Although Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been the rookies to watch, Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes woke up the NBA with his now-infamous dunk over the Timberwolves' Nikola Pekovic on November 24th.
The moment flooded the highlight shows, Twitter almost melted down, YouTube received a lasting digital memory, and the dunk was the topic of conversation around every water cooler.
Harrison Barnes emerged as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.
With that dunk, Barnes has probably solidified himself an invite to this year’s Slam Dunk contest, which will be another opportunity to get his face in the national spotlight.
Barnes is very athletic and is definitely more valuable than the dunk alone. Although he started the season a little bit timid, he has really shown his skills on both ends of the court lately.
In this clip, Barnes is behind the play, but hustles as Klay Thompson shoots a three-pointer.
As four Atlanta Hawks surround the rim, they assume that the rebound will be coming to one of them uncontested. Barnes sprints in for the rebound, skies high for the board and follows with a monster jam. That is an example of what he brings to the table.
Barnes has been the benefactor of the extra playing time that resulted from the horrible ACL injury Brandon Rush sustained at the start of the season. Barnes had to learn quickly in order to fill a lot more minutes and is counted on as one of the Warriors' primary options.
Barnes moves better without the ball. In this clip here, Barnes tries to setup the pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry. It doesn’t work immediately as Curry is double-teamed and Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson looks out of sorts not knowing who to guard.
Barnes keeps his movement going as he drives to the basket, with Nelson realizing that he is without a man to guard and runs over too late to the scene.
Curry lifts a perfect pass from deep behind the three-point circle to an airborne Barnes for a nice alley-oop.
Let’s look at his competitors in this chart below (games played through December 3, 2012):
No. 1 pick Davis of the New Orleans Hornets is averaging 16 points, 8.3 boards and 2.2 blocks per game, but he hasn’t played since November 17 because of an injured ankle. The Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard has really outclassed everyone so far with a stat line of 19.1 PPG, 6.3 APG and 3.3 RPG.
Lillard is the front-runner for the award, and it didn’t hurt to win the first Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for this season.
The most comparable player by position is the Charlotte Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is currently playing at a fraction higher than Barnes with 10.8 PPG, 1.6 APG and 6.3 RPG. He is also averaging 1.4 blocks per game.
Barnes comes in at 9.8 PPG, 1.4 APG and 4.8 RPG. He looks to improve those averages as the season goes on.
Barnes' stats will increase as the season goes on and he acclimates himself to the NBA. He should also get a lot more consistent playing time when Andrew Bogut returns for good, instead of being subbed when they go with the smaller lineup.
When Barnes is out on the court, he can definitely use his two established perimeter mates to draw in the defense and give him open looks at the basket. When he gets the ball, he can show off his perimeter shooting skills, whether shooting a 12-foot jumper or launching a three-pointer behind the arc.
Another example of Barnes moving without the ball is in this situation. He starts with the ball and makes a short pass to David Lee.
Barnes immediately makes a move toward the basket, takes the handoff from David Lee and gets an instant screen while he dribbles to the basket for another two-handed slam. Barnes is dynamic and uses his quickness and athleticism to blow by the Jazz defenders.
The more times that Barnes makes the highlight reels, the more exposure he will receive. As he makes a name for himself with his play, he will start climbing the rookie ladder, trying to catch up with those who have set the bar.
He can also showcase his defense talents by securing more rebounds and making that extra steal here and there. He has held his own so far this season on defense and is usually the first player back.
He gets a chance to showcase his skills on a seven-game road trip that will show him off to the cities of Brooklyn, Miami, Atlanta and a head-to-head matchup in Charlotte with Kidd-Gilchrist.
It is still early in the season and Barnes has plenty of time to make his mark as a rookie.
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