Harrison Barnes is only 22, and he’s already started 105 NBA games. Normally one would assume that someone in his position would start every game in his third season, and about 900 more in his career. But Barnes, who was in a short-lived competition for a starting spot with Klay Thompson at this point last year, only started 24 of the 78 games he played in his second season.
It was a year of regression. His three-point accuracy was about the same (34.7% last year compared to 35.9% in his rookie year), but his overall field goal percentage dropped from 43.9% to 39.9%. He went from shooting 75.8% from the line as a rookie to 71.8%, and he got to the line less often. He also scored fewer points and grabbed fewer rebounds per minute last year, as Mark Jackson tasked Barnes with being a leader of the reserve unit, which often consisted of five completely different players than the starting lineup.
“It was tough for him. He was in the second lineup. A lot of the plays went toward Harrison. He was getting doubled a lot. To have that kind of pressure early on in your career, handling NBA double-teams is something you’ve got to learn. It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Andrew Bogut.
“I think he adjusted pretty well, but mentally it set him back a little bit … I wouldn’t say he was misused, I think he lost some confidence in himself. I think he’ll build that back up.”
Jackson’s last year was a forgettable one for Barnes, but with a new coach could come new opportunities — and a new role. Steve Kerr wouldn’t commit to using the same lineup when first asked about his potential starters this summer, and his stance hasn’t changed based on comments he made last week.
“Everything’s open. Obviously, Steph’s going to be our starting point guard. I just feel like we’ve got a lot of questions and a lot of options. Some of it will be health-related, some of it will be what we’re looking like as a team when we go through camp. There’s a lot that we can do, we just have to figure out what’s best for us,” said Kerr.
I asked the Warriors head coach if there’d be any advantages to starting Barnes.
“It’s hard to say, just because we haven’t seen everybody together. I’m a big fan of Harrison’s, I think he’s got a ton of talent. He can play a few different positions, I think he can play two, three and four,” said Kerr.
“One thing, I’m just going to be really open with our team. The depth is our strength. We’ve got to embrace that. That means there are going to be certain nights where it’s your night and certain nights when it’s not. The best teams accept that and embrace it and have gotten stronger for it. That’s going to be one of our challenges as a group. We’ve got to make sure that everybody’s contributing and understanding their roles, and those roles will develop as we get into camp.”
Barnes finished 12th on the team in both true shooting percentage and win shares per 48 minutes. He didn’t put up better numbers per minute in the 24 games he started last season, either. But there’s a faction that believes Andre Iguodala is better equipped to lead the second unit, due to his superior ball-handling and confidence. For his part, Iguodala couldn’t care less about the who’ll-start-who’ll-sit chatter.
“I think there was a lot of emphasis put on it or there’s a lot of stuff that gets stirred up about that, and I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Iguodala. “I know what I can do. I feel comfortable doing it.”
One thing we don’t know yet is whether Barnes has improved since last season. A year ago he was coming off the high of a semi-breakout set of playoff games after David Lee got hurt. There was talk of Barnes becoming the team’s top stretch-4, along with the rumblings about possibly supplanting Thompson in the starting lineup. Then Thompson erased those ideas by playing really well in the preseason and in the early part of the regular season, when Barnes was nursing a toe injury.
So is Kerr trying to boost Barnes’ spirits and/or trade value by keeping things open (he was named in a lot of those Kevin Love rumors, and not as an untouchable like Thompson), or will Barnes’ name really be heard over the PA system before each Warriors game? We’ll see by the end of training camp, but the starting center isn’t worried.
“They brought in a former All-Star to basically take his spot, so he was definitely frustrated by it. But one thing I will say about him, he didn’t stop working. He’s always in the gym, getting extra work in, even when he played bad. He didn’t shoot the ball as well as he would’ve liked, but I think with some ball movement … that’ll change,” said Bogut, who sees a lot of himself in Barnes.
“Overthinking in this league can kill you. He’s very, very smart. He knows what it takes to be great and he’s working at it. But I think sometimes he probably over-stresses things, much like I do. Sometimes you can’t think, you’ve just got to play. That’s where guys like Draymond, I really respect what they do because Draymond doesn’t care what you say. If he airballed his last shot by five feet, he’s shooting the next one. He’s got that confidence. I think sometimes the thinkers overthink it too much. Draymond thinks it, but once he’s on the court, he just lets it ride. It’s good to see.”
Hey, maybe Kerr should put Draymond Green in the starting lineup. After all, if nothing’s set in stone …