Harrison Barnes has been saddled with impossibly high expectations since he stepped foot on the North Carolina Tar Heels campus his freshman season.
Last year, he was clearly struggling to live up to the hype. In the first half of his freshman season, Barnes consistently underwhelmed.
Then, he found his shooting touch and became one of the Tar Heels’ best options on offense.
Barnes decided to return for his sophomore season despite being all but assured of a first-round selection.
Sure to have left his freshman inconsistency and nerves behind, Barnes began this season with renewed confidence and has led North Carolina to a 13-2 record.
The question then becomes: Has Barnes showed improvement from the stellar end to his freshman season, or is he slipping down NBA draft boards?
The answer? A little bit of both. There are key areas in which Barnes has firmly announced his pro-readiness, but others he clearly needs to improve upon.
Harrison Barnes’ clear strength is his scoring. This season, he is averaging 17 points per game and is often the North Carolina Tar Heels’ best option on offense.
Barnes is a great shooter and consistently finds the bottom of the net no matter where he is on the court.
He has improved his (already great) shooting percentages across the board in his sophomore season. Barnes is shooting an identical 48.7 percent for both three-point and two-point field goals.
His free-throw shooting has declined slightly to 72 percent, but much of that decrease can be attributed to the fact that Barnes is averaging almost two more attempts per game this season.
Barnes has established himself as a great shooter—a skill that is highly valued in the NBA. In this respect, at least, Barnes is as NBA-ready as they come.
One area in which Harrison Barnes has hurt his NBA draft stock is his rebounding ability.
Last season, Barnes averaged almost six rebounds per game. His job was to help out the North Carolina Tar Heels’ stud frontcourt of Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
His freshman year, Barnes did an admirable job. If he had kept up last season’s rebounding rate or, better yet, improved it slightly, Barnes would be well on his way to securing a Top 5 selection in the draft.
As it stands, Barnes will probably still be picked that highly, but not because of his rebounding prowess.
Barnes’ rebounding has actually decreased significantly this season to just over 4.5 per game. He has grabbed over five rebounds just three times all season and secured 10 boards a game only once.
Barnes must prove that he can block out and be tougher than big men underneath the basket.
In the NBA, many small forwards are expected to consistently put up solid rebounding numbers. Currently, Barnes has not shown that he is willing or capable of doing so.
As stated previously, Harrison Barnes can shoot. But he cannot create his own shot.
Barnes’ strength is as a catch-and-shoot scorer. If he can spend his time lurking around the three-point line and waiting for teammates to drive and dish, he will score 20 points per game.
However, when defenses force Barnes to put the ball on the floor and drive or pull up, his shooting efficiency declines dramatically.
According to HoopSpeakU, when Barnes takes just one dribble, his points per possession drops from 1.51 to 0.81. Furthermore, when he takes more than one dribble, Barnes is shooting a measly 31 percent from the field.
Clearly, Barnes has not developed a driving game. He is much more comfortable being set up by teammates.
While spot shooting is a skill that will be useful in the NBA, a one-dimensional player is often a liability.
Barnes must work on his ball handling if he wants to have a long and successful professional career.
Harrison Barnes’ performance in big games is both a positive and negative for his NBA draft stock.
On the upside, Barnes is rarely rattled. His demeanor stays the same whether his team is up 20 or down five at the end of a game.
Barnes will not make costly turnovers, as he will not be affected by loud fans or a tense atmosphere.
On the downside, Barnes has shown an unwillingness to fight for the ball against quality opponents.
In his two games against ranked opponents—the Kentucky Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers—and against the talented Long Beach State 49ers, Barnes averaged less than three rebounds.
Against Long Beach State, Barnes attempted one free throw. Against Kentucky, he shot none. Barnes did get to the line seven times in the game against Wisconsin, but he did not foul once. Sometimes, fouls can be an indication of aggressive play.
Barnes has shown that he is often not willing to battle with stronger, skilled teams. Unfortunately for him, the NBA is full of tough players, who will try to muscle him out of the way.
One thing Harrison Barnes has going for him is consistency. His shooting percentages are high, and they are virtually the same from game to game.
Barnes has scored less than 14 points just twice all season—back-to-back nine-point games that he followed with a 26-point outing.
Barnes’ field goal attempts are similar from game to game as well. Clearly, he is getting his shots and converting at a fairly dependable rate.
His scoring is efficient, as Barnes is averaging a little over 12 shots per game and 2.5 three-point field goal attempts.
With an 82-game season looming in his future, Barnes must keep up his steady scoring. Streaky shooters are an all-too familiar sight in the NBA. Barnes can set himself apart from the pack by proving his reliability.
Coming back for his sophomore season was important in this regard. Barnes showed NBA scouts that he put his uneven freshman performance behind him. His maturity and consistency is obvious.
The NBA has recently developed an aversion to defense. More often than not, games become scoring contests in which teams score upwards of 100 points night in and night out.
Teams like the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns make a living by scoring lots of points quickly and playing virtually no defense.
Yet despite all this, defense is still a crucial and sought-after quality in NBA prospects. Harrison Barnes has an edge in this regard—when he sets his mind to it, he can play lockdown defense with the best of them.
Last season, Barnes often relied on his defense when his scoring was questionable. This year, he is proving that defense is not just a fall-back for him—he can score in bunches while also keeping his man in check.
Barnes could easily make a living in the league by clamping down on an opposing team’s best player. Combined with his other talents, Barnes will be a very highly regarded prospect.
Simply put, Harrison Barnes understands the game of basketball. He knows where his teammates are on the court and understand the ins and outs of offense.
Such knowledge is especially important for a jump shooter like Barnes. He is able to get so many good looks at the basket because he knows where to stand to receive passes.
Barnes can set up outside the paint during a fast break and shift over around the three-point line when teammates drive, in order to maximize his chances of getting an open shot.
This skill will make Barnes a very attractive draftee. NBA scouts will recognize that Barnes can pick up new offenses quickly and will fit in seamlessly with a new team and teammates.
Many NBA draft prospects slip a few spots due to character issues.
If teams are worried that a certain player will disrupt chemistry or cause unnecessary problems in the locker room, his talent is irrelevant.
Harrison Barnes does not have this problem. In choosing to come back for his sophomore season, Barnes proved that he was a team-oriented player, who wanted to win as much for his teammates as for himself.
Despite his hot shooting, Barnes is never selfish. He will not be a distraction in the locker room or with the media.
If anything, Barnes has proven that he is a steadying presence and one who respects and can help his teammates.