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Harrison Barnes is shining despite losses

The Mavericks’ big free agent acquisition has blown past expectations so far. Too bad the Mavs can’t translate that to wins.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – It seems almost cruel that Harrison Barnes can’t fully enjoy this week so far.

There’s so much to love – Barnes is obliterating even the most optimistic expectations with a blistering scoring start. He’s the Mavs’ leading scorer after two games, scoring 19 against the Pacers and a career-high 31 on Friday night against the Rockets.

He’s been fluid between both forward spots, taking advantage of slower power forwards when sliding up a position and overwhelming smaller wings at the three. He’s hitting shots after almost five months of not hitting anything. This is good! Harrison Barnes looks great!

There’s just one problem – the Mavs are 0-2. It figures.

“I feel good, I’m getting good shots,” Barnes said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting this all together.”

Barnes looked nothing like the preseason version of himself on Friday. Throughout the entire exhibition schedule, Barnes and Rick Carlisle continually reiterated that Barnes was getting the shots he wanted, it was just a matter of him knocking them down.

In one of the final preseason games where Barnes was ghastly most of the night before making his last shot, Carlisle quipped that Barnes was on a hot streak (1-for-1) and to take notice from there.

Since making that one shot, he’s gone 25-of-46 from the floor (54.3 percent) in one preseason game and the two regular season games. Carlisle knows best.

“I expected Barnes to play extremely well, and I think he has the chance to be a very special player,” Carlisle said after the 106-98 loss to the Rockets. “I’ve felt that all along. I like the way he competed tonight.”

Barnes hasn’t done anything out of the norm these two games, aside from putting up shots at a much higher rate than he did at Golden State. All the shots Barnes canned on Friday were the ones he’s hit throughout his career – one-dribble pull-ups, open threes and post-ups.

Now that he’s higher up the totem pole, he’s just getting more opportunities and maintaining his efficiency. It’s encouraging for the 24-year-old.

“It’s definitely an adjustment but that’s part of the process,” Barnes said. “I’m just developing into this role and taking more shots.”

Against the Rockets, Barnes did most of his work from the mid-range. He had a couple of shots near the rim and two three-pointers, but the rest were him taking his man off the dribble or facing up 18 feet from the basket.

Without Dirk Nowitzki, out with an illness, it seemed Barnes was in his most comfortable position at the four. He matched up from the start with Ryan Anderson, and Anderson had no chance at keeping up with Barnes.

Barnes and the Mavs were methodical in exploiting mismatches all night, almost to a fault when the offense ground to a halt in the third quarter. Whenever Barnes saw Anderson in front of him, he’d put him on skates before splashing a mid-range jumper and easily got space as a roll man in pick and pops.

If the Rockets switched, Barnes promptly parked himself in the low post and went to work. It wasn’t always great – he had a couple fade-aways Barnes later acknowledged needed to be stronger attempts toward the rim – but the results have blown away every expectation so far.

Barnes being able to score out of the pick and roll and in isolations is a huge boost for a Mavs team desperately trying to ease the burden on Dirk. At times on Friday, Barnes resembled Dirk in the way he operated as a roll man and took advantage of his space in the mid-range.

He’s not fully there yet of course. Barnes said he needs to be a bit more assertive getting into the paint, and he only had three free throw attempts on Friday.

“I need to be aggressive and not settling – get to the rack, get to the free throw line,” Barnes said. “Still things I have to learn in terms of being that kind of scorer.”

In the end, all of Barnes points haven’t added up to the stat everyone on the team is looking at. Dallas is 0-2, and they’re certainly not happy about it. While Barnes’ teammates were happy to see the ball go in the hole for him, there’s just something not there on the defensive end. Both the Rockets and Pacers spoiled Barnes’ performances with lights out games from the perimeter.

It’s something Carlisle hinted at after the game. Much like Chandler Parsons was challenged to do more to affect the game than scoring, Carlisle said Barnes can have that same responsibility a well.

Barnes is more than aware. After almost every question he got postgame about his scoring, he ended talking about the defense. The Mavs are so close to letting Barnes enjoy the moment – they just need a few more stops first.

“I don’t know what the numbers expectations is but we gotta win games,” Carlisle said. “We need him to do whatever is within his abilities to help us win games.

“Tonight he put the ball in the basket which was much needed with Dirk out but some nights … we’re gonna need him more to guard a great player at his position, and he’s still going to be a guy we’re going to depend on for production on offense.”