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Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes (40) during during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Dallas Mavericks

The Spotlight Series: Mavericks Edition — Harrison Barnes

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

In “The Spotlight Series,” I’ll be looking at a player or two (depending on the team) from each team in the league that, in my opinion, doesn’t get attention at all from casual fans, or doesn’t get enough praise for what he brings to the table.

In what seems to be an unintentional but ongoing joke, the Dallas Mavericks yet again failed to reel in the big fish in free agency this summer. Everybody and their mothers wanted Kevin Durant — because, duh? — but the Golden State Warriors added him to their embarrassment of riches. There were only three *real* contenders for Durant anyway (OKC, GSW, BOS), so there really isn’t much shame in Dallas missing there.

Failing (or refusing) to bring back Chandler Parsons, missing out on Mike Conley — who was later joined by Parsons in Memphis — and failing to snag Hassan Whiteside is rough no matter how you slice it.

They were able to recover, though. Dallas made plenty of value acquisitions, like getting Andrew Bogut for virtually nothing, bringing back Deron Williams on a relatively cheap deal and bringing in Seth Curry.

Dallas’ wild card signing — heck, the wild card of the entire offseason — was the max signing of forward Harrison Barnes, who now, more than ever, must start realizing the #potential and #upside that he allegedly has.

THE NUMBERS

Since entering the league, Barnes has been…perfectly fine. In a vacuum, there shouldn’t be any shame in being a steady, versatile wing, especially in today’s NBA. The issue, however, is that Barnes was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and in college at UNC, and he hasn’t lived up to the hype.

At all.

Barnes’ career averages of 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.9 “stocks” (steals + blocks) through four years are modest at best.

If you look hard enough, though, you can see he’s improved a little in crucial areas:

  • He shot 35.2 percent on 335 three-point attempts in his first two seasons, and has shot 39.4 percent on 429 attempts over the last two.
  • His overall jumper has improved. His field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage has improved every season of his career:  30.7% FG/37.1% eFG in year one; 33.3% FG/39.9% eFG in year two; 39.2% FG/49.2% eFG in year three; 41.1% FG/49.8% eFG last season.

Barnes’ ability to play down a position, sliding to the 4 in Golden State’s “Death Lineup,” provided real value over the last two years.

On the flip side of the occasion, Barnes hasn’t broken out like many expected him to. His per-36 numbers from his rookie season are nearly identical to what he put up last season:

  • 2012-13: 13.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 11.o PER
  • 2015-16: 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.3 PER

Despite Barnes’ obvious athletic gifts, he isn’t nearly as good of a finisher or defender as he could be — which is basically the common theme of him as a player. He is coming off a season where he made 43.6 percent of his layups (94 attempts) — the second-worst mark among small forwards (Danilo Gallinari, essentially in another rehab year, only converted 42.8 percent of his) and eighth-worst mark in the NBA among players that attempted at least 75 layups last season, via Basketball-Reference.

Via SportVU tracking data, opponents shot 46.9 percent when Barnes was the nearest defender last season, a full two percent higher than their average. To be fair, Golden State employed one of, if not the switch-iest defense in the NBA and, as mentioned earlier, Barnes spent a good bit of time at the 4 — 55.1 percent of his time, via Basketball-Reference.

Here’s a brief example from last season. Barnes and Draymond Green had swapped assignments during the possession, which left Green on Kawhi Leonard and Barnes banging in the post against LaMarcus Aldridge:

 

Barnes also struggled keeping track of and closing out on shooters, ranking in the 14.3 percentile when defending spot-ups, via Synergy. Some of that could be attributed to Golden State’s frenetic style of defense, but most of it boils down to Barnes’ awareness.

Barnes did grade out fine in isolation defense last season, allowing 40.3 percent shooting and ranking in the 55.6 percentile, via Synergy. And despite struggling against bigger players, opponents only shot 35.4 percent against Barnes on post-up opportunities.

With that said, Barnes has left a lot to be desired thus far in his career. In Dallas, we’ll find out if Barnes is simply a late-bloomer — think Kyle Lowry — or if he’s destined to be another Jeff Green, a decent player that’ll show flashes but ultimately never put it all together.

THE EVIDENCE

On offense, Barnes was mostly used as a spot-up shooter in Golden State. The debate around this, especially now, is if that was because of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green being higher on the food chain, leaving fewer opportunities for Barnes, or if it was because Barnes wasn’t — or isn’t — good enough to earn more opportunities.

A career-high 73.2 percent of Barnes’ total shots were assisted on last season, via Basketball Reference. To his credit, he converted, ranking in the 79.8 percentile on spot-ups last season, via Synergy.

While you could find him chillin’ in the corner for a lot of possessions, Barnes also displayed a good understanding of spacing and an ability to put himself in a driver’s vision cone:

 

On that play, Thompson and Mo Speights ran a dribble hand-off into some high pick-and-roll action. Thompson was able to turn the corner and get to the middle, which sucked in the defense. Barnes recognized that his man, Manu Ginobili, was staying home to help on the drive, so he drifted from the paint into the corner. Thompson found him, and the rest was history.

Here’s a better example of Barnes reading the action, moving without the ball, and then eventually cashing in from deep:

 

Barnes’ ability to survey and space the floor without the ball is valuable, and bodes well for him in Dallas.

Barnes’ bread & butter is his mid-range game. Via Basketball Reference, he was one of four players in the NBA to knock down at least 50 percent of his shots from between 15-20 feet; the others were Mo Williams (crazy, right?), Kyrie Irving and J.J. Redick.

Barnes found success bullying smaller players in the post, or using his 6’11.25 wingspan to drop shots over defenders closer to his size:

 

He would also face up his defenders before driving and utilizing his pull-up jumper — an inefficient shot in a vacuum, but one Barnes feels comfortable taking:

 

As far as pure shot creation goes, the jury is still out on whether Barnes can create well enough to be a top scoring option because, well, he’s stiff. He has a tight but rudimentary handle that doesn’t create much separation.

Via Synergy, Barnes ranked in the 52.6 percentile in isolation last year, but that’s within the context of almost never being guarded by the opposing team’s top perimeter defender.

Barnes was seldom used as a pick-and-roll ball handler — just 33 possessions last season — but shot 50 percent (15-30 FG) and produced 0.94 PPP in that incredibly small sample, a mark that ranked in the 88.6 percentile via Synergy:

 

As you can see in those first two examples, Barnes used the pick to force a switch, only to take — and to his credit, make — a pair of mid-range jimmies. The third play showcased some creativity by going away from the pick with a spin move, but even then, he didn’t create much separation and settled for a fading jumper.

Barnes, at the very least, hasn’t shown the ability to break down defenders off the dribble, but he does handle the ball well enough, in conjunction with a surprisingly quick first step, to attack hard close-outs:

 

Teams will key in on Barnes like never before, but he still should be able to find success — especially if he can improve his handle.

He won’t be able to hide behind — and benefit from — the dead-eye shooting of Curry or Thompson, but Williams and Wes Matthews being able spread the floor or attack when necessary and Dirk Nowitzki — even at his age — having near-irreplicable gravity at the 4 should take at least some pressure off Barnes. Having a familiar face in Bogut serving as a high-post passer and dump-down recipient on drives should also help.

It’s time to see if the “Black Falcon” will rise, or if his wings will fail him.

The Spotlight Series: Mavericks Edition — Harrison Barnes

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