There are not a lot of good things to say about the Dallas Mavericks. That’s not a shock if you’ve been watching, the team has looked every bit like their 2-10 record. So let’s reverse course and talk about something that is great about this team:
Harrison Barnes kicking ass, being an absolute bull at low post defense.
This isn’t something new for Barnes, who has showed off his tough-as-nails defense in the paint before. Here he is bodying up Karl Anthony-Towns last season:
If you watched closely during the Mavericks’ first win of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies in late October, you likely noticed a similar sight as Barnes matched up with Marc Gasol on multiple possessions.
Gasol had a good game (26 points on 15 shots) but he did most of his work from the outside. The reason he didn’t bulldoze the Mavs in the paint? Well, Barnes certainly helped:
Opposing players shoot 41.2 percent on post-ups against Barnes this season and score 0.95 points per possession, which are some of the better marks for players who have guarded as many post-ups as Barnes has, which is a lot! Barnes has guarded 21 post-up possessions, which is fourth in the league. For reference, Rockets defensive ace Clint Capela allows 0.91 points per possession on post-ups and a 53.3 shooting percentage. Pistons center Andre Drummond allows 53.8 percent shooting and 0.96 points per possession.
Barnes’ defensive post-up numbers aren’t necessarily elite. There are loads of other players who have defended post-ups better than Barnes on a similar number of possessions. Here’s the thing though: most of those other players are bigs. For Barnes to be putting up these types of numbers as a 6’7 forward covering for a defensively challenged 39-year-old front court-mate is insanely impressive. Teams go after Barnes in the paint a lot, as you can tell from the number of post-up possessions he’s defended, and Barnes does more than enough to hold his ground and stay strong.
It hasn’t really translated to results, unfortunately. The Mavericks’ defense has too many holes for Barnes defense to plug and while Barnes brings great versatility, the Mavs roster is saddled with too many minus or undersized defenders (Dirk, J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell, sometimes Wesley Matthews when he guards bigger wings) for the defense to really shine. That’s part of the reason Barnes other defensive numbers are out of whack, as the Mavs actually defend better when he’s off the court (96.3 defensive rating) than on it (113.8 rating).
The Mavs’ defense was fairly solid for the team having such a dreadful record last season and Barnes has proven to be a capable defender within a sound team system. So it’s tough for him to try and be everywhere on defense while also shouldering a ton of the offensive responsibility. And let’s not forget Barnes is trying to improve his offensive game by adding more free-throw attempts to his arsenal.
Dallas stinks so far this season, there’s really no doubting that. Barnes is once again doing all he can within his somewhat limited (but rapidly evolving) skill set. Be sure to notice Barnes the next time he stymies a big in the post — it’s one of the brighter spots on the Mavs’ less-than-a-month-old season.