NBA Draft 2012: Breaking Down Harrison Barnes' NBA Prospects
It's that time again, North Carolina fans. We have to say goodbye to another group of fine Tar Heels and wish them the best in the NBA. Today, I will be breaking down the game of Harrison Barnes and how it will translate to the next level.
This wasn't the season many expected from Barnes—including myself. The way he finished out last season, I thought he would surely improve his draft stock this year to become the first overall pick.
That wasn't the case.
It could actually be a blessing in disguise if he fell past the lottery zone as bad teams can choke a player's development. Most experts still have him as a top 10 pick, so he may end up in the lottery anyway.
Only time will tell how this young potential star will pan out in the NBA. But I have broken down his game here to give the fans a look at his potential as a pro.
Pro: Off the Dribble
For Harrison Barnes, shooting off the dribble can be his greatest asset and his worst enemy. But there is no denying his ability to stop-and-drop.
Of all the prospects in this year's NBA Draft, I'm not sure anyone does it better than Barnes.
Barnes won't blow by many people, so when he feels the defender's momentum heading in the other direction he will plant his foot and pop up for the fade. As long as he isn't going for contact, he exhibits great body control and squares up his shoulders before the shot.
The problem lies when he doesn't get his defender into a vulnerable position.
Barnes has a tendency to try and draw contact when he sees the door close, rather than dish it away or pull it back. That's great when he gets the whistle. But when he doesn't, his body ends up contorted and he just throws up a bad shot.
The ability is there—and that's why I made it a pro. Harrison Barnes just needs to make better decisions in this situation.
Harrison Barnes doesn't have to worry about toeing the line very much. He had a tendency to shoot closer to the NBA range on most of his threes.
Barnes is deadly from the 14'-18' range and displayed great accuracy beyond the arc in the first half of the season. I don't know what happened after Jan. 7, but his accuracy plummeted and he never got his three-ball back.
Barnes was 22-of-43 until he went 0-for-5 against Miami. From that game on, he went 27-of-94 beyond the arc. That dropped his three-point percentage from 51 to 36 percent by the end of the season.
And for those that want to say the beginning was just the level of competition, he was 4-of-5 against the champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Barnes can knock it down all over the floor, but it appears he still struggles with consistency. It's tough to say how this part of his game will translate over a full NBA season.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that Harrison Barnes is the best defender of the 2012 class of NBA prospects, but he is rock-solid on the defensive side of the ball.
Barnes doesn't overwhelm his opponents with athleticism and doesn't look to swipe the ball very often.
What he does is lock the defender down—not allowing him space to drive to the basket or put up a good shot. He leaves just enough space to react to each of his opponent's moves. He also keeps his arms spread, blocking off the passing lanes.
Depending on who his coach ends up being, we may see Barnes swiping a little more at the next level. Then again, we may not. One benefit to his not swiping the ball or leaving his feet for a block is that he rarely gets faked out and stays face-to-face with whoever he is defending.
That's what makes Barnes' style of defense so tough. He is consistent and fundamentally flawless in this aspect of his game.
Players just don't get by him very often.
Pro: Clutch Play
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.
Unfortunately, there isn't much to talk about on the subject of game-winning shots in 2011-12. Barnes was a big part of many runs, but too many times I saw him fade out in the final minute or so.
I still believe he has the clutch gene. That doesn't just go away. Which is why I still grade him fairly high on this aspect of his game. It certainly would have been higher last year, though.
At 6'8” and 215 pounds, Harrison Barnes has good size to fit in with the top scoring small forwards in the game. However, his weight may be an issue if he gets in the post. It wouldn't hurt for him to add a little more bulk in the offseason—though he looks bigger than his recorded weight.
Of course, that's if he ends up being a small forward. He very well could end up translating to shooting guard at the next level—in which case he would have a definite size advantage and would probably best serve his skill set.
