The narrative on Barnes coming out of college was that he was too calculated and meticulous — never showcasing any explosiveness. But in many ways that’s exactly why he’s been successful in the first few months of his rookie season. With the three-point shooting and spacing of the NBA game, Barnes has much more room to execute the premeditated moves that he was so famous for coming out of High School.
The Warriors have been putting him in spots to be successful as Barnes isn’t asked to create offense at the rim off the dribble. Harrison was criticized for not doing so at UNC, but that was never his style. Much like how the Heat have been posting up LeBron just outside the paint around 10-12 feet from the basket, at 6’8 Barnes can get easy ten-foot faders and floaters in the lane without throwing himself at the rim to get fouled.
Even the greenest of eyes can’t miss how comfortable Barnes looks on the NBA floor. His scoring efficiency is up, and while his three-point shooting has tapered since hitting 40% in Nov/Dec, his longball will no doubt improve as is common with college-to-pro shooters who really like to get their feet set. The line is further away, but these are world class athletes and the extra space just gives them more room to square up.
It’s strange to say this for a former Tar Heel but Barnes hasn’t meshed seamlessly with Golden State’s offense when they go up-tempo. He’s been more than solid in the half-court and even initiates the offense at times, but Mark Jackson’s squad clearly slows down when he’s on the floor. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes it isn’t. This is the major reason Barnes sees his minutes evaporate against certain opponents as Jackson often goes with former Yellow Jacket Jarrett Jack for more a more guard oriented lineup.
It’s been discussed that Harrison needs to rebound better but much of that has to do with the role he’s being asked to play. The Warriors have been successful (fifth spot in the West, currently) with David Lee and company in the post and Barnes is usually used to stretch the court and create space for the bigs. His body is rock-solid and every bit NBA ready at age 20, and he should get rebounds as he’s put in those positions.
The easy (i.e. lazy) narrative of “Barnes isn’t a freak athlete, but his calculated play is actually helping him be more successful” is interesting but too bad it isn’t all true. He’s proven to be every bit as athletic as he needs to be.
All of the sudden the guy who many thought was too slow for the NBA is proving to have one of the more solid rookie seasons in the league for a team currently occupying the fifth playoff spot in the loaded Western conference.
That last point is important because while Barnes has already had plenty of huge games this year, his raw averages don’t necessarily grab your attention. But this is normal in the NBA for a rookie on a good team. On a playoff squad there’s simply going to be games when young players find themselves on the bench because of the style of play (etc..). It’s not uncommon to see any rookie have a great statistical game and then not see the floor in the next against an entirely different opponent.
What’s more revealing is their PER (production per minute played) and whether or not they do have a good game when given the opportunity. Barnes shot over 45% in his first month as a pro, is almost averarging double figure scoring and has had games of 19 points and 13 rebounds, 18 & 9, 19 & 3, and 20 & 12.
The most telling part about those four games listed is that they were all wins — the last of which (20 & 12) Barnes hit huge shots down the stretch and in overtime. What was striking in that match-up against Dallas is that the Warriors went to Barnes twice with the game on the line. He missed both, but the confidence his teammates already have in him is noteworthy.
Harrison will always be a bit of an enigma, as that seems to be his style. He has in no way finished settling into the league and is already showing a propensity to get the job done. Barnes is never going to be Kobe Part II as many predicted, but it was never relevant in the first place to compare anyone to a top ten player all-time.
On the whole, Barnes seems comfortable in the Golden State jersey — relaxed and fluid. He’s playing loose, and really seems to understand his role. As a rookie he’ll need to be more consistent, but that sounds pretty normal for a twenty-year-old in his first NBA season. The former Tar Heel isn’t going to be an all-star in the spring but there’s no reason to not be optimistic about his career at this point.
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