Harrison Barnes needs to find the blueprint to revive his young and promising career after spending much of last season at the lost and found.
Barnes was expected to take the next step after an impressive playoff run in his first NBA season. He transformed from an average starter during the regular season of his rookie campaign to a game-changer in the 2013 playoffs, partly as a result of the opportunity given him by David Lee’s injury in the first round of the postseason.
As expectations started rising through the roof, Barnes was relegated to the sixth-man spot when the Dubs snagged free-agent wing Andre Iguodala.
As a result, the North Carolina product drastically underperformed this season. In 2013-14 season, Barnes averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He averaged almost three additional minutes more than he did in his rookie season, when he put up 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
Barnes obviously has a few areas that he needs to improve to get his career back on track.
Barnes’ shooting was one of his biggest hindrances this season, since his percentages dropped across the board. His field-goal percentage dove from 43.9 to 39.9 percent. His three-point percentage went from 35.9 to 34.7 percent, and his free-throw shooting fell from 75.8 to 71.8 percent.
He needs to work hard this summer by shooting the ball hundreds of times per day. He must find the spots on the floor and the go-to shots that work for him.
Yes, part of the decline was caused by being teamed with a bench that was unable to score consistently, and Barnes would occasionally force shots to compensate. The bench averaged only 28 points per game and posted a 41.0 percent shooting clip.
Confidence is the key to shooting, and Barnes needs to completely forget about last season. He still has a high upside, but it's critical that early next season he focuses on taking (and making) high-percentage shots.
He also needs to work on his shots from behind the arc. His ability to hit the clutch three, like his teammate Draymond Green has demonstrated, will help space the floor and create driving lanes resulting in higher percentage shots closer to the hoop.
The bottom line is practice makes perfect, and Barnes needs to make shooting a high priority this offseason.
Barnes has already pointed out that he needs work on his handle this summer.
With head coach Steve Kerr’s potential new offense so focused on ball movement and spacing, Barnes is going to need to improve on those vital skills, as noted by the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung.
Harrison Barnes working on ball-handling as Steve Kerr looks to provide room to grow http://t.co/RNYD8LY51g— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) June 2, 2014
Barnes will be tasked with being able to dribble in short spurts to facilitate a pass, drive to the hoop or create space for a transitioning teammate. By improving his ball-handling skills, Barnes can steer away from predictable moves that experienced and skilled defenders can sniff out.
He will also need to mix in some athletic moves, so that he doesn’t look like a robot.
Barnes’ needs to have the same mindset while handling the ball that he does going to the rack for the dunk. He looks fearless in those occasions. By looking for contact, Barnes should be able to approach doubling the paltry 2.3 free-throw attempts per game he averaged last year. He just needs to practice those free throws.
With a capable handle, Barnes can take the next step forward.
Learning How to Create
Barnes earned the “Black Falcon” nickname during a trip around the ESPN studios his senior year in high school. He cemented that nickname with his high-flying, rim-rocking jams in his first season.
In his second season, Barnes still put up some highlight-reel moves but they were few and far between—at least when compared to the previous year.
Barnes is still going through the growing pains that often characterize the early stages of an NBA player's career. But with the new offense, Barnes should have a lot more room to demonstrate his raw athleticism and skill level.
By improving in both of the aforementioned two areas, shooting and dribbling, Barnes should be able to put it all together on the offensive end. But, he needs to get more physical, so he can take the dribble and use his athletic frame to finish more convincingly around the basket.
Establishing consistency will be key to Barnes' development on offense. He disappears too often and let's his other teammates take over the game. Rather, Barnes needs to be a steady hand and be ready for a Stephen Curry pass or an Andrew Bogut kick-out. When he receives the ball, he must be assertive and drive into the lane and either finish or find another Warrior who has an open look.
Whether he is creating opportunities for himself or teammates, he needs to be productive every possession.
Barnes needs to take ownership of his future and the struggles that he had last season. He can't dwell on the negatives but instead needs to turn those experiences into building blocks.
He has the word attached to him that no player entering his third season likes to hear: "potential." Translated, it means Barnes hasn't quite lived up to expectations based on his statistics and style of play.
Coach Kerr's offense is expected open a lot more opportunities for Barnes, but he has to take advantage of those chances. He needs to be a lot more aggressive on the court and not always allow the game to come to him.
He will have to learn how to succeed in coming off the bench or in whatever situation he is inserted. Being adaptable will show his teammates that he is fully invested in taking the next step in his maturation as a player.
Averages of 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists would be a strong improvement next season, but he also has to show that he can consistently make the four other players on the court better when he plays. An offense that relies on more options than just the "Splash Brothers" (Curry and Klay Thompson) is a lot more effective.