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On The Golden State Warriors' Pursuit Of Harrison Barnes

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By now you're probably well aware that key decision makers for the Golden State Warriors flew out to New York yesterday for private workouts with UConn center Andre Drummond and North Carolina wing Harrison Barnes.

There wasn't much word about how that private workout went and we probably won't know what the Warriors gained from that trip until they make their selection on Thursday night (or opt out by trading down or for a veteran). But this much is obvious and has been for some time: as Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area wrote, "If Barnes were to fall to the Warriors, it would be tough for Lacob and Myers to pass on him."

Whereas it might be unclear where the Warriors stand on Drummond as his draft stock has slowly fallen with increased NBA scrutiny since the end of the college basketball season, Barnes' stock has risen with it becoming likely that he will be going selected in the top five with the possibility that he could go as high as second overall to the Charlotte Bobcats.

Yet I remain rather unexcited by the prospect of the Warriors adding Barnes, which of course makes me neither the first nor the only person to have reservations about him for a whole host of basketball and non-basketball reasons.

Bob Finnan of the News Herald profiled Barnes - a possible target for the Cleveland Cavaliers at #4 - in an article yesterday in which he reports that, "Tar Heels center Tyler Zeller said he doesn't understand all the criticism directed at Barnes."

"Part of it is because he's a great player," Zeller said. "... A lot of the best players are going to get that criticism. You have to make sure you handle it correctly. In the future, he'll be a great player. He has a great work ethic. Going forward, he'll be a great talent."

There's no doubt that the United Hater Nation might have latched on to Barnes as a highly touted high school player and is simply hating on him because he was a star player playing for a prominent program. And I don't question that Barnes was a good player even if he didn't accomplish all that college basketball fans expected him to before ever touching a basketball in a powder blue uniform.

Yet there's legitimate reason to question whether Barnes is truly the great prospect or elite talent that people claim he is, especially because he was a college scorer who people expect to transition to a great NBA shooter or as Zeller said, possibly, "...the best shooter in the draft."

His numbers as a prospect simply don't support those claims.

DraftExpress ranks Barnes as their second-best wing prospect this year despite situational statistics that show him as among the worst finishers available at the wing and just average everywhere else - there's still hope that Barnes has the physical tools to be a solid defender in the league and that in a situation where he isn't relied upon so heavily to scorer he might in fact become a more effective spot up shooter as a pro than he was in college.

It is worth noting that Barnes put up college numbers strikingly similar to UConn product Rudy Gay. And without going into a long discussion about Gay's NBA career, suffice it to say that he's a less efficient volume scorer than another guy we're familiar with and Ed Weiland of Hoops Analyst challenges that comparison by suggesting that it's optimistic to believe that Barnes will even become that good after a comparison to other similar prospects.

Harrison Barnes looks like a player who will become an epic bust if drafted in the top 5 and a disappointment if drafted any time after that. He has played over 2200 minutes of college ball and he still hasn’t shown he can score efficiently enough or rebound, pass and defend well enough to become an effective NBA player. I might be willing to buy into his legendary potential and risk a draft choice around the time round 2 starts, but I would not draft him before that.

It's hard to say that a guy with that statistical profile projects as a great NBA prospect when he's a scorer who didn't score very efficiently at all against college competition.

But there's also a middle ground between rating Barnes as the second-best wing prospect and a second round pick.

After he's further distanced from the hype around his high school career and the scrutiny of the draft process, Barnes could very well settle into a role as a hybrid defensive stopper and shooter that Brian McCormick wrote about yesterday.

And that - even if he becomes an average player - is exactly the reason to hope that the Warriors go in a different direction at #7.

McCormick lists five other 2012 prospects who could reasonably develop into players that fill that vital hybrid role who could be available at #30. That pretty much reflects the reality about the 2012 draft - despite lofty expectations there aren't a whole lot of a franchise cornerstones to be found. That doesn't mean we're staring at a field of bad players, but that we're looking at a glut of very flawed prospects and future role players even as early as the seventh pick.

Perhaps the Warriors believe Barnes will develop into a star and...In Jerry We Trust. But most of the statistical evidence suggests that won't be the case and, if so, it's not entirely clear that Barnes is the type of player the Warriors should taking in the top 10 after tanking so hard to secure the lottery pick.

As we've discussed elsewhere on this site, the Warriors have options at small forward but need depth (and defense and rebounding) in the frontcourt, which has to be a priority for this offseason. The problem is that they also don't have a lot of cap room to pursue free agents.

So if indeed the Warriors are choosing from a field of future role players at #7 - which reasonable people will disagree on - going with a wing when they also have a pick at #30 might not be the way to maximize the opportunity to improve their team in this draft (unless they make a trade involving one of their picks). It's very possible that they could find a hybrid shooter/stopper that could fill a function similar to Barnes later in the draft.

Assuming Drummond falls to #7, there will be at least three post players also worthy of consideration at #7 (North Carolina's John Henson and Illinois' Meyers Leonard). Although those guys also have their flaws, the likelihood of finding post players as productive of any of them later in the draft is not quite as high as finding a wing. A month or so ago Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli, Syracuse's Fab Melo, and St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson all appeared to be possibilities at #30; now they and most of the centers projected to have a NBA future will be gone by 30 and any other big worth considering will probably be around at #35.

The question for the Warriors when it comes to Barnes is whether he's worth that tradeoff of missing out on a quality big man with potential to be an impact player in the draft when they don't figure to be a major factor in free agency for anyone except established role players.

In other words, it's not that I have anything against Barnes - as with any college kid pursuing his dream, I hope he succeeds, he could very well exceed the expectations of that shooter/stopper hybrid, and if the Warriors draft him of course I'll be rooting for him to do well. But this draft also reflects the relative ease of finding quality wings in the NBA and the difficulty of finding productive post players.

And I probably need not explain to Warriors fans the difficulty of finding bigs.

Ultimately, there isn't enough separating Barnes from the other prospects available at #7 to make him more valuable to the Warriors than a post player available at the same position in the 2012 draft.

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