With Harrison Barnes' decision to return to the University of North Carolina for his sophomore season, he accomplished two tasks. The first was to set up the Tar Heels as one of the top national title contenders for the 2011-12 season and the second was to allow the NBA to find out if Barnes really is as good as he was over the second half of the season.
Although Barnes entered college as a much-heralded player, his Tar Heel career got off to an abysmal start by any measure, especially when it came to his shooting. Over the first 19 games of his 37-game season, Barnes posted a woefully inadequate effective field-goal percentage of 42.8 percent and true shooting percentage of 47.0 percent, not what one expects from a supposedly star player.
Barnes also struggled when it came to his handling of the ball as he turned the ball over more than he dished out assists. His 15.2 turnover percentage easily negated his 9.6 assist percentage.
All that changed over the last 18 games of the season, starting with UNC's contest against rival North Carolina State where Barnes netted his first 20-point game as a collegian. From that game onward, Barnes became a statistically significant better player in terms of effective field-goal percentage (53.5 percent), true shooting percentage (56.1 percent) and avoiding turnovers (8.4 turnover percentage).
Not only did Barnes shoot better over the second half of the season, but he did so while assuming a larger role in the team's offense. Barnes' usage percentage jumped from 25.0 percent to 28.0 percent and the percentage of the team's shots that he took while on the floor increased from 26.4 percent to 31.7 percent. That combination of shooting well from the floor and taking such a high percentage of UNC's field goal attempts meant Barnes was a legitimate star and go-to player in the second half of the season.
With his expanded role in the offense and his much improved shooting, it should come as no surprise that Barnes' points-per-game average increased by 66.9 percent from 11.8 points per game to 19.7 points per contest.
The only facet of the game where Barnes did not improve was in his ability to get to the free-throw line as he took 4.8 field-goal attempts for every free-throw attempt over the second half of the season as opposed to 3.3 field-goal attempts for every free-throw attempt during the first 19 games.
However, that is a minor quibble since he shot so well from the field that a lack of free-throw attempts was something with which the Tar Heels could live.
Now all Barnes has to prove is that his exploits over the second half of the season are indicative of how he can really play. If he can accomplish that feat, then he will have earned the high draft pick an NBA team will no doubt use on him.