Either way, he has the height and I have no doubt he will add some muscle when he hits the gym this spring and summer.
Pro: Work Ethic
When it comes to work ethic, one would be hard-pressed to find anything negative about Harrison Barnes. He is known for being the hardest worker on the team—and that didn't just start in college.
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.”
They didn't win it that year, but in his junior and senior years the team went 53-0 with back-to-back state championships.
According to Robbi Pickeral's article on Harrison Barnes' work ethic, Barnes made an impression on his North Carolina teammates from day one. Dexter Strickland had this to say about Barnes:
“[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."
Hard work breeds success—and that is one place Harrison Barnes doesn't come up short.
Con: Free Throws
It's hard to consider 72 percent free-throw shooting a con, but he isn't a 7'2” clumsy center either—and I expect better from a guard or small forward with a nice stroke.
More often than not, it seemed Harrison Barnes would miss the front end of a 1-and-1. Coming out with no points in that situation is unacceptable from someone that is considered a shooter. When he did have two opportunities, he would usually make the second.
I don't know what it is about his first free throw. I wish I had stats to back up that claim, and maybe I'll come up with something when my fellow nerds and I return to the nerdery with our calculators.
The fact remains that 72 percent just isn't going to cut it. That puts him near the bottom for small forwards in the NBA.
Explosiveness is one area where Harrison Barnes definitely falls short of some of the other top NBA prospects.
Barnes will not blow by opponents very often. He has a decent first step and can sometimes get around the defender with that, but those moments are few and far between. Barnes simply doesn't have the athleticism to get to the rim on the regular.
That isn't necessarily a big worry at the two, but the NBA does like its small forwards to be able to get to the rim. Again, this is another situation where his skill set may be best served at the two.
Barnes may not have the gifts of a LeBron James, but he can work with a trainer on his explosiveness and could improve in that area.
Con: Ball Handling
Harrison Barnes' ball handling may be a contributing factor in his inability to create his own shots or get to the rim. It takes good dribbling skills to fake out an opponent and get to the rim with speed.
This is probably the aspect of his game he needs to spend the most time on in the offseason. He did attend Chris Paul's Elite Guard Camp to improve his ball handling and I expect him to do more of the same.
His dribble is slow and predictable and he rarely penetrates to the left. Improving his dexterity will go a long way in opening up shots for Barnes. Some folks never pick it up, though—and we can't rely on his work ethic alone to make it happen.
This is exactly why we saw his performance drop when Kendall Marshall got injured.
I touched on this earlier when I was talking about shooting off the dribble. Barnes only averages 1.1 assists per game—which is actually down from the 1.4 average he had in his freshman year.
I don't expect him to be LeBron James or Andre Iguodala, with five or more assists per game. Those guys are just special.
But whether he plays small forward or shooting guard, I would like to see him pick up those averages to a rate of two to three assists per game. Barnes needs to keep an open eye on his teammates when he is driving. If the play breaks down and it doesn't look like he is going to get off the shot he wants, he needs to pass the ball instead of putting up a ridiculous shot.
Occasionally dishing it off will improve his shooting percentage and give his teammates open shots. The greatest players make their teammates better—and that starts with handing out dimes.
Overall Score: 84 B
My score may sound a little harsh for someone with such high expectations. But I do feel it's an honest assessment of his talent at this point in his career.
Harrison Barnes will get better, but there is no magic ball to tell me just how much.
Barnes could end up in a range anywhere between a Ben Gordon—whom also has issues with dribbling, but is an excellent shooter at the 2—and a Kevin Durant. Luol Deng would be somewhere in the middle and that's where we may find Barnes in a couple years.
If Barnes can get on a team with another playmaker and a solid point guard, we will see his game improve. If he ends up on a team where he has to be the centerpiece, we may see him fall right off the map—a typical result of many lottery picks.
For now, I love the potential of Harrison Barnes, but with the way his season ended I am hard-pressed to make him a lock.