Harrison Barnes: 5 Reasons UNC Small Forward's Draft Status Isn't Slipping

Drew LaskeyCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2011

Harrison Barnes: 5 Reasons UNC Small Forward's Draft Status Isn't Slipping

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    In this week's issue of the Bleacher Report newsletter that covers UNC basketball, there was an article in there from ESPN that read: "Barnes' Draft Stock Slipping?"

    If you're like me, you laughed at the notion, but read the article anyway.  After reading it (again, if you're like me), you found the substance of the article even more comical.

    The article pointed to things such as Barnes not "getting enough baskets at the rim," that he's only grabbing a rebound on every "6.9 shots," and how his assist ratio is deplorable—areas that could potentially move him down the mock draft board three or four spots.

    And although I agree with one of those criticisms, the others, and everything else mentioned in the article, came off as nothing more than trivial attempts to criticize Barnes for essentially not having Kobe Bryant-like numbers at this point in the season.

    Anyone who would claim Barnes' draft status is in jeopardy based on his performances so far this season clearly hasn't watched enough of his games and is certainly in no position to forecast his draft projection.

    But I've watched every move, every play and every shot Barnes has made this season, so I will be more than happy to list the reasons (in no particular order) why Barnes' draft status is undoubtedly unchanged.

Barnes Is Shooting Nearly 50 Percent from the Field This Season

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    Barnes is a no-brainer lottery pick, and if there's one thing general managers in the NBA want out of their lottery picks, it's an unyielding ability to score efficiently.

    Barnes is shooting 49 percent from the field.  

    Even if he is "taking too many jump shots," as the ESPN article insists, it's actually more impressive and behooving to his stock that he's putting up that high of a percentage.

    But he's really not taking too many jump shots.  In fact, his trips to the free-throw line per game have increased by four this season from last—and no, they aren't coming from getting fouled on jump shots.

    Barnes is also shooting 52 percent from behind the arc, so forgive him for not exactly being shy about hoisting from there.  

    I seriously doubt GMs are looking at his three-point tendencies, coupled with that percentage, and drawing the conclusion that he "should attack the basket more."

    I can point to personal examples, too.  In a game against a scrappy Evansville squad, even with UNC's lead surpassing the 20s early on, Barnes still drove the basketball and got to the stripe seven times, which was the second-highest total for a UNC player in a game where the opposition fouled 32 times.

    One of Barnes' biggest challenges this summer was to consistently attack the basket more and get to the line, but changing his offensive approach to curtail to that new mentality isn't something that will happen overnight, folks.

    At the end of the day, Barnes is still a natural jump-shooter—a very reliable jump-shooter.  

    But that's not all he is, and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't watched him enough to make an accurate assessment of what kind of player he is.

Barnes Plays with Two 7-Footers

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    This may explain his apparent "lack" of rebounding, yet he's still averaging close to five boards a game.

    The ESPN article was even so bold as to point out that Barnes only rebounds on every "6.9 shots," to which I point to that scrawny John Henson fellow who averages 11 rebounds a game and the brazen Tyler Zeller, who averages eight.

    Perhaps that has something to do with it?

    Nah.  Probably not.

    Barnes has the body and the ability to crash the glass hard, but given the size advantage Henson and Zeller usually have down low, they're not going to let many missed shots get away from them.

    But when they do, Barnes is right there to make up for it, which is why he's the team's third-leading rebounder.

    So cool your head, Chad Ford.  When you play with arguably the best front line in the country, chances are your individual rebounding numbers won't be off the chart.

Barnes Also Plays with the Guy Who's Second in the NCAA in Assists Per Game

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    Kendall Marshall trails Iona's Scott Machado by .2 (10.4-10.2) for the country's top spot of assists averaged per game.

    But this isn't necessarily an area of the ESPN article that I'll disagree with, as I do think Barnes needs to prove he can facilitate offense to his teammates—and make them better by doing so—if he's going to prove to NBA GMs that he can be a franchise player.

