Harrison Barnes is a name that drums up all kinds of controversy.
Mention that the Golden State Warriors should trade the second-year small forward, and you're greeted by mixed reactions from the ever-passionate fanbase. Some think he should stay put so he can capitalize on his seemingly lofty potential while still calling the Bay Area home; others think it's worth moving him to upgrade the team right now.
Currently, it seems as though the Dubs themselves fall in line with the former group.
However, that's the wrong take.
Forget about Barnes' name. Divorce yourself from the past and only look at what you've seen from the 21-year-old during his time in the NBA.
All of a sudden, he doesn't look too promising.
Barnes' first two seasons in the Association have been largely filled with struggles. He's failed to live up to his reputation, and the Warriors are worse for it. But they could be better, because he'd still bring a solid return if he were placed on the trade block.
If Feb. 20 is allowed to come and go with Barnes still in a Golden State uniform, the team will have made a grave mistake.
Team Has Weaknesses
This is a flawed squad, one that doesn't have much of a shot to win a title at this stage of the season. Not that anyone does, of course, but you know what I mean.
Defensively, they're great.
The work Mark Jackson has done with a team that really shouldn't be thriving on the point-preventing side of the court is remarkable, and the Dubs are allowing just 101.6 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.
The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers are the only teams beating them out on that leaderboard, which is remarkable since both Eastern Conference squads boast significantly upgraded defensive personnel.
The Warriors are barely in the top half of the NBA in terms of points per 100 possessions, and the offense completely stagnates down the stretch of close games. They just haven't been able to beat opponents when the buzzer is drawing near and the margin is close.
NBA.com shows that in games where the margin is five points or less during the last minute, the Warriors are 6-13. In games that are determined by a single possession in the final 30 seconds, Golden State is just 6-10.
The problem isn't the starters.
It's the bench stagnating in such a way that there's inordinate pressure heaped upon the shoulders of the marquee players. That's why Jordan Crawford was brought in earlier, and that's why the Dubs continue to look for ways they can upgrade the second unit.
USA Today's Sam Amick reports as much as we draw near the trade deadline:
According to a person with knowledge of the Warriors' situation, Golden State is on the lookout for bench help and is hoping to use its trade exceptions as a way to facilitate such a deal that would likely need to involve three teams. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of trade discussions.
Bench help is exactly what the Warriors need.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the non-starters in Golden State are scoring 24.1 points per game, which ranks them No. 29 in the Association. But that's where the positives stop, if you can even call that a positive.
While the bench shoots a solid percentage from inside the arc, it's one of the worst three-point units in the league. It also allows 31.3 points per game, which just happens to be higher than the number it scores.
Not a good combination.
Should Be in Win-Now Mode
"I’ve stated it before and I’ll state it again," Golden State co-owner Joe Lacob said during an interview with MercuryNews.com's Tim Kawakami, "My expectation was that we would be a serious competitor to be in the top four in the West."
Coming in the top four is a lofty goal, especially in the brutally difficult gauntlet that is the Western Conference. But when the owner speaks, the organization is supposed to listen.
Reading through the entire transcript of the interview, you get the sense that Lacob recognizes the process a team must undergo while trying to win a championship. But there's also a win-now twist, simply because he feels as though the team is stagnating and failing to improve upon last year's performance.
Golden State is 31-21, enjoying absolutely no cushion during the race for the eight playoff spots in the Western Conference. In fact, fewer games separate them from the Memphis Grizzlies (2.5), who sit at No. 9 than from the Houston Rockets (four), who are holding down the No. 5 spot.
When asked whether he'd make significant changes in the event of a season filled with non-improvement, Lacob had a rather interesting response:
It really depends on a lot of factors. We’d have to see. You could not improve because you had major injuries, and we have had injuries–Iguodala was out for a time. But I don’t really count that as significant–other teams had injures too. San Antonio has had injuries, Westbrook has been out for Oklahoma City.
I don’t think our injuries have been really any worse than anybody else’s.
We have to wait until the end of the season–we still have 30 games and I’m hopeful that we’re going to coalesce and come together as a group and get to the playoffs playing our best.
Does that give you the sense that he'd make those changes?
He's refusing to employ excuses, instead recognizing that the team has underperformed. Which it has.
None of this should give anyone in the Warriors organization any reason to feel safe. Curry is probably the lone exception, because he's an absolutely untouchable superstar at this stage of his still-developing career, but the rest of the players and coaches should all be playing like their jobs are on the line.
