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Why Harrison Barnes isn’t quite the second coming of Josh Howard

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Our writers have complicated feelings about Harrison Barnes, the Mavericks’ newest 24-year-old swingman.

2016 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Harrison Barnes has been a divisive figure among Mavericks fans ever since Dallas inked him to a four-year, $94 million contract on July 4. There’s the Chandler Parsons comparisons for one, which aren’t fair to Barnes but also avoidable. There’s also the question of how good he can actually be: is his limited role unavoidable due to the players around him on the Warriors? Or were his solid but unspectacular statistics a clear indication that he won’t be able to smoothly move into a larger role?

Over the weeknd, Barnes was compared to Josh Howard: a tall wing who was a good first quarter scorer and who was at his best when set up slashing to the rim. There were differences, of course, namely Barnes’ three-point jumper and Howard’s excellent mid-range game, but there’s some reason to see similarities.

No one is upset that Barnes is a Maverick, but our writers have mixed thoughts about how much he can actually contribute. Here’s a debate from our emails about exactly what heights Barnes can reach, focusing mostly on him as a scorer.

Tim: I really like my Josh Howard comparison, although he’s slightly worse.

Josh: He definitely has a better jumper than Josh, but not the feel for the game. Josh was so smooth, always knew where to be.

I dunno, Barnes is a mystery. I don't think he'll be great but I wouldn't be totally shocked if the Mavericks found a way to get 15-18 points per game out of him by playing to his strengths. All depends on how he responds to Rick.

Ian: I'm late responding here, but I don't think Barnes is ever going to be skilled enough to be a Howard or a Finley. I think the best case scenario is that when Dirk retires Barnes can put on some weight and be like another ex-UNC guy, Marvin Williams. Hit open shots and guard multiple positions, that's Barnes. He's not going to be a playmaker.

Josh: Yeah, Howard was never really a playmaker. I don't think it's crazy to see Barnes average something close to Josh's line from 2005-09. Something like 15-18 points, 45 percent from the field, 5-8 rebounds, 1 or 2 assists.

He’ll never be Finley. I think he has some more individual scoring skill than Marvin. He'll just always, always, always need a good point guard.

Doyle: What if Barnes is the second coming of George McCloud? (Editor’s note: he’s not.)

Ian: Josh averaged 19-20-18 points over a three year span, back when Mavs played a super sloooow pace. I think that made him a playmaker. If Barnes ever has a three year stretch like that I'll eat a shoe Werner Herzog style.

Tim: My comparison is aesthetically. I agree Howard peaked higher than I think Howard can be.

Josh: I don't really think Barnes scoring is gonna be much of a problem. He'll put up points. My worry is how he does it and how efficient he can be. He might score 18 per this season but do it on like 42 percent shooting.

Kirk: I wrote a really long email and then deleted it. Here’s just a few thoughts.

  1. No one I talked to in Vegas thinks Barnes is capable of living up to this contract
  2. Chandler Parsons averaged 15-5-2.5 (pts and rebs rounded up). Barnes cannot do better with his more limited skillset.
  3. Barnes’ three-point shooting was predicated off of getting open looks from a great offense. Past Dirk's gravity, there's no one on the Mavs that can actually get to the cup. That means a lot of sets. That’s not good long term for Barnes (or anyone else if we're being honest).
  4. Howard was a far superior athlete.

Ian: Yeah, I mean, Barnes will get shots but to score 18 a night in this offense? There's no way that happens unless something catastrophic happens to Dirk, Deron, etc. They'd have to force feed him every time down practically. He had a barely above average true shooting percentage in an offense that gifted him tremendous looks. Even if he develops enough to put up a high volume there is no evidence yet he's capable of being efficient enough to get above 15-16 pts. He'll be the third wheel.

Austin: At first I thought Finley might be a ceiling for him, but after going through some film, nope nope nope. Barnes’ one chance to elevate his game is to become a lights out shooter, which probably isn't happening.

Tim: I'm fine with the signing at this point. I'm not fine with it in the context of letting Parsons walk, but putting that decision aside, the Mavs needed players and Barnes is a totally adequate starter who is young and works hard. He's not "worth" a max but that's what you had to offer him to nab him so whatever.

But he's a tertiary option, no doubt.

Josh: You guys completely ignoring what Barnes did in college is weird. I can't believe the Barnes hate has gone so far that I'm defending him. I don’t even like him as a player!

I don't think Barnes will get 18. I just wouldn't be stunned. He knows how to score. I don't think it's crazy for him to get 15 a game next year with five or six boards. He's got time to get better. He doesn't know how to pass. Or create in the pick and roll. But he definitely knows how to score.

It's not about living up to the contract -- that's just the price you pay, much like how Parsons didn't technically live up to the contract because of injuries.

I dunno. I guess I'm tired of bashing him and trying to figure out his strengths and what he's going to do.

His film from North Carolina looked good. I honestly wonder how we'd judge him if he got drafted anywhere else. I think him being a good midrange shooter is gonna help a lot and that's something he's always had.

Ian: Just to clarify, I don't really hate Barnes My initial emotional reaction aside, it's a signing that is reasonable once the decision to let Parsons go had been made. Barnes is still young, athletic, has shot the three ball well recently, and something that I wasn't aware of before since I didn't see much of the player off the court is that HB seems like a genuinely good guy, who comes off as very intelligent and professional.

They had enough money to take a chance on all those positives making him a late bloomer. It's certainly not a demonstrably worse gamble than paying, say, Evan Turner, or Moe Harkless, or Lance Stephenson.

My personal opinion is just that there's a gulf in skill between Barnes and Finley, or even Barnes and a guy like Josh Howard.

At Barnes' current point per shot rate, he'd need to get up about 15 shots per game to reach 18 points. Barnes for his career is averaging under 11 shots per 36 minutes. Chandler Parsons averaged 13 shots per 36 minutes last year. Jason Terry in his 8 seasons with the Mavs eclipsed 15 shots per 36 only twice.

17 points per game as a sophomore in college is fine, sure, but let's remember that Barnes was pretty much the undisputed top prospect coming out of high school, and ended up nearly falling out of the top 10 due to concerns that he was one-dimensional and could be a little passive at times. His college career was not exactly a rousing success. The hope then was that he would be a better pro player than a college player.

Kirk: His college stats are interesting until you consider he was last there 4-plus years ago. And it's not like he's been on some team where player development was ignored. Curry, Draymond and Klay improved a lot. Barnes is the same player. I love Rick but Mark Jackson and Kerr aren't exactly terrible coaches.

Josh: It's just super frustrating that every Mavs offseason since 2011 has been predicated on luck. Like, nothing they do they have any power over. Their plan is just "let's rely on a bunch of things outside of our control to make our team better."