Harrison Barnes had a wretchedly awful preseason.(Other words besides wretched come to mind: painful, ugly, sorrowful, ridiculous). He made 27% of his shots and his three point shooting couldn’t have been worse if his eyes were shut (16%).
From the looks of him Barnes is a star, but he was a role player in college and in the pros, despite being a 6-8 versatile forward who can score, rebound, pass and block shots. In the preseason, he looked lost which reminded everyone of the NBA Finals in which he looked lost.
Stars are stars for a reason. They achieve under stress. Preseason isn’t stress and Barnes could only grab three rebounds per game. For every 10 shots, Barnes made less than three. He had as many assists as he had turnovers. His lack of court awareness was painfully obvious. As was the number: $94 million.
Unfair or not, it’s capitalism. By the nature of his contract, Barnes is expected to deliver the Mavs up this mountain and to a top-four seed. He is supposed to usher out the Dirk Nowitzki glory years. He is an All-Star waiting to happen to Dallas and in the process of cashing a $94 million check he is expected to put the Mavs back where they used to be.
Greatness is supposed to be the Harrison Barnes ethic but Harrison Barnes has never had to perform under this kind of pressure. He had covers. He had explainers. He was sheltered. No one really cared about Harrison Barnes until now.
Barnes was the number one rated player in the country as a high school senior. He and Bulls Doug McDermott led their Iowa team to an undefeated record and a state championship. He averaged 27.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.0 steals. He had a good North Carolina two year stint but it wasn’t great. He only shot 43%, terrible for a forward his size. He made 34% of his threes, ho-hum for a pro. His 5.5 rebounds were nothing to write home about either. A double-double high school player who was on the court for nearly 30 minutes saw his numbers depress and the excuses came fast and furious. It’s North Carolina. He’s about the team. He’s unselfish. He scored 40 points in a game so what are you talking about?
Consistency. A dog like worth ethic. The will to win and to carry a team, and more importantly, to do whatever is necessary. Lastly, toughness. Is Harrison Barnes tough?
In his pro career, Barnes has never averaged more than 12 points a game. Expecting him to take a giant leap and become a 20 point scorer is high on faith and short on logic. You can point to C.J. McCollum of the Blazers but McCollum didn’t play at all and when he got his minutes he scored. Plus McCollum is out to score when he is on the court. He is out to prove something. Barnes has averaged 28.1 minutes a game in his career and he can only manage 10-11 points.
It’s convenient to blame Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for the Barnes underachievement. He was a fourth option on the Warriors. Steph, Klay and Draymond Green are better at offense than Barnes. Barnes is a good defender and is better than Steph but not Klay and Draymond. But I can’t get past this with Barnes. He seemed to be pretty happy being the fourth option. He seemed to accept it which is fine. But then, how do you go from fourth option on the Warriors to the main guy on the Mavs?
No one in Dallas is panicking but they are aware. This Harrison Barnes is not what they paid for. They paid for Paul George or even Rudy Gay for that matter. They paid for a star. And yet at the same time, they are trying to lower Harrison Barnes expectations, understanding full well fans look at the contract and then look at the production and then become bitter. When it doesn’t add up, that’s when fans turn on players. It’s not a Lamar Odom situation, Barnes wants to be in Dallas. He wants to give everything. But at the end of the day, production is how you are judged.
A familiar refrain is that without Curry, Thompson and Green orbiting his earth, Harrison Barnes is an okay player but can never be your best player. He doesn’t put the ball on the floor and drive. He’s not good in key situations late, he misses shots. His psyche get mangled when he’s not playing well; like Odom, Barnes is sensitive.
The Mavs have been angling for a star the last few years and Barnes fell into their lap because he was available and he wanted Dallas and the money. But now is the tough part. All players aren’t equal.
If anyone knows this, it is Deron Williams. He took Harrison Barnes like money from Brooklyn and couldn’t deliver and his time in Brooklyn was ruined. Barnes is just 24 and there is time and there isn’t. On paper, he is the Mavs best player. On paper, he is the Mavs savior. The Mavs went younger like everyone wanted.
Barnes has to show it on the court. Unfortunately for Barnes, because of his NBA Finals performance, he won’t get the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t inspire patience. People are quick to judge Harrison Barnes, to put him in the only-a-role-player box. Will Barnes prove them right? Or, will they have badly misjudged who Harrison Barnes is?
photo via llananba