What Will Make 2014-15 a Successful Season for Harrison Barnes?

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IOctober 11, 2014

Dec 29, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes reacts during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors won 108-104. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Few NBA players have gone from star in the making to potential roster filler faster than the Golden State WarriorsHarrison Barnes.

Following a promising rookie campaign, the former North Carolina standout flat-lined in his sophomore year—the product, in no small part, of Andre Iguodala’s stranglehold on the team’s starting small-forward position.

With just two years remaining on his contract (the second being a team option), Barnes, at just 22 years old, is already at a career crossroads: Rebound and regain his phenomenal promise, or risk sliding forever to the NBA fringes.

So what does Barnes have to do to make this a successful season?

As with anything, Barnes’ prospects are as much about tapping into his otherworldly ability as they are another, more unpredictable factor: opportunity.

OAKLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors poses for media day photos on September 29, 2014 at the Warriors practice facility in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Between Iguodala, Barnes, veteran Leandro Barbosa and ascendant third-year forward Draymond Green, Golden State’s wing depth doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room. And while Barnes’ minutes actually increased from 25.4 to 28.3, his starts dropped dramatically, from 81 his rookie season to just 24 a year ago.

With his role reduced from steady-minute starter to unpredictable reserve, Barnes struggled to forge a consistent rotational niche.

Despite Barnes’ year-two swoon, however, first-year head coach Steve Kerr has been positively effusive about the former All-American. Stressing “everything’s open” as it concerns lineups, Kerr had this to say, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami:

I’m a big fan of Harrison’s. I think he’s got a ton of talent. He can play a few different positions–I think he can play 2, 3 and 4.

One thing I’m just going to be really open with our team about is that depth is our strength. We have to embrace that. And that means that there are going to be certain nights when it’s going to be your night and certain nights when it’s not.

The best teams accept that and embrace it and end up being stronger for it. And that will be one of our challenges as a group.

No one should take this to mean Barnes’ road to redemption will be laid out before him, of course. Still, there’s a healthy dose of perspective in Kerr’s analysis—the recognition that, at the end of the day, we are still talking about a kid who would’ve just graduated had he stayed in school all four years.

Even if Barnes’ third year winds up being equally disappointing, it seems unlikely to think Golden State would decline his $5.2 million player option. Particularly with the NBA’s new TV deal all but guaranteeing a spike in the league’s salary cap over the next few years.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11: Steve Kerr, Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 11, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User
Jack Arent/Getty Images

In the meantime, Kerr’s task will be to find lineups that best suit Barne’s still-blossoming strengths. The good news: Kerr’s triangle-hybrid offense, which places heavy emphasis on both spacing and playmaking ability, should suit Barnes’ skill set much better than Mark Jackson’s more nebulous system.

Indeed, even Barnes seems acutely aware that his biggest strength, at this stage of the game, lies in better picking his spots, telling the Mercury News' Diamond Leung:

Those days at least for me, those are going to be put on hold for quite a while. It's just changing my game and just understanding where I'm going to get my shots now. I'm not going to be iso'd (isolated) on the post, iso'd on the elbow. It's going to be moving, cutting, some spot-up shots, that kind of stuff.

Without pigeonholing Barnes into one aspect of what is, at its conceptual core, an immensely complicated offense, there is something to be said for the swingman’s strengths jiving nicely with where the triangle tends to flow. Specifically, the corner, a sector Barnes has shown to be one of his most reliable.


Recently, Bleacher Report’s J.M. Poulard explored how Jackson’s insistence on using the young swingman as the primary second-unit scoring option stunted not only the lineup’s offensive flow, but the development of Barnes himself:

Barnes was often the recipient of some terrific passes, and his lone responsibility was to catch and finish. The arrival of Andre Iguodala in the 2013 summer relegated Barnes to the second unit, and that leads us to his second problem.

Former coach Mark Jackson routinely played Barnes with other reserves and asked him to carry the offense during those stretches. Barnes didn’t possess the tools necessary to accomplish that, and it made him look bad.

That’s not to say the only solution is to insert Barnes into the starting lineup; Iguodala is simply too valuable for Kerr to jeopardize his team’s tight-knit chemistry for the sake of assuaging a younger player’s ego. Rather, it’s in how Kerr uses Barnes off the bench that stands to change for the better.

Indeed, the additions of Barbosa and resurgent point guard Shaun Livingston—a pair of dangerous offensive weapons who should help buoy Golden State’s 19th-ranked bench from a season ago—are precisely the kind of players you want Barnes playing alongside.

To be sure, these aren’t magic basketball elixirs. What the Warriors’ new offense and bolstered bench could prove, however, is how important timing and circumstances can be to a particular player’s growth and development.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts to steal the ball from Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors in the second half at Staples Center on October 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Warriors defe
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

As for what would constitute a successful season? Statistical guesses tend to be fools' errands, but here is an earnest attempt nonetheless: 12 points, five rebounds and two assists on 45 percent shooting (including 38 percent from distance) at around 30 minutes per game.

That might not be quite the leap many a Warriors fans were hoping for. But as a bellwether for Barnes’ basketball future, such statistical upticks, particularly as it concerns his efficiency, would be nothing if not encouraging.

Most young stars are compelled to make their name as the face of a lottery-bound loser—a paying of dues in hopes of proving oneself a consummate cornerstone. Embedded as he is with one of the league’s foremost championship contenders, Barnes, much like the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, doesn’t have that luxury.

What he does have, on the other hand, is a golden opportunity to thrive for a time alongside some of the game’s most incendiary talents. The hope being that, in Barnes’ case, being so close to such soaring stars can somehow spark his own.


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