There were plenty of reasons to think that Harrison Barnes would never live up to the max contract the Dallas Mavericks gave him. He had floundered during the NBA Finals as the Warriors infamously blew a 3-1 lead against the Cavs. He made the Olympic Team only after several stars declined the offer and spent most of his time in Brazil on the bench. He came to Dallas not because he was the Mavs’ first choice, but because they whiffed on free agents Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside while Kevin Durant made a surprise defection to Golden State. Every commentator, fan, and sports columnist pronounced him dead on arrival. Even Dirk, perpetual optimist and renowned nice guy, admitted that during the preseason he thought Barnes was a bust.
Ooooo boy, we were all so wrong.
Harrison Barnes set a flamethrower to expectations, finishing the year with a career high 19 PPG and rounding it out with 5 boards and 1.5 assists per game as well. He proved deadly efficient in iso sets, with an effective field goal percentage of 50 percent on two-point shots. Early in the season with Dirk out due to injury, Barnes took over the starting power forward role. He absolutely thrived at the four, using his speed to torch slower defenders and his strength and defensive savvy to deny them on the other end. Mavs fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief as a player who had been just a glorified 3-and-D wing in Golden State started executing plays that were designed for Dirk. Barnes at the four worked so well that he pushed Dirk out of that starting spot permanently. Instead, when Dirk returned, he was slotted into the starting lineup at center, creating some truly unreal floor stretching sequences.
Perhaps the best part of Barnes’ year was his transformation from fourth option to locker room leader. This season was packed with tough losses and bleak moments, especially when persistent injuries further compounded the problems, but Barnes always showed poise beyond his 24 years of age. His commitment to the team never wavered, and he blossomed into a reliable scorer late in close games. Standout efforts include a 34-point effort in an overtime win against the Bucks in November and a 31-point game in a comeback win against the Jazz, in which Barnes completely dominated the final frame. And if he wasn’t winning enough hearts on the court, he cemented his place in every Dallasite’s heart when he penned a touching tribute to his new city in the Player’s Tribune.
Barnes is on the books for around $23 million a year for the next two years, with a player option in 2019-20. Now that Barnes is undisputably the team’s leading scorer and most reliable all-around weapon, that max contract doesn’t look so bad, now does it?
Try this thought experiment: First, think about three more years of Harrison Barnes. Now think about three years of Chandler Parsons for the same price. Did you throw up?
The most exciting part of the Harrison Barnaissance is the knowledge that he can make huge jumps in an offseason and that his ceiling is a lot higher than previously thought. He shot 35 percent from three this year which is below his career average 37 percent and career high season average of 40 percent. He needs to get more comfortable shooting threes and try to get comfortable pulling up off the dribble, as he won’t be getting the insane number of open catch-and-shoot opportunities that he feasted on in Golden State. A more deadly three-point shot will help his interior game and give him more opportunities to drive to the rim.
And speaking of drives, the two aspects of Barnes’ game that he most needs to develop are his ability to get to the foul line and his willingness to create assists when he gets to the basket. Last season Barnes attempted just 3.6 free throws a game and averaged just 1.5 assists. He needs to work on his aggressiveness on drives and then also his decision-making in those situation, getting to the point where the right play is instinctual, whether it be scoring, drawing contact, or making the right pass.
This season he showed that he can be a deadly scorer in a variety of situations. If he can help facilitate more and make his teammates better as a result, we’ll be in for some delightful basketball over the course of his contract.