A player’s upside has nothing to do with anything he has done in the past, nor does it guarantee he will do anything in the future. It merely revolves around the sheer potential oozing unto the court every time he steps on it. For the Golden State Warriors, no player has as much untapped potential as Harrison Barnes.
Barnes is a player who must be looked at through a vacuum; if you base it just on what he’s done this season, expectations would be greatly tempered, maybe even abandoned.
Expectations come with a price, a price that must unfairly be paid by players such as Barnes. We see what he could be, perhaps even should be, and as of right now, he has been found wanting. His performance is graded on a different scale, one that he was helpless to meet coming into the season once you looked at the circumstances.
The starting position that he had rightfully earned in last season’s playoffs was snatched away with the arrival of Andre Iguodala. His minutes were cut as a result, and that has led to a dramatic dip in his performance.
Some would say that he should have adapted his game, molded himself into the leader of the second unit and dominated the game-within-the-game between the reserves.
For a player like Barnes, though, the most highly touted prospect coming out of high school and a first-team All-American in college, the bench was uncharted territory. Is it really a surprise that he has struggled to find his niche?
What we all seem to forget is that Barnes, at the ripe age of 21 years old, is barely old enough to drink, let alone close to being the player he is capable of being. For a sports community ingrained with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality, it would be prudent to remember that he hasn’t had a lot of time to do all that much.
Still, for the skeptics out there, all he’s done in that short two-year sample is be a member of the All-Rookie team last season and go on to exert his dominance in the postseason. Are we really ready to write off The Black Falcon already? All based on one season in which he no chance to live up to absurd expectations?
The numbers haven’t been good—nobody will debate that. Averaging 9.3 points per game on under 40 percent shooting is hardly reason for optimism, especially when coupled with just 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
The important thing to take away from that, however, is that there is nowhere to go but up. We’ve seen what he can do on the court, and, quite frankly, only a select few in the NBA rival his elite athleticism and overall skills. Just look at the crossover he pulls on Joe Johnson in the above video. The finish at the rim wasn’t too shabby, either.
The fact that his touch from three-point land is already beyond passable, 35 percent to be exact, is just gravy. When he puts his playmaking ability and shooting touch together, a true star will be born.
There will be a time when the Warriors encounter a crossroads, when they must decide whether Barnes stays or goes. While he is signed through the 2015-16 season, all it would take is one team enthralled by his unique skill set to truly test the Warriors’ faith in him.
It’s up to Barnes to give them a reason to say no.
Pinpointing the career arc of Barnes is an impossible assignment because any scenario is in play. Too often we’ve seen players with Barnes’ capabilities fizzle out of the league. But we’ve also seen players take meteoric leaps as well; Paul George is a shining example of this.
One way or another, whether it be with the Warriors or another team, Barnes will have the opportunity to cement his place in the league. With the tools that he possesses, it will all come down to how badly he wants it. He hasn’t shown the drive or passion of a star this season, and that is reason for concern.
Players with motivation issues often find themselves watching the game from home a lot sooner than you would expect. Just two seasons in, however, it’s far too early to put Barnes in that category. He’s merely a young player, still trying to find his place in the league.
With the talent that he possesses, the ceiling for him is limitless. When it comes to upside, the pinnacle of the NBA mountain is where it ends for Barnes.