Of course, a trade would help out, even if it means that Barnes is on the move.
Barnes Hasn't Played Well
Everyone thought the world of Barnes when he was in high school. He was heralded as a game-changing prospect and a future top pick in the NBA draft before he even set foot in the gym at Chapel Hill.
A relatively lackluster career at North Carolina depressed his draft stock, and the Warriors ultimately snagged him at No. 7 in the 2012 NBA draft. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) was sold by the Dubs' efforts that day, as they also landed Festus Ezeli, Ognjen Kuzmic and Draymond Green. He gave them an "A-," writing:
I know their heart was set on MKG or Waiters, but Barnes is a terrific consolation prize whose pro game might have been a bit obscured at UNC. I think he has Danny Granger-esque potential and, alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, gives the Warriors some serious firepower from the perimeter.
But was his game really that obscured?
We knew that he wasn't much of a passing forward, and he'd consistently shown an inability to create shots for himself off the dribble.
Unfortunately, he hasn't improved in either area during his first season-and-a-half at the professional level.
Basketball-Reference shows that his 7.3 assist percentage as a rookie—already a poor mark—has declined to 6.9. Meanwhile, he's needed passes from teammates to set up 55.4 percent of his made shots from the field, which, while down from his first go-round, still leaves something to be desired.
Barnes is capitalizing on two things: the previous view that he was filled with potential and his incredible showing during the 2013 postseason.
Somehow, a 12-game stretch in the playoffs is trumping the 129 rather lackluster games he's played during his regular-season career. It doesn't make sense from a statistical standpoint, and exposure bias has seriously warped the general perception of Barnes' value.
Well, exposure bias and selective memory, as too many fans are letting the brief flashes of greatness trump the lengthy stretches of inadequacy.
Few are actually willing to admit that Barnes isn't living up to the hype, nor has he shown many signs that he's suddenly going to break out into an ultra-valuable player.
Even after a 23-point outing in a loss to the Phoenix Suns, one of his best showings of the 2013-14 campaign, Barnes just isn't getting the job done. He's averaging 10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, none of which are improvements over his rookie campaign, at least from a per-minute basis.
And when efficiency is brought into the equation, the 21-year-old small forward looks even worse.
Not only is he shooting just 41.5 percent from the field, but those aforementioned passing skills (or lack thereof) are depressing his offensive value. His PER is a putrid 10.3, and he's been making most of his positive contributions on the defensive end of the court.
That's now exactly what the Warriors need, and they should have a firsthand view of his disappointing NBA career.
It's too soon to definitively label Barnes as a draft bust, but he's certainly tracking in that general direction. There's still hope, of course, as Curry made clear in a postgame quote during late January, as relayed by ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss:
He’s still young. He’s still trying to, you know, find his way. New role this year, obviously, coming off the bench. He’s going to get it. We still have confidence in him, we keep staying in his ear; he has confidence in himself, and obviously he’s shown that he can make a huge impact.
The premise of Strauss' article, from whence that quote came, is that Barnes is starting to become a bust. And he is, though NBA organizations still seem to be swayed by the promise of his upside.
Upside that the Warriors refuse to capitalize on, for some inexplicable reason. Here's Lacob on the topic:
And our young core players–Curry, Klay and Barnes—a lot of teams like them because we’re getting specific trade proposals on a daily basis about those players.
We are not anxious nor are we likely to make a move involving those players. Everyone wants what we have, young pieces.
It's the wrong attitude.
The Warriors need to do what so many NBA teams are unwilling to do—give up on a player while his perceived value is still high and bring in more of a sure thing in the process. It's what the Cleveland Cavaliers should have done with Dion Waiters, and the Dubs could face a similar risk of devaluing Barnes' stock through negative exposure.
Maybe he'll still break out. I in no way want to rule out that possibility, because there are multiple reasons that scouts universally thought so highly of him only a few years ago. Yours truly included.
Injuries and opportunity have put a damper on his progression, and he reputedly has a promising work ethic.
However, few of the positives have actually manifested themselves in his play during either of his first two professional seasons. That's problematic, as the Warriors need help right now, or else they run the risk of slipping outside the playoff field.
If changing that means trading Barnes, so be it.
Potential can be blinding, but here's the thing about that entity—it can be deceiving just as often as it allows players to pan out.
While it's too soon to determine which side of the spectrum Balls falls under, it's not too soon for the Dubs to realize he's not firmly on the positive one.