Last summer when the Mavericks inked Harrison Barnes to a four year, $94 million dollar deal many laughed in their face. After what was a poor showing in the NBA finals during the Warriors epic collapse, many questioned their reasoning. Why sign a player like this? A perceived role player on a star’s contract? C’mon now! And as often is the case, Memes and slander began circulating the Twittersphere. The Mavs and Barnes were now the butt of jokes. But soon enough, those jokers would be silent…
2017-18 Season in Review
But before Barnes could prove everyone wrong, he proved them right.
During last years preseason, Barnes looked like a fish out of water. HB shot an ugly 27% from the floor and bricked 18 of his first 21 three point tries. It was painfully obvious that Harrison was struggling to grasp a new offense. He was looking to be aggressive, but did’t exactly know where his shots were going to come from. Which leads to indecision and hesitancy that seemed to snowball on him a bit. So naturally, Hot takes were flying and fans were rightfully concerned. But come opening night, Barnes would put all those concerns to bed…
From this point on, the flood gates were opened for Harrison. Exuding confidence, He rattled off several 30 point explosions to open the year. Couple this with injuries and the age of his supporting cast, he was prematurely forced into being the teams number one option. And contrary to what the national media might have thought, he thrived. Flashing a refined scoring repertoire Right out of the chute, Barnes utilized his advanced face up and post up games not many knew he possessed. Even registering as one of the most efficient isolation players in the league last year, a spot usually reserved for the game’s elite.
While all that was great, perhaps most impressive was how consistent Barnes was in doing so. It really is comical just how consistent he was. Each and every night he would come in, Score his 20 points and get his 5 rebounds, do some work in his mid-range office, and be on his way. In fact, in 77 games in which he played at least 25 minutes, he failed to reach double figures only 4 times. While reaching double digits might not seem like a big accomplishment, think back to guys like Chandler Parsons and OJ Mayo. Once considered potential foundation pieces, they struggled mightily to be consistent producers over the course of a whole season and they carried even less of a burden than Barnes did.
Being a number one option in the NBA isn’t easy. Barnes proved in his first year he could be a productive player in a less than ideal situation, all year long. Effectively cementing himself as part of the Mavericks growing nucleus going forward.
It is natural to assume that a 25 year old coming off of a career year will make a significant improvement. Especially given the fact that his supporting cast has gotten substantially better. Last year, almost all of Harrison Barnes scoring chances were created by, well, Harrison Barnes. Now though, it seems Harrison has some more reliable creators around him. For starters, having Nerlens Noel and the vertical spacing he provides for a full season will certainly benefit Harrison when he is playing off the ball, primarily on the weak side. Seth Curry in an extended role should also make things easier for Barnes, but the most significant development is the addition of rookie sensation Dennis Smith. Smith is an explosive, break down Point Guard that the Mavericks franchise has been sorely missing. Expect big things from these two going forward.
Fortunately, Barnes has the intangibles and work ethic to build on a successful first go round. This does not mean he is without flaws, however. For all of the goods Barnes gives you, he is a relatively one dimensional player At this point in his career. All his value lies in his one on one prowess. To reach that all star level he’s after, he must become more well rounded.
That would obviously mean developing his passing and rebounding instincts. However, nobody has ever developed court vision or become a tenacious glass cleaner overnight. So, let’s start small.
What is the area to expect the most improvement in?
The diversifying of his attack.
As referenced earlier, Barnes almost exclusively scored in mid-post isolations. It takes a certain amount of talent to be an effective one on one scorer. However, It isn’t exactly the most healthy way to play. It tends to yield inefficient results when the best player plays this way because the ball sticks in his hands, which would severely hinder Carlisle’s “flow” offense. Harrison featured this style out of sheer necessity though. So look for him to move away from this model this season. Expect him to utilize that improved supporting cast discussed earlier and allow the offense to generate better looks for him.
Going hand in hand with that, Harrison should also see an improved perimeter game. Not necessarily shooting, but more along the lines of creating off the dribble. He played the vast majority of his minutes as a small ball Power Forward for Rick, and he operated primarily in that area of the floor. So opportunities for him to initiate offense were scarce. But he came into the league as a traditional Small Forward, which suggests he has posistional versatility. And Versatility in today’s NBA is king. Given coach Carlisle’s Pick and Roll heavy system, If Barnes even makes a marginal improvement in this department, he becomes a much, much better basketball player. And he’s even spoke to this being a focus of his, so keep an eye for it throughout the year.
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