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Harrison Barnes Continues to Sprint, Stumble, Jog and Fall During Walk Year

USA TODAY Sports

We’re about a tenth of the way through the regular season and the Golden State Warriors are still unblemished, winning games by a mere 17.8 points per contest. All they have to do is win 90 more in a row and the ownership group, front office, coaching staff and fan base will all ascend into heaven while the roster will be mandated to enter a dispersal draft per the universe’s by-laws. Say good-bye to Stephen Curry and hello to Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa and Marilyn Monroe, kids.

Anyway, enough preamble. The 49ers have mercifully given you a week off from having to think about them, so let’s jump right to the Bay Area’s second favorite game show: “How Is Harrison Barnes’s Contract Drive Going?”

The first contestant, you in the “Big Johnson” T-shirt?

“It’s going really well, Wink.”

Wrong, and I will not. Contestant No. 2, in the yellow-on-yellow polka dot dress?

“What is, “‘it’s going miserably,’ Alex.”

Incorrect, and also wrong game show. Alright, you can steal this, Contestant No. 3, wearing sunglasses indoors like a narcissistic dope.

*Contestant No. 3 scrunches up face and shrugs shoulders* “Eh?”

Ding-Ding-Ding! Congratulations, scrunching your face and shrugging your shoulders while saying “Eh?” is the right answer! Tell him what what he wins, Morty.

“You win .00001 percent of Harrison Barnes’s future contract and 200-level baseline seats for the Warriors next home game on Nov. 14 versus the Brooklyn Nets.”

Barnes, who famously turned down a four-year, $64 million contract extension despite being the Warriors’ fourth option and something like sixth- or seventh-best player, depending on how bullish you are on Festus Ezeli, is having a very Harrison Barnes type of season, averaging 12.8 points (on 44.6 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.  The points and assists are career-highs, with the latter exceeding his previous best by a considerable margin.

By several of the advanced metrics, Barnes is trending up. His PER of 15.1 — just about average — is his best ever, as is his +18 net rating and .187 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, all numbers via Basketball-Reference.com. His assist percentage is way up and his turnover percentage is way down. He’s shooting 52.6 percent from two-point range, including 80.0 at the rim, which had been a problem for him in the past. He’s getting to the free throw line more often, and not missing when he does, hitting at a 91.3 percent clip. His offensive rating is third on the squad among guys who’ve played substantive minutes.

Then there’s the stuff that’s not so good. He’s shooting a woeful 26.9 percent from downtown. The only area of the floor, besides the rim, where he’s shooting well is long twos (56.3 percent), which will just encourage him to take more long twos, which you don’t want. He’s been cardboard statue inactive on defense, with just five steals and one blocked shot in 238 minutes. That’s fewer blocks than both Curry and Leandro Barbosa have. He has the worst defensive rating on the team.

Maybe the most relevant Barnes stat is this: The Warriors’ most-common lineup so far has been the regular starters plus Ezeli instead of Andrew Bogut, since the Australian big man suffered a concussion in the season opener. That lineup has essentially been played to a draw over 88 minutes, with a 105.2 offensive rating and a 105.0 defensive rating, according to NBA.com’s stat index. Take out Barnes and replace him with Andre Iguodala, though, and those same four other guys have a net rating of +29.5, 110.7 offensively and 81.2 defensively, in a 36-minute sample.

Granted, Barnes has been effective in other lineups. The regular starting lineup with Bogut was savage as usual in their opening 12 minutes of work. And that micro-ball lineup with Draymond Green at center continues to rain pestilence and destruction throughout the land as perhaps the most devastating five-man unit the league can muster.

Barnes’s most notable bit of action came in the fourth quarter of their recent showdown at Oracle Arena against the loathsome Clippers where he singlehandedly erased a nine-point fourth quarter deficit with 10 points in a 1:33 stretch, showing off the full arsenal with a short jumper, two threes and a fast-break dunk. It was the only game so far in which the Warriors were seriously threatened, and it’s significant that Barnes stepped up in that fashion against that opponent in particular.

Those stretches from him have been few and far between, however, throughout his career, and his long stretches of blending into the scenery or worse, just plain being bad continue to be maddening. It’s still difficult to cull the essential truth of what Barnes is as a pro, to isolate his merits and shortcomings as a player from the where he benefits by virtue of playing with the teammates he has and what he sacrifices by having the teammates he has.

But maybe that’s the point.

Maybe the implied difficulty in separating Barnes’s contributions to the end product is what gives he and his agent bargaining power, especially if the Warriors go on to repeat. Maybe the thesis of Barnes’s camp will be “Why mess with a winning formula?” It could just be that’s worth far more to the Dubs than he would be to anyone else as a small-ball power forward. Ultimately what Barnes has going for him is that he’s almost a decade younger than Iguodala. We won’t get to see how valuable he is or isn’t unless Curry or maybe Klay Thompson suffers some long-term injury and the team has to rely on Barnes more.

Or, unless Barnes is the one who goes down and it turns out the machine keeps humming along without him.

As long as the Warriors keep destroying people, Barnes will be able to demand whatever he wants, though he really should think about improving that three-point percentage. Still, there’s a lot of time between now and then for things to happen where he may wind up regretting turning down that $64 million.

.00001 of that works out to $640 by the way, and that’d cover a good chunk of the month’s rent.

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