In a nature vs. nurture argument, nature usually wins out. But what happens when you put two natural basketball players like Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes in different environments? Try a 67% vs. 36% field goal percentage disparity.
So with these two players being widely considered two of the top 3 or 4 incoming freshman in this class, why is one struggling and the other flourishing?
As we talked about in our freshman preview, Sullinger is enjoying the perfect situation. He’s surrounded by experienced perimeter talent that gives him the luxury of patience. In other words, Sullinger can do what he needs to do within his comfort zone and let the game come to him. Go set a screen, carve out space, and then rinse and repeat until he gets the basketball in a favorable position, with a favorable matchup, before dominance ensues.
On the flipside, Harrison Barnes has come into a situation at Carolina that necessitates he not only be a productive player like Sullinger, but also a facilitator and creator given the lack of playmakers on this Tar Heel squad. So Barnes has to be a bit of a point forward to go along with the team’s reliance on his scoring, rebounding, and finishing responsibilities.
Instead of letting the game come to him, Harrison has to create for others because Larry Drew isn’t the answer as a point guard. This is not a small task for a talented true freshman point guard, much less a player that hasn’t really been a lead guard at any point in his career. Even Grant Hill would have struggled his freshman season if he was charged with anything more than just finishing plays created by Hurley and Laetner.
Who's the better incoming freshman?
In fact, if you would have put Barnes on the following five squads, he’d be averaging close to a double double while shooting a much higher percentage.
1. Duke: Exchange him for fellow freshman Kyrie Irving and I’m certain he’d have better numbers. With Nolan Smith creating and Kyle Singler drawing bigs away from the basket, Barnes would have flourished in a slasher/scorer role vs. an uncontested paint.
2. Pitt: Barnes would have pushed current Panther SF Gilbert Brown to being a super sixth man off the bench. Flank Barnes on the perimeter with explosive scorer Ashton Gibbs and steady playmaker Brad Wannamaker, and Harrison would have found penetration lanes and open looks much more easy to come by.
3. Ohio State: Let David Lighty and Maurice Buford take the ball handling chores while Barnes goes to work against either an undersized third guard or a slow-footed forward. When Barnes gets tired, Matta has a pillowy zone to lay your talented tired head upon.
4. Michigan State: Not so much due to personnel, although Kalin Lucas can cure what ails you from a point guard standpoint, but Tom Izzo’s halfcourt prowess would have been a boon to a player like Barnes. Izzo really doesn’t need a point guard to make his offense go. He’s Bobby Knight-like in that respect. Just give him a scorer and he’ll devise ways to manufacture points via a Labyrinth of sets and screens. Hell, Draymar Green almost point forwarded Sparty to a final four when virtually every sub 6’5″ player was injured.
As for the Heels, Roy Williams is so dependent on transition offense and the secondary break specifically that he kills tertiary players unless he has a supreme point guard. Historically, Williams’ squads even struggle with above average point guard play, and this year the Heels are saddled with a poor man’s Adonis Jordan at point.
5. Butler. Put Barnes on the floor with heady guards like Shelvyn Mack and Ronald Nored and he could play Gordon Hayward in Brad Stevens mad scientist offensive laboratory and shoot high 40′s from the field.
Instead, Heels fans and fans of Harrison Barnes must snap back to reality. Our friends from Rathskeller yo-yo between lamentation and euphoria, depending on their shade of blue, when talking about the young man’s plight as well as UNC’s downfall—which is caused by the lack of good guard play. As a fan of good basketball in general, I hope Dexter Strickland finds his inner Chris Corchiani while stealing minutes from Larry Drew. I hope invoking the name of the Wolfpack’s stud distributor is not viewed as blasphemy by both my UNC and Duke friends alike. I’m starting to like those guys.
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