    The biggest reason (I think) that Barnes' assists numbers are down, aside from playing with the best passer in college basketball whose options include a number of future NBA players, is because Barnes is one of the top three options every time he's on the floor.

    Now, the greats, such as Jordan, Kobe and LeBron, all used that primary option role to draw defenders in, which created open looks for teammates.  And it's in one's ability to find those open teammates that truly separates great players from unstoppable ones.

    Michael Jordan said it better than I ever could (and he's a little more credible, too) in his Playground video: "Defense can double and triple team you.  But if you find the open man, it will make you twice as hard to stop."

    If a player who favors driving to the basket can also hit open jumpers, he'll keep the defense honest and prevent them from sagging too far off of him.

    And with Barnes, if he committed to more drive-and-dish offense, he'll keep that defense even more honest, which, as Jordan put it, will make him twice as hard to stop.

    Even if his assist numbers don't climb, though, it's always something he can shelve to work on until he gets into the league (you know, kind of like how LeBron shelved learning how to shoot).

    It's not like GMs will pass on him because he isn't averaging three or four assists a game, especially since he's playing with Marshall.

Barnes Is Clutch—Plain and Simple

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    No, he hasn't hit any game-winners this season (yet), but in the games where UNC has needed buckets to ignite a resurgence within the offense, Barnes' ability to deliver has definitely carried over from last season.

    There's a sense of mental toughness that permeates the Tar Heel demeanor when Barnes is in the game.  

    And if you ask me, if Barnes doesn't pick up that third foul early in the first half against Kentucky, UNC doesn't lose that game.

    NBA GMs notice those kinds of things, not just the numbers.  

    When LBSU kept cutting into UNC's narrow lead late into the second half last Saturday, Barnes took over.  

    He hit clutch shot after clutch shot, and he, along with Reggie Bullock, derailed every one of LBSU's attempts to retake the lead.

    Barnes did the same thing against then-ranked No. 7 Wisconsin, when they cut it close in the final few minutes. 

    Granted, Barnes wasn't able to deliver that same punch against UNLV, and even forced up a number of bad shots, but find me a great player who hasn't ever come up short at some point in his career and I'll buy you a doughnut.

    When it comes down to it, in his time at UNC, Barnes has delivered UNC from losses far more than he hasn't.  And any time UNC has trailed or will trail this season, even in the closing minutes, UNC fans can rest assured in one of their players' unwavering ability to close the gap and erase deficits.

    That's the kind of player NBA GMs like to fall back on.

Despite His Low Assist Numbers, Barnes Is a Very Unselfish Player

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    The biggest problem associated with franchise players who are unselfish is that they look too much to involve their teammates instead of just taking over when their team's in desperate need of baskets.

    Barnes, as unselfish as he is, has no problem demanding the basketball.

    Most of the criticism surrounding LeBron James last year was that he shied away from taking big shots in big moments.  James, although a naturally gifted passer, was told by his teammates and coaching staff that he needs to be more aggressive in the final minutes of a game.

    That's about the only con of having an unselfish superstar.  

    But it's not one GMs will have worry about with Barnes.  

    When his number is called, he'll rise to the occasion, concerned more about winning the game than not making the shot.

    That's what it's all about with Harrison Barnes—the team.  He does what he has to do to win, not to look better for NBA scouts. 

    He would rather see a walk-on sink a three in a blowout than watch himself knock down his 30th point or grab his 10th rebound in a heart-stopping close game.

    He's the quintessential example of a guy who would say, "My game wasn't pretty out there tonight, but we got the win and that's all that matters to me."  And the difference between him and most other superstars saying that is that Barnes would actually mean it.

    So, maybe Barnes should get the line more by attacking the basket.  And yes, he should look to get more assists by kicking to open shooters.  

    But even if those facets don't become increasingly apparent in his play, Barnes is still a ferocious competitor.  He's still a team player.  And he's still a guy whose most valuable part of his game is something you can't measure with a stat sheet or scouting report—his heart.

    In today's NBA that's full of overpaid, ungrateful sell-outs, I'd say heart is pretty high on the priority list to GMs. 

    It should be, anyway.