Tim Cato and Josh Bowe discuss Harrison Barnes’ preseason struggles and other things we’ve learned from these few weeks.
TIM: So, uh, is it time to talk about Harrison Barnes? I think it's time to talk about Harrison Barnes. Here's his numbers through five preseason games: 92 minutes, 32 points, 11-of-42 shooting, 3-of-13 on threes, five assists.
That's ... that's not great. We should be able to agree on a couple things here.
- It's preseason, which quite literally doesn't count for anything. Some starters have sat out in every game so far but the last one, and Dirk in particular makes a huge impact being on the floor. So Barnes will probably shoot 8-of-11 next game and be totally fine the rest of the way.
- But outside of a single shot in the preseason opener — a shot I wrote 800 words about — Barnes reeeeeally doesn't look great doing things on offense except finishing cuts. Make no mistake, that's an important part of his game, and his chemistry with Bogut is already showing there! But in terms of creating looks, that's barely happening. Is that something that's actually concerning to you?
BOWE: I'm not worried yet. What's kinda funny is that Barnes isn't really struggling anymore than Chandler Parsons did in his first month or so with the Mavs. In fact, Parsons only shot 11-of-29 in his first three preseason games, before rebounding a bit then shooting a still poor 41.5 percent in November. Of course, the big difference is that Parsons was a proven wing playmaker and Barnes is not, but still — Rick Carlisle's system takes a bit of time.
If there is a thing I'm worried most about, it has to be Barnes' jumper. I expected Barnes to struggle a bit by forcing some shots as he learns his place in a new offense, but 3-of-13 from three raises an eyebrow. He shot 38 percent last year from three with basically no one paying attention to him in Golden State. Is Barnes a good shooter or an average/mediocre one that was just boosted by completely wide open looks playing next to two incredible players?
I dunno. It's preseason. It's so tough to gauge anything, especially since Carlisle has barely played his core players, while they've gone against other teams that play their starters into the third quarter. What about you, are you seeing anything specific about Barnes?
TIM: What it really just looks like to me is that Barnes' same slump from the Finals, and then his disuse in Rio at the Olympics, has extended to the preseason. He's missing open shots, and we have four NBA seasons worth of evidence that confirms that he can, indeed, hit them. Can slumps extend across a summer? I don't know, but that's the only explanation I'm coming up with.
He will start hitting shots at some point. His looks with the Warriors weren't that open, that coming to Dallas would completely tank his ability behind the arc. And if we need proof he hasn't suddenly forgot how to shoot, he went 22-of-25 in practice shooting around the arc just last week!
Not creating his own shot is still a little concerning, but we always knew that would be a work in progress. Five assists through five games worries me a little more, but Barnes has a lot to learn. Your point on Parsons is dead right. Sometimes, it just takes some time.
JOSH: Come on Tim, did you really just link the official Dallas Mavericks Twitter with video of Barnes shooting in practice? It's the oldest trick in the book: dudes who can't shoot have been looking great in practice for years. WAY TO SELL OUT TO THE MAN.
I kid, of course. Barnes' three-point shooting should be fine as you said. There are tons of variables at play to cause wonkiness — the normal "this is the preseason" one, the fact that Barnes has yet to really share the court with Dirk Nowitzki or Deron Williams, the various combinations of scrubs and bench players he's spent time on the floor with — it's a lot. His three-point shooting is just the one area I feel any sort of legitimate concern over since it's the one offensive skill he has that should translate relatively quickly from Golden State to Dallas. I expected him to struggle with just about everything right out of the gate, so it would have brought some ease of mind to see him can a couple more threes.
The assists don't bother me at all, because he's never been an assist man at any point of his basketball life. I never expected that to change. I'd like to see some more post-ups though.
There are some bright spots. Barnes' defense has been fine and his athleticism is just pleasing to watch after all the slow and plodding Mavs teams over the last four years. Make no bones about it, I wish a healthy Chandler Parsons were on this team instead, but Barnes' athleticism is on another level compared to even healthy Parsons and it's just nice to see the Mavs put more dudes on the floor who can run fast and jump high. He isn't always the smoothest athlete but he's so strong, so fast and can get off the floor so quickly he's an upgrade of sorts just based on that. The Mavs don't seem overwhelmed physically when he's on the court.
TIM: I was really hoping that would be a video of Yi Jianlian practicing against a chair. Ah well, one day we’ll find video of that again.
It seems like the conclusion we've drawn is "Barnes hasn't been great and we thought he'd be better but it's five preseason games and none of that actually matters," which is a fair conclusion to draw in my eyes. If January rolls around and Barnes is shooting 41 percent from the field and 29 percent behind the line, then maybe we'll realize we should have paid more attention. But I don't think any of us really think that's how this is going to play out.
Any other preseason thoughts? I have Nicolas Brussino and Dorian Finney-Smith as my final two roster spots, but I've now heard from a few people now that the big boss loves Jonathan Gibson. He's fully guaranteed and I could envision an occasional Charlie V role for him, where he comes in to jack up shots whenever the Mavericks' offense can't buy a bucket. Plus, the Mavericks have a cadre of oft-injured guards, so maybe that wouldn't be the worst idea. I'd still take Finney-Smith, but I'm fine with either.
JOSH: Yeah, that's fair about Barnes. I think we've done enough fear mongering on him anyhow. Hopefully in three months we can look back at this and laugh and drink (or just drink).
I agree about the final two roster spots. I like that Brussino is still young enough to develop and has skills that no other wing on the roster really has in terms of offensive ability. He's raw and can look really bad at times, but he's definitely shown the most of the final guys battling. Finney-Smith has looked worlds better since the Summer League, but not like that was hard to do with how dreadful his offensive game was. He's knocking down his threes and I really like his length on defense, although I can see him getting bullied by bigger wings. That dude is a twig.
Finney-Smith may seem redundant with Barnes and Justin Anderson but you can never have enough 3-and-D wings. They're a hot commodity and give more roster flexibility. I like Gibson's spunk and shooting, but the Mavs have enough small guards. "Short Charlie Villanueva" just isn't doing it for me. For all Charlie V's faults, at least he soaked up some minutes up front when the Mavs were struggling to get guys on the court. Sure, J.J. Barea, Deron Williams and Devin Harris have medical histories as clean as my colon but with those three and Seth Curry I feel there's enough bodies there to spread the minutes around and prevent them all from wearing down. For what it's worth, I feel like it'd be easier to find a Gibson down the line if needed off the waiver wire than someone like Finney-Smith.
Regardless, that's a lot of words on dudes that will probably never play. My other big observation is how great Dwight Powell looks. Like most everyone on the planet I hated that contract and I'm always skeptical of guys making big leaps as shooters but perhaps Powell has turned a corner. He looks confident in his abilities so far and he's making baskets outside of three feet! Powell turning into a semi-competent stretch four would probably be the biggest win of the off-season for the Mavs — anything to get Rick Carlisle to lower Dirk Nowitzki's minutes.