[Ed. note: In case we haven't written enough on him, Harrison Barnes kicks off our series of player previews for the 2016-17 season. Enjoy!]
If you are to any degree a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, then you very likely know the story of how Harrison Barnes came to Dallas.
When Kevin Durant agreed to join the Golden State Warriors, Barnes' time in the Bay Area was brought to an end. The former top 10 pick had accomplished many things within the context of the team, which catapulted from late-aughts laughingstock to NBA royalty almost immediately after his arrival. On an individual basis, however, Harrison had not exactly lived up to his billing.
As a top recruit out of high school, greatness had been portended for Barnes for some time. Though he started on a championship team and was a useful role player for a record-setting regular season run, most expected more than a career scoring average of barely 10 points per game four years into his career. Compounding matters was an end to the playoffs Barnes would surely like to forget. After the Warriors held a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals over the Cavs, Cleveland won three straight to shock the world, and over that span Barnes made just 5 of 32 attempts, many of which were of the wide open, completely unguarded variety.
Harrison Barnes was not the first choice for Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, but for $94 million over four years, the team has made a large commitment to the 24-year-old. So what should we look for?
Harrison Barnes has tantalized scouts and fans alike for years with an intriguing skillset. Barnes is a solidly built 6'8 225, with a 6'11 1/4 wingspan; prototypical measurables for a small forward. At the 2012 Draft Combine, Barnes posted the best no-step vertical leap ('38 inches) and three-quarter court sprint time (3.16 seconds) of any prospect, showing off the kind of athlete he is. His jump shot form is picture-perfect, and he has 3-point range, making more than 40 percent of his threes during the 2014-15 season and connecting on nearly 38 percent for his career. He is by all accounts a highly coachable player and great teammate; a smart kid who works hard and apparently has aspirations for a political career at some point.
What has dogged Barnes to this point is the lingering belief that he is somehow less than the sum of all these parts.
Despite those combine results, Barnes is probably a few ticks below "elite" as an athlete. If you compare his rebound, block and steal rates to someone like -- say -- fellow Maverick Justin Anderson, and we can observe the gap in functional game athleticism. Anderson blocked more shots last year as a rookie than Barnes has in any season, despite playing nearly a quarter of the minutes, and Simba snagged boards 25 percent more often last season than Barnes has for his career.
Barnes' scoring output obviously suffered due to the unrivaled collection of offensive talent on the Warriors, who clearly didn't need a volume shooter like the ex-Tar Heel swingman. Still, Barnes has not developed much at all as a ball-handler or passer, making him a less than ideal fit in the Dubs "Pace and Space" offense. The ball-handling issue is perhaps his biggest as a player, as he does not leverage his strength and leaping ability into enough forays to the rim. In college, Barnes settled for the mid-range jumper often and could get by with it because he rarely faced an opponent capable of challenging his shot, but NBA defenses are simply better.
In Dallas, there's little doubt that Barnes will be featured more, and given the state of the Dallas roster, the Mavericks absolutely need Barnes to take steps toward becoming the kind of player worthy of the investment the team has made in him. The question is whether he can respond.
Best case scenario
Much has been written on this site and others about what Barnes can't do, but for a minute let's put on some rose-colored glasses and try to envision what a "best case" Harrison might look like.
On offense, Barnes' bread and butter is his jump shot. This is as important as ever in today's NBA, and Dallas will be fortunate to roll out one of the better shooting starting lineups in the league. While Dirk may not quite be playing at an MVP level like Steph Curry is, Nowitzki's gravity is still enough to pull defenders away from teammates, which should give Barnes plenty of good looks.
Dallas isn't paying Barnes all that money to spot up in the corner, however, so expect a lot more triple-threat and pick-and-roll action for Harrison. How much he improves there should ultimately decide his future, but there's reason to expect that having the ball more will get him in a better rhythm than he often was simply watching and waiting around for a kickout in Golden State.
Barnes made nearly 48 percent of his long twos last season, which conjures images of Jason Terry for me, or, if the visual doesn't quite match, perhaps you'd prefer Caron Butler. It isn't a high-value shot, of course, but Rick Carlisle is as good as any coach at putting his players in the best possible positions to succeed. So, if that's where Harrison is comfortable, then I say fire away.
Barnes should also get plenty of post-up looks. We saw this a few times in Saturday's preseason opener, and when Barnes is switched off on a smaller defender, he's very good at taking advantage of the mismatch, displaying nice footwork and a soft touch around the basket. Carlisle has a history of posting up perimeter players, from Vince Carter to Wes Matthews and even point guard Deron Williams at times last season.
As long as Dirk and D-Will stay relatively healthy, even a "breakout" campaign for Barnes would probably only be around 15-16 points per game. I would say that expectations shouldn't be for Harrison to become a first option right away, but to post an efficient shooting slash line as the third option and establish himself in a way that he can build on going forward. Barnes is young enough that he still has time to get better, so let's walk before we run.
On defense, Barnes requires a lot less projection. I would hesitate to call him a "stopper", as defensive real plus-minus paints a mixed picture of his defensive prowess, but he was undoubtedly an important part of the Warriors defensive scheme, specifically as a versatile defender who could compete on switches and play extended minutes as a small ball four.
One thing you notice watching Barnes play is how surprisingly strong he is in his lower body, which allows him to hold his ground against bigger opponents. If you missed it, J.C. Fischer covered this and much more in his film breakdown of Barnes. Whether it's LaMarcus Aldridge or even Blake Griffin, Barnes was able to keep some of the Western Conference's best post-up players from embarrassing him, and this will be vital in allowing Carlisle to use his patented small ball lineups with Dirk off the floor.
Getting a chance to see Barnes at the four, next to Justin Anderson and Wes Matthews on the perimeter will be exciting, and possibly a glimpse at the future post-Dirk. That may be as athletic and defensively stout a lineup as the Mavs have had since winning the title in the summer of 2011. Certainly, with that trio and Andrew Bogut manning the middle, this Mavs' team may be the first in years to finish in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency.
Worst case scenario
In the context of this season, a "worst case" for Harrison Barnes is probably just more of the same: inconsistent shooting, and too much ball-watching or settling for jumpers. That would be disappointing, but not necessarily terribly damaging all by itself.
In the larger scope, however, if Barnes doesn't pan out, the results could be disastrous, simply because the Mavericks have so little else in the way of young players with potential. At some point, Dirk Nowitzki will retire, and at that point Mavs fans could be in for years of bad basketball.
They need Barnes to at least develop into a secondary scorer with position flex, but as of now that hope is built solely on his youth. For a franchise that has a pretty sorry history both in luring big name free agents and drafting actual useful basketball players, Barnes would go a long way toward cushioning the inevitable fall in the era after Dirk.