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Studying film on Harrison Barnes shows why the Mavericks are so excited for him

We look deeper at Barnes’ strengths and weaknesses.

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Harrison Barnes, fairly or not, will be constantly compared to Chandler Parsons. Whether he lives up to the departed Parsons will, in large part, determine whether he’s a success or a failure with the Mavericks this year and going forwards.

Barnes has a lot of potential, and every tool you could hope for from a wing. He’s long, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he can shoot, he has a solid handle, he can post-up, and he can defend. Harrison Barnes is chock full of tools and ability. No wonder he was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school (ahead of Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight) and why he was a top 10 pick in the 2012 NBA draft — a player the now-vaunted Golden State Warriors spent a month tanking to ensure they could draft him.

This is a deep video dive of Barnes as a basketball player. I’ve watched a majority of his offensive and defensive opportunities from the past year, and have chosen the clips most demonstrative of his strengths and weaknesses in the same style as an NBA personnel scout would use. First, some things that don’t need video to be understood.

  • Barnes is a really good spot-up shooter. He’s comfortable in both corners, he has a wide catch radius, and he releases quickly. He’s a career 37.6 percent shooter from three, peaking over 40 percent two years ago and coming in at 38.3 percent this past season. His shooting is roughly similar to his benchmark, Chandler Parsons, a career 38 percent shooter from three
  • Barnes has all the physical tools, which cannot be emphasized enough. He’s also young, at only 24 years old with four seasons of experience already under his belt in a winning organization
  • Barnes made the All-Rookie team his first season
  • Two of the most similar players his profile projects as are Hedo Turkoglu and Nicolas Batum

There are also some trends to be aware of:

  • Barnes has increased his minutes per game each year
  • Barnes has decreased his turnover percentage each season, and has increased his assist percentage since his rookie season
  • His usage rate has gone down as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green improved and took on larger roles

With that in mind, let’s dive into some video and understand Barnes’ game. We’ll be focusing on the key aspects of his offensive and defensive play—spot ups, pick and rolls, and the post—beginning with offense.

Barnes on offense

Barnes’ ability to run the pick-and-roll as a secondary and sometimes primary creator will be the single largest factor in whether or not he lives up to his max contract and blossoms into an All-Star caliber wing. These first two clips demonstrate his ability as a finisher and scorer as the ball handler, where his efficiency was high but his volume was low. With Dallas, he should get many more opportunities, where his ability to drive using the pick or counter by rejecting the screen will get him to the basket:

He also has a solid stroke from Dirk Nowitzki’s hallowed ground, the mid-elbows. It can unfortunately cause him problems, as he likes to go to that shot too often when better options are available. In this first clip, we see a smooth pull-up that develops from a high post-up.

Unfortunately, his love for the long range jumper causes him to pass up better opportunities at times. Watch here as Diaw goes under the screen, Duncan sags to corral, and Barnes takes an extra dribble closer to Duncan before hoisting a jumper anyway. This is a shot Barnes will absolutely have to pull up and sink from three if he is to become a creator. Without it, he’s too easy to defend.

He makes another mistake here, again due to his love of the step-back mid-ranger. Watch as he uses the screen well, gets the advantage, but then squanders it by crossing the court, leaving the paint, and taking a tough shot. This is a play where the ball handler absolutely has to get to the rim and finish or draw the foul.

Finally, we look at his passing ability. While Barnes has decreased is turnovers significantly since coming into the league, his assist numbers haven’t gone up nearly as much. Why is this? Because he has simply created less opportunities for assists and turnovers. He’s not the most fluid decision maker. This clip sums up his pick and roll game pretty well. Barnes has the handle to cross a guy, using the pick to get the defender leaning, and then drives into the teeth of the help and leaves his feet to attempt a cross-court pass. The result is a turnover. As Barnes matures, he could become a more patient ball handler and keep the dribble alive in this situation before making a secondary move or allowing time for a cutter to make a play.

