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2016 NBA free agency: Harrison Barnes verbally agrees to exorbitant contract with Mavericks

With Kevin Durant coming to the Warriors, we no longer have to worry about whether Harrison Barnes will reach the potential people imagined for him.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We've spent much of this year debating how valuable Harrison Barnes was to the Golden State Warriors and whether he's worthy of a max contract.

Upgrading the small forward position with Kevin Durant makes all of that a moot point now.

As reported by ESPN's Marc Stein earlier today, Barnes has agreed to terms with the Dallas Mavericks on a four-year, $94 million deal. So, clearly, Barnes' decision to turn down the Warriors' offer of $64 million over four years paid off financially.

And, to be quite honest, the Warriors not matching that contract for Barnes is almost as big a relief as landing Durant is satisfying.

A few months ago, I wrote that Barnes has a somewhat singular combination of skills, athleticism, defensive versatility, work ethic, and strength when looking at players with a similar statistical profile that made him uniquely valuable to the Warriors over anyone else. And all of that remains true — the Warriors might have been justified in keeping him around on a max contract had Durant not come on the basis of chemistry and championship cohesion alone. Yet the fact is that those attributes never really made him worth a maximum contract hold when you look at his accomplishments and actual contributions.

Kevin Pelton of ESPN probably framed things best when he broke down the decision on Saturday and concluded that it would've been worth it for the Warriors to match the offer had they not gotten Durant due to his role in the Death Lineup, but far less prudent for the Mavs.

In a vacuum, it's pretty clear that Barnes is not a max-caliber player, something that might matter more to Dallas than to Golden State.

In fact, if Golden State decides not to match the offer sheet, the Mavericks will probably regret paying so much for such a limited player. The Mavs' most recent primary small forward, Chandler Parsons, created far more of his own offense than Barnes, using plays at an above-average rate while getting assisted 60 percent of the time. When Barnes has been given the opportunity to do the same, he has struggled.

Statistically, Pelton's point about Barnes struggling to create for himself is best embodied by how his free throw rate dropped from 21.1% during the 2015-16 season to a career-low 16% during the playoffs — with Curry out due to injury and struggling with its lingering effects throughout, Barnes still was never able to assert himself and saw his numbers drop across the board.

Compounding the issue, as Pelton noted, was that his true shooting percentage was just above league average (.541) during the regular season (.559) fell to just .474 during the playoffs — combined with his relatively low usage rate throughout his career, you're looking at a player who can neither create for himself nor efficiently score when surrounded by All-Stars. ESPN analysts Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi further elaborated on the point in their piece just before the free agent moratorium began listing Barnes as one of the most overrated free agents in this year's field.

...we have a hard time identifying attributes that could make the former Tar Heel a max-level player. His 11.7 points per game certainly weren't anything to write home about. Neither were his subpar rates (per 36 minutes) of steals (0.7), assists (2.1) or blocks (0.2).

And while Barnes' 3-point production last season -- 38.3 percent accuracy on 214 long-range attempts -- gives the appearance of competence, a deeper dive suggests it might be a mirage. According to player tracking metrics on, when Barnes launched 3s without being wide open (i.e., when there was a defender within six feet of him), he connected on a putrid 30.6 percent of his attempts.

Put Barnes on nearly any team besides Golden State -- that is, any team where open looks aren't the norm -- and he will almost certainly suffer a massive drop in shooting efficiency.

In short, thinking that Barnes is going to go somewhere else and excel when forced to create more and getting less open shots defies logic.

What all those numbers point to is Barnes' struggle to create for himself or others off the dribble. As Engelmann and Ilardi point out, his low turnover rate is more a testament to his lack of aggression in creating in the Warriors' offense than his reliability with the ball in his hands. He has improved from the days when I openly panicked when he took more than two dribbles, but not at all to the level necessary to be the type of small forward the Mavs are paying him to be. To think that he's going to suddenly develop those skills in a less favorable environment is probably just wishful thinking.

So with the Mavs signing him to that exorbitant contract, Barnes' biggest supporters will now have a natural experiment to test the theory that all he needed was a chance to prosper, stats be damned.

For more thoughts on Barnes' value, check out our storystream with analysis and commentary from throughout the season.

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