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Harrison Barnes is playing more aggressive basketball this season

Barnes’ more aggressive play this season is getting him more rebounds and more free throws.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Mavericks let Chandler Parsons walk a few summers ago, a lot of people were worried that the front office had made the wrong decision. When he was actually healthy, Parsons played some really well rounded basketball for the Mavs and looked like a player they could build around. Sure, Parsons was injury prone and definitely not worth a max contract, but at the time, the sense was that the Mavs probably couldn’t find a replacement that was much better.

There was even more anxiety when, about a week after Parsons signed a max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavs surprisingly signed Harrison Barnes, fresh off a disappointing NBA Finals performance, to a four-year, $94 million max offer sheet.

As much flak as the Mavs’ front office has taken over the last six years, they absolutely knocked it out of the park bringing Barnes to Dallas. Not only did they dodge a huge bullet in Parsons and his injuries, but they got a super durable, hard working, consistent 20-point-per-night guy in return. He also happens to be four years younger than Parsons.

After a pretty cold start to the 2017-18 season, Barnes has rounded back into form in his second season with the Mavs. His scoring average (18.9 points per game) is still hovering around last season’s, but things are trending in the right direction, increasing from 16.6 PPG in October to 20.2 PPG in November. However, the biggest improvement Barnes has made from year one in Dallas to year two is his level of aggressiveness, which has led to improvements in several areas of his play.

Better positioning leads to better rebounding

So far this season, Barnes is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game, both a career high and a team high, an improvement that is due largely to his improved positioning.

Take this clip for example. When Devin Harris begins to shoot, Barnes is at the top left corner of the free-throw line. In a split second, from when Harris shoots to when the ball comes off the rim, Barnes is able to weave his way through multiple players, putting himself in a position under the basket where he’ll have the best chance at grabbing the rebound.

Getting to the free-throw line

Barnes has great size (6’8 tall, 225 pounds) for a small forward, but the size disadvantage he has when playing at the four against players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love causes him to struggle offensively some nights. All of those guys are close to 7-feet tall and weigh at least 250 pounds. Barnes has admitted that the energy he spends trying to defend those bigger post players takes a lot out of his legs as the game goes along.

He has to compensate by getting to the free-throw line, and Barnes has done a good job being more aggressive in this area of his game this season. Last season, Barnes set a career high of 3.6 free-throw attempts per game. He’s on pace to surpass that this season, as he's currently averaging right at five free-throw attempts per game.

Not only is he getting to the line, he’s also been better this season at finishing with contact. Sometimes those three-point plays are just all about power, as seen in the clip below, as Barnes just completely out-muscles Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks while still getting the shot to fall.

Other times, Barnes has to find craftier ways to get the ball to go in after contact, like this difficult reverse layup he finished against Boston Celtics’ forward, Marcus Morris.

And just so you know that his creativity isn’t just a fluke, here is Barnes doing pretty much the same thing against Zach Randolph and the Sacramento Kings with the opposite hand.

Barnes has adapted well to his “go-to guy” role, something that would've never been a reality for him in Oakland. Now, instead of deferring to Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, Barnes is breaking other teams’ hearts all on his own.

Like Dirk Nowitzki, Barnes is a gym rat, and he’s always working hard on his craft. Individually, that work is really starting to pay off. Hopefully, with the return of Seth Curry and the development of Dennis Smith Jr., Barnes will start to see his hard work translate into more wins for his team. For now though, let’s all appreciate what Barnes has grown in to and look forward to what he could become when he enters his prime in a few years.