Spotting up is one of his greatest strengths, and Barnes should get plenty of looks moving to open space around pick-and-rolls centered on Nowitzki’s gravity and Bogut’s rolls—two big men with exceptional skip passing abilities. Watch in these next two clips as Barnes demonstrates two important skills. First, he finds the open space incredibly well. Second, he can drive a closeout hard and finish strong.

Unfortunately, decision-making is again an area that leaves something to be desired. Barnes makes a great move to pump and drive here, but needs to finish strong. This is partly Thompson’s fault—he should be cutting back towards the basket—but Barnes should be finishing high at the rim or bouncing this pass right through the pocket. Instead, we get a turnover.

When posting up a smaller defender, Barnes has skills. He has three key moves: a turnaround to the right at the rim, a turn and hook or fade toward his left shoulder, and a drop step. Watch these two clips as a point guard switches onto Barnes, and he punishes them mercilessly with the turnaround towards his right shoulder, and pay attention to how quickly he keys on Parker and crushes him.

He also has a very strong faceup game. Watch here as he destroys a defender in the first clip and goes hard to the rim before drawing a foul, and admire that smooth jumper in the second clip.

Finally, we see his drop step. What he leaves to be desired is the finishing ability over a big help defender, but the execution here in recognizing his position and going to the drop step right away is a good sign of his ability to read a defender in the post.

Barnes on defense

Moving to defense, we start with Barnes biggest weakness: he struggles to closeout and defend players receiving a pass on spot ups. Each of these three clips demonstrates a different issue. First, he lets his assignment catch the ball on the move, and Danilo Gallinari drives him easily with a head of steam to the basket.

Second, we see him overplay to try and catch up when he overdoes the closeout. Watch here as Kevin Martin has his way with Barnes, driving him left, spinning back right, and ultimately scoring at the rim.

Finally, watch as he closes out hard and bites on the pump fake, leaving his feet and getting beat.

In the pick and roll, however, Barnes’ length and athleticism enable him to be a very capable defender. First, the Warriors’ scheme called for a lot of switches. Watch here as he prevents a roll entirely from the big man in the first clip. In the second clip, he gets switches onto a driving Tony Parker and uses his length to bother the shot from behind, forcing a tough finish that ultimately misses.

When he isn’t switching, Barnes uses his quickness to get over and through a pick, and then uses his length to bother shots and passes as he remains right in the hip pocket of the ball handler. Watch first as he gives Matt Barnes the tiniest of windows to slip a pass through and forces a turnover, then second as he sticks in Melo’s pocket and forces a tough jumper with a hand in the face.

Finally, Barnes is a very stout post defender and one of the key reasons the Warriors could go to their vaunted Death Lineup. Nobody smaller than Barnes gains ground, and even some of the best post men in the league struggle. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins can own him. But watch as he gives no ground to LaMarcus Aldridge here, even on the re-post, before forcing a tough running hook:

Next, he uses that length to force Aldridge under the rim for a reverse, right into the help defense.

Now, he demonstrates that ability against two wings who enjoy the post most nights: Vince Carter and Evan Turner. First, Barnes gives up absolutely no movement to Carter, leading to a tough fadeaway after a couple dribbles take him nowhere. Then, watch Barnes devour Evan Turner and force a turnover and fast break the other way.

In conclusion

Barnes is going to have his growing pains. He may not reach his potential. But he has the tools to be an All-Star caliber wing, and it’s very possible that he and Justin Anderson could combine to be a formidable, contending one-two punch for Dallas in the next few years.

Look for him to struggle as he learns passing and decision-making in a larger role, and look for Rick Carlisle to create spot-up opportunities all along the arc for Barnes to knock down threes or drive to the rim. Barnes opens up lineup flexibility that Parsons never could with his defensive skills, and the Mavericks have made a bet that Barnes capitalizes on the talent that made him the No. 1 recruit and an early lottery pick.