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Warriors vs. Grizzlies series review: The quiet consistency of Harrison Barnes in the 2015 NBA Playoffs

Although Steph Curry stole the spotlight with his heroics near the end of the Warriors' series against Memphis, Harrison Barnes emerged as arguably the most consistent player in the series.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Even before the Golden State Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes, I was completely against the idea.

My gripe was that he was an inconsistent player whose shot selection was questionable (at best) and simply didn't seem to have a clear understanding of who he was.

To be clear, I do think he had some vision of who he wanted to be all along as he frustratingly created shots that seemed to show off the athletic prowess that everyone raved about while actually underscoring his terribly inefficient decision making. But Barnes' biggest problem, in my opinion, was best highlighted in contrast to a prospect like Draymond Green: I always thought that Barnes had a clear vision of what he wanted to be without a clear sense of how to maximize the tools he had, which made him a less-than-fully-actualized player; Green entered the league with a clear sense of who he was, what he could become, and how to maximize the tools he had to be a productive pro.

And when I say it was clear from Day 1, I mean summer league: Barnes was getting himself shots that he could create but not make, dribbling himself into spaces he could find but not get out of. And a pretty clear pattern emerged in Vegas: any time Barnes dribbled more than two times, nothing positive happened. When he set his feet for spot-ups or darted to the rim off cuts, he was fine but he strangely rarely seemed to be in position to make those plays and disappeared when he didn't have the ball. Defensively, he got torched by Jimmy Butler and Lance Stephenson, which in retrospect might not be anything to be ashamed of. But at the time, he was looking like every bit of the bust I expected him to be.

After a mediocre rookie season, his performance in the playoffs was promising but not necessarily sustainable: I did want him to start over David Lee the next season, but it was also difficult to shake the sneaking suspicion that the promise shown was more the product of catching opponents off guard and exploiting matchups they weren't prepared for rather than sustainable development.

Then his second season rolled around and confirmed that suspicion. And it was nice to not have to say "I told you so" because the evidence was so clear and overwhelming.

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There was no question all along that any offensive system that involved movement was bound to benefit him because the problem was that he struggled to independently create efficient scoring opportunities. That is what made it much easier to swallow the notion of him moving into the starting lineup in favor of Andre Iguodala this season: rather than being the focal point of a unit, which neither worked in summer league nor in college (as well as people seemed to think), Barnes could play off the Splash Brothers and take advantage of all the attention they were getting to be a more efficient complementary player. His season consisted of the normal ups and downs that have defined his career thus far, but I thought we really started to see a fully-actualized Harrison Barnes against the Memphis Grizzlies — a player who knows how to maximize his strengths, minimize his weaknesses, and follow a developmental trajectory that acknowledges the latter while building on the former.

Parvenu has already summarized Barnes' significant improvement in a FanPost published over the weekend (and recommended enough to deserve promotion to our front page), but before putting the second round behind us and focusing on the Warriors' first conference finals appearance in nearly 40 years, I wanted to take the time to highlight some of the specific positives that Barnes showed against the Grizzlies.

So the following is a game-by-game series review and MVP poll (I think I can guess who you'll vote for) with an eye on what Barnes did well offensively, defensively, and mentally.

Game 1: Warriors 101, Grizzlies 86

Warrior Wonder: Stephen Curry

WW: Steph Curry (11%)

Runner-up: Harrison Barnes (10%)

People were clearly more concerned about Tony Allen in this game and for good reason: walking through a kids' performance at Oracle Arena is simply unacceptable by any standard.

But even though Curry "won" this little vote, a pretty solid argument could be made for Barnes getting some series MVP cred from this game: the Grizzlies were playing without Mike Conley. Curry no doubt had a good game with a game-high 22 points with a usage rate of 29%, but Barnes had the highest +/- with a team-high +18 albeit in less minutes.

My vote still goes to Curry here, but if you want to make an argument for who was most consistent in this series Barnes might have had the edge in this game.

Game 2: Grizzlies 97, Warriors 90

Warrior Wonder: Leandro Barbosa

WW: Leandro Barbosa (8%)

Runner-up: Draymond Green (4%)

Do we really want to dwell on this one too much?

This was the game when Mike Conley came back a bit earlier than expected and just torched the Dubs with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting while Tony Allen's troll game was especially strong on the other end (if a troll can troll any harder than Tony Allen trolled by disrupting a YOUTH DANCE ROUTINE).

I agree with Coach Nick that Allen's defense wasn't perfect — and even quite reckless at times — but perfection isn't always the point defensively: Allen did a remarkable job of making Klay Thompson uncomfortable and, in doing so, took away one of the Warriors' main options. Bram Kincheloe described it beautifully.

Tony Allen was in Klay's head. Tony Allen was so far inside his head that he may as well have been dictating his every thought. Writing it out, laboriously, on some dust covered typewriter. Tony Allen, sitting with a mad look on his face, one eyebrow cocked. Sitting in the attic of Klay's mind, quietly typing the same sentence over and over and over again on a small, clicking typewriter like Jack in The Shining... And do you know what that sentence was? Do you?

I've sort of imagined Thompson waking up sitting upright in cold sweats for years after this imagining that Allen is somewhere lurking in his house.

It was that painful to watch.

