by an elite point guard and an explosive power forward, or at the very least, a quality three point defense team and not last in the league at stopping perimeter scorers.

But has Barnes delivered on his promise?

Yes and no. He is playing more minutes, taking more shots, draining free throws at a career high level. His defensive rebounds are up, his offensive rebounds are up, his PER is higher, though he has yet to cross the star threshold of a PER of 20+.

The negatives: his defensive rating is a career worst 111. His three ball has lost a lot of air as as has his long twos when compared with his Warriors productivity. His offensive rating is significantly less than last year but lets be real. When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are on the court there are a lot of open looks; defenses ignore you. Not so this year when defenses are paying a lot of attention to Barnes.

Barnes has suffered on the road, particularly on the defensive end. His three ball is considerably worse away from Dallas, 32%, and he doesn’t get to the line as much.

Then and Now Points FG% 3-Point% Rebounds Off. Rating
Golden State Warriors (2015-16) 11.7 46.6% 38.3% 4.9 114
Dallas Mavericks (2016-17) 20.5 47.6% 34.8% 5.3 107

Even though his usage is up, his consistency is the same. He is making 42% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 41% of his pull-ups. Last year he was ranked 37th among small forwards when measuring on-court impact and this year he is ranked 34th. (Real Plus-Minus).

Clearly the Warriors, on track for their third straight NBA Finals appearance, don’t need Harrison Barnes. But the Mavs are a better team right now (and in the future) with him as their main option. No, his numbers are not what you want from a $22 million player with his talent range. 26 and 7 is the goal. But Barnes is only 24 years old. He is not in his prime. He is going to get better.

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 future All-Star? The Mavs can say yes. Next goal: an elite point guard.

As for Barnes, Dallas gives him the opportunity to meet his potential. He has had (4) 30-point games when he had none last year. He has had (19) games of 20+ points or more. Last year, he only had 6. He is better than a third or fourth option. He can lead a franchise but step one in the process is learning how to deliver when the pressure is on him,  night in and night out, and how to be a leader and make players better. But this much is true. Barnes has put his Warriors experience in the rear view mirror. Things have changed for him, drastically so, positively so, and Dallas is better for it.


photo via llananba