Harrison Barnes: UNC Standout Worth the Risk at the Top of the Draft

Kevin MerfeldContributor IJune 26, 2012

Harrison Barnes could give teams like the Wizards or Cavaliers an ultra-talented young duo.
Harrison Barnes could give teams like the Wizards or Cavaliers an ultra-talented young duo.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Imagine having the first two picks in the NBA draft. Going Blake Griffin followed by James Harden in 2009. John Wall and then DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams back-to-back last year.

A couple of teams have the chance to turn that type of profit in Thursday's NBA draft thanks to the curious case of North Carolina's Harrison Barnes.

There was significant buzz that Barnes could go No. 1 overall if he came out of North Carolina as a freshman last year. The lanky 6'8" wingman spurred the Tar Heels on to the Elite Eight, averaging 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds while knocking down nearly two three-pointers per game. He was a wing in the Rudy Gay/Luol Deng mold.

Barnes decided to return to North Carolina during the crazy locked-out offseason. He was expected to build on his tantalizing freshman year to become the No. 1 prospect in the country.

But he didn't. Regression might be harsh, but his sophomore season was uninspiring. Playing on what many thought was the most loaded team in the country, Barnes bumped his scoring total up slightly to 17.1 points per game, but he disappeared during the tournament when North Carolina's Kendall Marshall broke his right wrist.

He didn't look like a transformational talent, or even a leader. He didn't put North Carolina on his back.

So what do you believe? The potential of his freshman year? Or the disappointing sophomore campaign?

Barnes is your classic buy low. There's no other way the Washington Wizards could pair up former No. 1 pick John Wall with Barnes at No. 3 if there weren't any questions about him. Of course there's risk. But there's enough upside in Barnes to make it worth the gamble, and Washington small forward Chris Singleton sees that:

We feel like he can play the 2 or the 3, and that's what we need help with.  We know he can shoot, and with the Wizards being more of an open offense, people can't focus on him; he'll fit right in with us.

If Barnes falls past the Wizards at No. 3, the Cavs can pair former No. 1 Irving with Barnes at No. 4.

And if Barnes still has that March Madness stigma to him, you can bet a team like the Warriors will be ecstatic to land such a skilled player at No. 7. Let's just hope he fulfills his potential.