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Harrison Barnes must seek out free throws

Barnes is a light in the dark this season, but he must find ways to make the game easier for himself.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

With 20 games in the books, it’s safe to say the gamble the Mavericks took on Harrison Barnes in free agency was worth it. In an expanded role, the 24 year old fifth-year forward is in a new role and putting up career highs: 21 points on nearly 46 percent shooting, with six rebounds per game. He’s also playing stellar defense while playing a Michael Finley-esqe 38 minutes per game.

But his role moving forward is tough to assess, considering the Dallas Mavericks have so many holes elsewhere. Is he the centerpiece of the Mavericks’ rebuild? Or is Barnes a piece of a future core?

When considering Barnes’ future in Dallas and examining where he needs to round out his game, it’s important to consider the context of his situation. For example, is it worth being concerned about Barnes’ career-low 6.6 percent assist rate (percentage of field goals a player assists on while on the floor)? Probably not yet, when we consider his teammates in this frequently moribund Maverick offense. He needs to do better than 1.2 assists a game, but it’s not worth focusing on just yet.

With Barnes as the focal point of the Maverick offense, one area he should focus on for the remainder of the season is getting to the free-throw line. Despite shooting 18 times per game this season, he takes fewer than four free throws a contest (3.6). Barnes’ field goal attempts put him in the top 15 in the league in shots taken per game, and among those players, no one gets to the line as infrequently as Barnes.

When we consider that his three-point shot isn’t falling yet (career-low 32 percent thus far) and that Barnes is making a career-high 89 percent of his free-throws, getting to the line with more frequency is a must.

Free throws and three-point shots drastically improve scoring efficiency. With Barnes carrying the scoring load, free throws are the most direct path to making the game easier. Consider the game against Charlotte. Against the Hornets, Barnes took 21 shots and made 10 for 22 points. Twenty two points on 21 shots is not terribly efficient, despite the fact that Barnes essentially shot 50 percent from the field. But he also got to the free throw line seven times and made all seven. 29 points on 21 shots is Dirk territory in terms of scoring efficiency. That type of efficiency helps a basketball team win games.

In Barnes’ previous six games, he attempted only six free throws while hoisting 112 shots. That’s unacceptable for someone given the green light with his talent level.

A solid goal for Barnes should be to shoot north of six free throws a game. Considering his current (as of December 6) rate of 3.6, this is an achievable goal for a player using 26 percent of his team’s possessions while on the floor.

In a really rough year, the growth of Harrison Barnes is the main thing fans have to root for right now. Improving his ability to draw fouls is one key way Barnes can round out his already impressive game.