The Iowa-born phenom's commitment to play his college ball at North Carolina further fueled comparisons between Barnes and a young Michael Jordan.
He enjoyed a solid if unspectacular—at least for a top-ranked prep prospect in the country—freshman season in Chapel Hill, but excited Tar Heel Nation when he chose more school over being a top-two pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and potentially missing a locked-out season.
Barnes' sophomore season didn't bring any revelatory play, though; only the realization that, while a spectacular shooter and solid all-around athlete, he was no MJ.
Not that failing to live up to impossible expectations should in any way limit his pro potential. If anything, Barnes should be thankful that he "dropped" to No. 7 in the 2012 NBA draft, where the Golden State Warriors picked him up. Because of that, he'll have the opportunity to learn the ropes as a sweet-shooting wing on a team gunning for a playoff revival in 2013.
How Barnes Fits In
If there's one thing the Warriors will ask Harrison Barnes to do from the outset, it's score the basketball.
A tremendous athlete with great size for a wing, Barnes can score proficiently from just about anywhere on the floor. He can operate on the low block, shoot from beyond the three-point line (35.8 percent as a sophomore), run the floor in transition and get to the free-throw line with regularity.
Barnes' best offensive attribute, though, is his mid-range game. He sports a solid pump-fake with which to distract defenders and is deadly when pulling up off a dribble or two. According to Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, Barnes hit 41.2 percent of his attempts between 17 feet and the three-point line and shot an impressive 48.6 percent on pull-up jumpers going to his right.
Barnes' mid-range accuracy is aided by the high release point on his beautifully crafted jump shot, which figures to come in handy against longer, more athletic defenders in the NBA. His shooting ability, alongside that of Stephen Curry's and Klay Thompson's in Golden State's presumptive starting five, should help the Warriors stretch the floor and open up opportunities for the interior tandem of Andrew Bogut and David Lee.
But, as well as Barnes projects as a scorer with the historically offensive-minded Dubs, he may be most valuable on the defensive end. Head coach Mark Jackson has made it his mission to turn the Warriors into a team of stoppers, of which he currently doesn't have many.
Barnes, for his part, can be a tremendous building block to that end.
He has the quickness and foot speed to handle guards, the size and strength to defend big wings and the overall length to bother shots and cause deflections. Case in point: Barnes limited pick-and-roll ball-handlers to 27 percent shooting while at North Carolina, per DraftExpress.
Adjustments Barnes Must Make at the Pro Level
Harrison Barnes certainly has the talent, athleticism and mentality to be a go-to scorer in the pros. At this point, though, he lacks the creativity, the ball-handling skills and the sheer explosiveness to fill such a role in the NBA.
For whatever reason, the physical ability that Barnes showed off at the pre-draft Combine never quite translated to his game at the collegiate level. The absence of a powerful first step made it difficult for Barnes to get to the rim, and once there, he was a decidedly less-than-fantastic finisher.
As a result, Barnes too often settled for jumpers, even when driving lanes were available. In this regard, his ability to hit mid-range shots led him away from the basket and, in turn, degraded his efficiency as a scorer. If Barnes is to be the player as which some have still projected him, he'll need to be both more courageous and more frequent in his moves to the hoop.
It wouldn't hurt Barnes' case, either, if he were to work on creating offense, for himself as well as his teammates. Barnes tends to find himself in a bind when taking more than two or three dribbles at a time, as he lacks the requisite assortment of moves and the snap change of direction to circumvent defenders. It's no wonder, then, that Barnes played so poorly (8-of-30 from the field, with eight turnovers) in two games after UNC point guard Kendall Marshall went down with a wrist injury during the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
To be sure, Barnes won't likely be called upon to be a creative force on the floor, at least not during his rookie campaign. He'll have Stephen Curry (when healthy) and Jarrett Jack to handle the ball and hit him in his sweet spots instead.
Still, it wouldn't hurt Barnes to tighten his dribble and improve as a passer, particularly in the pick-and-roll. According to Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti, Barnes shot well in the two-man game (40.9 percent) but turned the ball over 13.8 percent of the time.
Only with improvement in areas of his game other than shooting (i.e. dribbling, passing, attacking the basket) will Barnes become something more than the next Arron Afflalo.
Good news for Golden State fans, though: Harrison is a hard-working, high-character kid who will put in the necessary sweat to maximize his considerable gifts. He's long been a superbly intelligent student, dating back to his days under the roof of his mother, a faculty member at Iowa State.
Barnes' focus and dedication to the game of basketball have been evident throughout his playing days, even more so since he was touted as the No. 1 high schooler in the class of 2010. With that experience, Barnes has learned how to handle the highs and lows created by the intense pressure and scrutiny that accompany such lavish attention.
Most impressively, Barnes has managed to remain a good teammate and keep his confidence without growing arrogant, even when his circumstances would suggest otherwise.
Rookie Year Projections
Assuming Barnes starts ahead of Richard Jefferson at small forward from day one in the Bay Area, he should be able to score in double figures with ease. A line of 12-to-13 points with four or five rebounds per game would make for a reasonably successful campaign for the UNC product.
Those stats in and of themselves wouldn't likely be gaudy enough to make Barnes the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year, though a prominent role in a Golden State turnaround would help. He's currently listed as a 12-to-1 oddsmaker by bovada.lv, placing him sixth—behind Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Bradley Beal—on par with Toronto Raptors' newcomer Jonas Valanciunas.
Of those seven, Barnes currently checks in as the most likely to partake in the NBA postseason next spring. His Warriors may well sneak into the Western Conference playoff picture as a seventh- or eighth-seed if Bogut and Curry can keep their ankles fit and Mark Jackson's dream of a dynamic defensive squad comes to fruition.
As such, it's reasonable to pencil in Golden State for at least 40 wins, with a ceiling of 45-to-48 victories well within reach should health prevail over injury.
And, of course, if Harrison Barnes should discover a new level of stardom amidst the greater freedom and spacing that the pro game affords.
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