Harrison Barnes had the best game of his career — excluding one 40-point performance in college, perhaps — on Friday. The newly signed Mavericks forward went 13-of-23 against the Houston Rockets, shifting over to power forward with Dirk Nowitzki out of the game and lighting up just about anyone the Rockets threw his way.
Let’s use this space to look at Barnes’ 13 made shots and discuss what that means for him as a player and specifically as a scorer. We’ll start with his most ordinary shots, and work our way up.
13. Three with 1:19 in the first, guarded by James Harden
12. Three with 3:54 in the first, guarded by Ryan Anderson
Barnes had four great looks behind the arc in this game, knocking down a couple. He’s a good three-point shooter, and despite struggling in the preseason (and beyond that, last year’s playoffs), we knew he’d eventually start knocking them down.
11. Pull-up jumper with 9:42 in the first, guarded by Anderson
This shot and one of the threes above were the first two made shots Barnes knocked down on Friday. I rank them as the second- and third-easiest ones he took on Friday, and that’s clearly a good sign. You’ve heard it before, but when you can get a player a couple easy looks early in the game, that always sets them up for success.
10. Pull-up jumper with 11:06 in third, guarded by Trevor Ariza
This shot came off a 1-4 high pick-and-roll, otherwise known as the Dirk play. Barnes rolled off, found an open spot and popped that jumper without any hesitation on one of the first plays in the third quarter. It’s not difficult, but it’s nicely done.
(Note that Trevor Ariza is the defender here — we’ll get back to that.)
9. Running bank shot with 9:57 in the third, guarded by Anderson
Barnes lowered his shoulder, so this really could have gone either way. Wesley Matthews was called for a charge on the exact same move in the first half. It’s a good finish, but this isn’t a move Barnes can repeat too often without it backfiring. You’d like to see Barnes really get a step on Anderson, a slow-footed four, rather than have to bull through him.
8. Pull-up jumper with 3:22 in fourth, guarded by Nene
7. Pull-up jumper with 3:50 in fourth, guarded by Harden
6. Pull-up jumper with 8:08 in third, guarded by Anderson
5. Pull-up jumper with 3:46 in the third, guarded by Dekker
Here’s a trend: when matched up against a defender he’s quicker than, Barnes can roast him. Anderson and Nene have no choice but to allow these one-dribble pull-up jumpers, and Barnes has always been able to hit those. James Harden is in foul trouble and barely contests Barnes as he pops a shot over him. Dekker does contest — a pretty good contest, at that — but it doesn’t matter.
As streaky as Barnes can be, his jumper is generally at its best pulling up after a calculated few dribbles. He’s working on shots just like this all the time during Mavericks practices. For him, they’re easy shots. That’s the point. Especially when you put him at the four, where he doesn’t lose much of an advantage defensively, Barnes will get shots that he can make very capably. On Friday, he made a huge chunk of them.
4. Running hook shot with 2:04 in third, guarded by Nene
3. Running jumper with 1:51 in the first, guarded by Dekker
These are tough shots. Barnes actually hit about half of his running hook shots while he was with the Warriors, so that’s a weapon for him. The second one was more of a running jump shot, directly modeled after Dirk Nowitzki (and others), but it’s similar. Both are welcomed signs for a player who doesn’t constantly live at the rim.
2. Layup with 2:08 in the fourth, guarded by Ariza
Speaking of beating players off the dribble, here’s a rare example that gives you hope for the future. Trevor Ariza, Houston’s best perimeter defender, hadn’t guarded Barnes at all until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets went small. On his first two shot attempts against him, Barnes got tough looks and missed both. On the third, he adjusted and blew right by Ariza who was guarding him extremely tightly. It’s a great all-around sign.
1. Jumper, 3:18 in the first, guarded by James Harden
Honestly, this is a Kobe Bryant shot. He would sometimes pump fake two, three, four times until he got the defender exactly where he wanted him. Barnes does it just once, has the position he wants and knocks it in over James Harden. This is a great move.
This was great to see from Barnes. We knew he could hit jumpers, and we hoped he could have games like this. A 31-point outing is just proof.
We didn’t learn anything new about Barnes in these 13 shots, though there were a few optimistic signs. Ultimately, the worth of his $94 million contract will be determined by beating defenders off the dribble and playmaking. He has just one assist in three games, after all, in large part predicated by inability to blow by anyone.
However, even if those two things never happen, Barnes can occasionally have games like this. The more favorable the matchup, the more often he’ll get easy looks he’s capable of knocking down. Barnes won’t be a star based on the mid-range alone, but he’ll be more than capable. And on his very best nights, like Friday, he can damn near carry the team to victory single-handedly if he gets any help around him at all.