UNC Basketball: 7 Factors That Will Decide NBA Fate of Harrison Barnes
Tar Heels Nation, things just got real.
Following his interview on Wednesday with FOX Sports Florida, North Carolina fans must come to grips with reality—Harrison Barnes is not on a four-year plan. Sure, he left open the possibility of coming back if UNC doesn't win the 2012 National Championship. My only advice is not to get your hopes up. It's time to evaluate Harrison Barnes as an NBA player.
Now, before we go labeling him the next Michael Jordan or the next Greg Oden, let's understand there is plenty of real estate between. Somewhere between Kevin Durant and Luol Deng is perfectly fine. That's still a fair range, but both are well-respected, quality players in the NBA and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
I see Barnes falling closer to the Durant end of the spectrum. He's a man of few weaknesses and has the ability to take over a game at any time. Though his weaknesses are few, they still need to be addressed. With the desire Harrison Barnes has displayed thus far, I have no doubt he will get those kinks worked out.
He has all the right measurements at 6'8” and boasting a solid 215 pound frame that has room to grow. The question is how he sizes up with the NBA competition.
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You can't knock the hustle.
Harrison Barnes uses every bit of the court and can get up and down the floor with the best of them. That's a quality that is invaluable at the NBA level. Too many superstars are all offense and no defense. It's something special when a player's game extends 92 feet—sad as that is to say.
When matched up in the half-court, Barnes does an outstanding job of staying in front of his opponent. His footwork and proper spacing allow him to adjust in any direction his opponent tries to move. He also keeps his stance low and arms spread, which is such a simple thing I don't see from enough defenders. His proper positioning and overall technique allows him to contest any shot or pass.
His defensive stat sheet certainly won't blow your mind, but a gnat is just as pesky as a mosquito. Harrison Barnes is averaging 1.2 steals per game and only 0.4 blocks per game. Granted, those are college numbers, but they're numbers that would put him among the top 15 for small forwards in the NBA. And you can never underestimate the value of a simple hand in the face.
The only deficiency I see in this aspect of his game is getting beaten with a quick step. But let's face it, the best of the best can't be stopped when they're on. Defenders can only do their best to make the shot as difficult as possible. Barnes does that with the best of them, too.
Catch and Shoot
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At times, his ability to catch and shoot is less than desirable. At others, it's completely unstoppable. I've yet to find anything related to his technique that causes these inconsistencies. I think it's more a matter of rhythm than anything.
When Harrison Barnes gets in that shooter's rhythm—as long as he keeps his body under control—he can knock down just about any shot. This is when he becomes deadly in open space and has yanked the swagger right out of opposing teams.
Rhythm is also a part of his technique on the catch and shoot. He likes to angle his body on the catch, so he can make a forward stride with his right foot before his release. This is a great way for a player to sync up his full body with the shooting motion. It's also a great way to get blocked in the NBA.
It takes Barnes almost a full two seconds, from the moment of the catch to his release. When he is rushed, and has to shorten his step and quicken the release, the ball tends to eat iron. Thanks to his height, he isn't blocked that much, but that's where things will change in the NBA.
This is one area where Harrison Barnes could use some improvement, but at least he has a solid base to work from.
Shooting off the Dribble
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I'm much more pleased with ability of Harrison Barnes to pop up and knock it down off the dribble. He has proven to be deadly with this type of shot, but he has also leaned on it too much at times.
For the most part, it doesn't matter how Barnes takes the shot off the dribble. He can step back, find open space around a screen or plow by a defender, plant his foot and drain it. Sometimes he gets carried away with the latter and takes a bad shot, rather than dishing it off or driving straight through to the basket. That's where his gift becomes his curse.
It's all a matter of body control and letting the defender dictate his shot. There's nothing wrong with Barnes thinking ahead on his shot selection, but it's always good to have a back-up plan for when the defender does his job right.
I'd like to see him slash to the basket a little more, but there's no denying his ability to stop-and-drop.
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Though this aspect of his game is rarely displayed on the college hardwood, don't let that fool you. He has an abundance of pure talent in the post.
Harrison Barnes makes use of head fakes, spin moves and superb athleticism to create space between himself and opponents. His body control is outstanding. His leaping ability allows him to hang in the air, while gravity sucks the defender back to the floor.
He also uses every bit of his 215 pound frame to bully his opponents in the post. As he gains more muscle mass, he will only improve this part of his game. With his work ethic—and I'll get into that later—I wouldn't be surprised to see him working with Hakeem the Dream. No, not Nicks, people! I'm talking about the man with the greatest post game to hit an NBA court—Hakeem Olajuwon.
