Golden State Warriors

Harrison Barnes’ sophomore slump keeps getting worse

Harrison Barnes 49ers game

Harrison Barnes’ sophomore year regression is weighing the Warriors down, but it doesn’t get talked about much. Maybe it’s because it’s so painful to watch a healthy, athletic player when he looks completely lost.

Barnes, like the team as a whole, came into this season with astronomically high expectations. He looked like a potential breakout performer after providing exactly what Golden State needed (and then some) after David Lee’s hip injury in Game 1 of their first round series against Denver. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson brought the shooting, while Barnes helped stretch the floor further while adding some welcome and aesthetically pleasing verticality to the team’s offense.

After getting squeezed out of the starting lineup with the addition of free agent Andre Iguodala, Barnes struggled to find a role that suited him throughout the season’s first few months. Since the All-Star Break his numbers have dropped through the floor.

Before the All-Star Break: 29.2 mpg, 41.6 FG%, 40.9 3p%, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 10.4 ppg

After the All-Star Break: 25.4 mpg, 30.7 FG%, 22.6 3p%, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 apg, 6.5 ppg

After Monday’s practice I asked Mark Jackson about Barnes’ struggles and what they need from him as the Warriors fight to make the playoffs.

We need him to play at a high level. There’s no secret he hasn’t played the way we or he expects him to. But I believe in him and I believe he’s going to play huge for us and win games for us. He’s a guy that works extremely hard. He’s a true professional. He cares, and I think it’s going to pay off. He’d be the first to tell you he’s not playing up to par.

But why isn’t he playing up to par? Here’s what I’m seeing.

1. His confidence is completely shot

Whether it came from losing his starting job, struggling to build off what he did at the end of last season, or his cringe-worthy performance in the Dunk Contest, he looks like a guy who’s having a difficult time envisioning success.

A sequence against the Knicks on Sunday told the story pretty well. There was a loose ball near midcourt, and if Barnes would’ve pounced immediately he would’ve been able to get there in time. Instead he took a step back toward the defensive end to prepare for a New York fastbreak. But as the ball floated ever-so-slowly through the air, Barnes changed his mind and ran toward it. By then it was too late, and with Barnes out of position the Knicks had the ball and the advantage.

The word “aggressive” is probably used too often in a basketball sense, but Barnes would be well-served to play more assertively. He needs to make split-second decisions throughout his time on the floor, and he needs to trust his instincts.

2. Too many isos

The Warriors have trouble getting to the free-throw line, so it appears that Mark Jackson and his staff thought Barnes could help out in that area. He bulked up a bit during the offseason, probably with hopes of stealing some minutes at power forward, and Jackson has spent the entire season giving Barnes the ball (usually on the left side) with hopes he’d go to work and either score or draw some fouls. The problem is that Barnes seems to shy away from contact, takes forever to make up his mind and has below-average touch around the basket.

Check out his shot chart — it’s all bad, but under 50% that close to the rim is especially poor.

As Ethan Sherwood Strauss pointed out in today’s BASGcast, the Warriors should be moving Barnes all over the place when the ball isn’t in his hands, using screens and ghost cuts. Instead, he stays mostly stationary and receives the ball on the perimeter — and teams aren’t denying him the ball either, for good reason. That brings us to …

3. Barnes’ postseason success alerted the masses

Barnes was a starter throughout his rookie year, but were teams really game-planning for him? Maybe a little, after working on how to stop Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and maybe even Carl Landry. But after he averaged 16.1 ppg and 6.4 ppg in 12 playoff games, teams realized that studying Barnes’ tendencies might not be such a bad idea. And the Warriors have made it easy to create the following scouting report: let him catch the ball on the wing and stay in front of him. That’s it. As long as you don’t foul Barnes, he’ll dribble out the shot clock and end up shooting some off-balance midrange shot that has almost no chance of going in.

How can the Warriors fix Barnes, who everyone agrees is an incredibly hard worker?

Maybe it’s time to work smarter. Jackson doesn’t want to install an entirely new offense with less than 10 games left in the season, but what they’re doing with Barnes isn’t working. So scrap the iso stuff, get Barnes moving without the ball (really, they should have a goal of at least one lob pass to Barnes each game), and work on getting Barnes to make quicker decisions.

Three is the magic number, and that’s not in reference to three-point shots. The triple-threat position isn’t something Barnes should stay with for three seconds. One second should be the rule, two tops. Three dribbles should be the maximum as well, regardless of the move he’s attempting.

Barnes is a guy who can do a lot of things fairly well, but isn’t great in any one area. However, he’s healthy (as far as we know). As long as he can still run and jump, he should put those attributes to work — OFF the ball. Get him some lobs, boost his confidence … and if he’s struggling on a particular night, just give his minutes to Draymond Green.

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