Season Review: The enigma that is Harrison Barnes

Jeff Gross

After the not-so-subtle tank job by the Golden State Warriors in 2012, they selected Harrison Barnes with the seventh pick and he's been quite the question mark ever since.

Not often is there a player in the NBA that comes in extremely talented, athletic and possessing of all the ostensible skills to make one a successful franchise star.

Harrison Barnes is one of those people; owning all the tools in the proverbial toolbox, but missing the ability to harness them to manufacture a canvas of substance. The shooting motion looks refined, the low-post footwork impeccable and a post-game interview/professionalism so polished, it can dry the paint for you.

But like Andrew Bogut, a player I reviewed a few days ago, we remember Barnes for what he did in the postseason and not the sum of its parts. Time to chart it up! (Statistics are Per 36 minutes).

Whoa, that's a little scary.

Damnit. That's just as scary, and on the total opposite side of the spectrum.

So which player is he? There was regular season Harrison Barnes who functioned somewhat as a Rudy Gay, and postseason Harrison Barnes playing up to his potential like a Kobe Bryant. The numbers bear out much similarities in percentages but the "eye test" showed that Barnes was much more confident, and perhaps assuaging our fears of his tendency to vanish from game to game.

Regular Season Barnes

According to Synergy Sports, the Warriors ran a pick-and-roll play for Barnes 66 times all season, or about 6.5 percent of total plays. It's not a surprise the offense should run through a Curry-Lee pick-and-roll or a Klay Thompson set of screens, but the lack of creativity in Barnes' offensive arsenal speaks to both the coaching staff and his lack of aggression on the offensive side of the ball.

Barnes was probably the team's 4th-best offensive player but most of his shots came on spot-ups and isolations—shots that don't fully apply Barnes' talent as an athletically gifted slasher. The hesitancy with which the rookie forward played with all season can be partly attributed to what was expected of him on offense and how much responsibility he was given.

Mark Jackson clearly didn't want to overburden Barnes with plays and the saturation of nuances when there are more efficient options, perhaps adapting this because he struggled in that role as superstar or shot-creator at North Carolina for two seasons. While we lamented Barnes' seeming lack of aggression, it's also reasonable to point to the system in holding him back.

The titanic-level difference in Barnes' demeanor from the regular season to postseason wasn't because of some unfounded epiphany while holding some profound existential discussion with Mark Jackson one night; it was more change in external circumstances than a self-gratifying internal solution we would love to have thought he figure out.

Postseason Barnes

Not to diminish what Barnes did but as stated earlier: whereas the regular season was an awkward marriage of circumstance and talent, the postseason became a perfect storm of situational freedom borne out of immediate necessity. The David Lee hip flexor injury quickly became what was a saving grace for Barnes' uneven rookie campaign. According to, his usage rate upped from 17.6 percent in the regular season to 18.8 percent in the postseason, while seeing his scoring output skyrocket from 9.1 to 16.1. The percentages stayed about the same, lending the notion that his efficiency didn't dovetail when he had to do more on offense.

But unlike the regular season, there were moments on the floor, in a series against the eventual Western Conference champions, Barnes realized himself as the most athletic person on the floor. He posted Tony Parker with abandon, unafraid of shooting despite missing several bunnies. He attacked the basket, and Tim Duncan, knowing fully well that the referees would never dare whistle the future Hall-of-Famer for an offhand push-off foul. The nation sees this, and they begin to ask the question we've asked all year: why can't he do this day in and day out? We can safely rely on a David Lee elbow jumpshot, Andrew Bogut scowling, Klay Thompson missed layup, and Stephen Curry three, but why aren't we able to concretely gauge what he can do on a day-to-day basis? There's probably a more tangible analysis here but I'm going to go with the fact he's 20, and humans that are 20 years old aren't consistent with anything. I couldn't/still can't figure out which cereal to eat in the morning when I was 20—though you can't go wrong with Frosted Flakes.

* * *

The man-to-man defense is strong, given his athleticism and footwork while the off-ball recognition remains lacking. But again, the kid ( I can say kid because he's younger, right?) is a year younger than me, and there's ample reason to think he will form one of the best defensive wing combos in the NBA along with Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Kent Bazemore.

For what the Warriors expected, I'm certain that Barnes exceeded their expectations and more. The questions going into next season aren't whether he will fulfill his potential but whether the additions of Iguodala and a healthy Lee will stunt his growth. Though one could argue that loosening the reins on offense, especially on the second unit with more spacing, it should also allow the flexibility necessary to approach those predictions.

Whatever the difference between the two Barnes was, there was and will always be a singular common denominator: Dunks.

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