LeBron James has been knocked for his lack of a post game, so he went to see the legend during the offseason to work out the kinks. Now King James is scoring in the post as easily as he has slashed to the basket throughout his career. Other notables that have been coached up by the Hall of Famer in recent years include Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah.
If I could give Harrison Barnes one piece of advice, it would be to go see Hakeem.
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Harrison Barnes displays a great deal of range in his game. He can hit shots from just about any area of the floor with ease. There is still room for improvement, but his work ethic will solve any of his setbacks.
From his freshman year to his sophomore year, he has improved his 3-point percentage by nearly 10 percent! That's quite the jump over just a summer of work! He went from shooting 34 percent from that range, to 43 percent. And it's a good thing for the Tar Heels, since nobody else can seem to knock them down with consistency this year.
Of course, now that he's getting better from that range, he's going to have to try and do it three feet further away. The NBA 3-pointer is 23 feet and 9 inches away, while the NCAA range is at 20 feet and 9 inches.
Fortunately for Barnes, he has good strength and a technically sound shooting motion, so I think it will be an adjustment and not a wall.
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One of the most indispensable traits of Harrison Barnes is his work ethic. Much like Psycho T, he's known as the hardest worker on the team.
According to Robbi Pickeral's article on newsobsever.com, Dexter Strickland was quoted as saying, “[Harrison] is a workaholic, he wants to get better, and that factor alone drives me. His work ethic alone should motivate everyone on the team - not, 'I want to be as good,' but 'I want to be better [than him].' So I look at it as a motivation tool. ... And hopefully, it will make all of us better."
This didn't just start in college, either.
Going back to his high school days, things were much the same. In his freshman year at Ames High School in Iowa, his coach had given the team a week off during spring break. Most players would take the break and run—not Barnes. He wanted to use the weight room, so he called up his coach and told him, “Coach, we aren't going to win state championships by taking a week off.”
Things haven't changed.
Harrison Barnes could have spent his summer enjoying college life and the fame that follows highly-touted players in Chapel Hill. After all, he's only 19! Instead, he attended Chris Paul's Elite Guard Camp to improve his ball-handling skills. He followed that up with a trip to Chicago to take on the Kevin Durant Skills Academy.
Harrison Barnes never stops trying to improve. When young players are told they can go straight to the NBA, it has a tendency to go to their heads. They stop trying to make themselves better because they are already good enough to get into the NBA. The players that succeed are the ones that never stop making themselves better.
Kevin Durant's favorite adage says it best: "Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard."
I believe ESPN's Skip Bayless coined the term “clutch gene”, so I must give credit where credit is due. I like that term because players are born with the ability to perform in the clutch. It's not a trait you can teach.
Harrison Barnes is a player that was blessed with the clutch gene.
Remember the game-tying 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left on the clock against Texas last year? It's easily forgotten because the game ended in a loss. I haven't forgotten because that was my first sighting of the Barnes clutch gene.
In more memorable moments, how about the last-second wins versus Miami and Florida State last year? He buried a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to break the 71-71 tie and beat the Hurricanes in Miami. Down 69-70 in Tallahassee, Barnes hit a 3-pointer with just 3.1 ticks on the clock, pulling off a 72-70 win over Florida State.
And who could forget the overtime win against the Clemson Tigers, during the ACC Tournament? Harrison Barnes scored 40 points that day to set a freshman tournament record. The Tar Heels had to rally from seven down with just four minutes remaining. With 1:23 left in regulation, Barnes dropped another three on the Tigers to pull within two points. Later, Tyler Zeller would tie it up in regulation, but it was all Harrison Barnes in overtime.
Not only did he score 14 of North Carolina's 19 points in overtime, he even added four rebounds to his stat column in those five minutes. Barnes struggled early in this game, but when his team needed him the most, he stepped up and carried them on his shoulders.
We saw a little taste of that in the latest game against the Miami Hurricanes. Outside of Barnes, the team was shooting 34 percent from the floor and couldn't get anything going. He sparked the rally with a 3-point play, as he was fouled on a lay-up. 31 seconds later, he hit the go-ahead 3-pointer and the Tar Heels never looked back. Barnes added another five points before he went cold again, but by that time the rest of the team had caught fire and it was lights out for Miami.
I'm sure there will be many more memorable moments to come, as Harrison Barnes and the North Carolina Tar Heels make their run through the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. I wish we could just freeze time and keep this kid in Carolina blue. But all good things must come to an end and, so too, shall his career as a Tar Heel.
In the meantime, let us all enjoy the magic carpet ride that is Harrison Barnes—and hope for a title before he rides off into the sunset.