Leandro Barbosa did play well that game with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, a team-high +8 plus/minus, and energy that the team seemed to be sorely lacking...but that's not enough to beat a Grizzlies team clicking on all cylinders.

Game 3: Grizzlies 99, Warriors 89

Warrior Wonder: Harrison Barnes

WW: Harrison Barnes (16%)

Runner-up: Klay Thompson (2%)

So clearly everyone was panicked and not all that impressed by anyone in a Warriors uniform...but Harrison Barnes simply stood out for not being terrible.

And it was at this point when we started to panic and consider the possibility that all the doubters were right.

But let's start talking about Barnes in earnest here.

I always said that Barnes was least effective in any situation where he had to take more than two dribbles. Although this 7-for-10 performance will probably be forgotten, I think it was the perfect showcase for the ideal use of Barnes offensively.

The majority of Barnes' shot attempts came after less than two dribbles — they were a combination of drives, cuts, spot ups, and well-designed iso post-ups. He just did an exceptional job of reading the defense, finding gaps and playing off of his teammates; he's flourishing because he's allowing the system to create opportunities for him instead of having to create for himself. But a large part of his growth is his decisiveness: his moving with intention and knows what he wants to do before he gets the ball, which allows him to kick into a second option far more smoothly and effectively.

Saying all that is nothing original, per se, but it was really on display in Game 3 despite the loss.

Then Draymond Green coaxed Curry into dinner on Beale Street.

Game 4: Warriors 101, Grizzlies 84

Warrior Wonder: Stephen Curry

WW: Steph Curry (20%)

Runner-up: Harrison Barnes (7%)

And then the Warriors responded.

Perhaps you could consider the Warriors' coaching staff as the MVP here for making the move to put Andrew Bogut on Tony Allen just to leave him open and take the defensive troll ace out of the game. And Coach Nick did a good job of breaking down why that all worked.

When he knows what he has to do, he's pretty good out there. When he's left to freelance mentally, it robs him of his instincts. -Marcus Thompson II

But I want to stick with talking about Barnes here even though Curry's 33 points drew more attention: Barnes guarding Zach Randolph was impressive to watch not because he was able to stop him but because he did an outstanding job of playing position defense within the broader scheme to play a major role in derailing the Grizzlies' defense. And what's most promising about that is this: if Barnes can provided consistent plus minutes as a stretch four against Zach Randolph, he can do it against just about anyone in this league.

Marcus Thompson II did a great job summarizing the value of Barnes' versatility, adding a bit about the mental side of things that might explain his postseason emergence.

This seems to fit Barnes' learning style. When the new coaching staff took over, Ron Adams spent a lot of time with Barnes going over the film. When he knows what he has to do, he's pretty good out there. When he's left to freelance mentally, it robs him of his instincts.

The specificity and depth of playoff game plans takes away the overthinking. His assignments are clear and he gets the time to master them over the course of a series. At that point, the exceptional parts of his game -- his athleticism, talent, passion -- can take over as he executes.

If Barnes can use this experience of fusing that athleticism, talent, and passion in specific situations and begin to see the game better, there's no question that he can develop into something really special — a more valuable commodity than we ever gave credit for on their hands.

Game 5: Warriors 98, Grizzlies 78

Warrior Wonder: Harrison Barnes

WW: Harrison Barnes (23%)

Runner-up: Andre Iguodala (7%)

This was that game with that iconic moment for Steph Curry in which he let loose a bit after his shot at the end of the first quarter and allowed himself to enjoy the crowd cheering him on a bit.

But again, Barnes' aggression and efficiency really stood out here; Andrew Flohr described that well in his recap of the game.

While defensive stops fueled the Warriors late in the first quarter, it was Harrison Barnes who carried the load offensively early on when the Warriors struggled to find their rhythm. The Black Falcon finished with 14 points and 5 turnovers, but showed up ready to play from the jump. If it wasn't for Barnes early offense, the Warriors may of found themselves in a much larger hole early on.

Controlled aggression is what has generally been lacking from Barnes in his NBA career: he has either been over-aggressive, trying to force the issue and playing outside his strengths, or passive to the point of being irrelevant. The big thing for me in this series was that he finally seemed to strike the right balance of giving the team what they need within the flow of the offense. That he has also proven to be a solid defender throughout the playoffs makes him a far more complete player than some of us imagined when he came out of UNC.

Game 6: Warriors 108, Grizzlies 95

Warrior Wonder: Stephen Curry

WW: Steph Curry (31%)

Runner-up: Harrison Barnes (5%)

When it came to finishing off an opponent, once again Curry left no doubt about who this team's MVP is.

Curry dropped 33 points on 11-for-25 shooting including eight threes on the Grizzlies in Memphis. And while the 3/4 court shot has gotten most of the attention from this one, he had so many highlights — like on every three he made — that I'm not sure it's even reasonable to narrow things down to one.

As an example, how do you stop a player who can do this to you?

And the craziest part: that shot probably won't even rank in the top five Curry highlights by the time this postseason is all said and done. This stuff is just insane.

So we all probably have an idea of what the outcome of this series MVP poll will be...but just so we have an official record of these things as the Warriors go through the playoffs... vote in the poll below to certify your choice as MVP of this series.

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