I got a bone to pick.
I hope you heard that line in Kendrick Lamar’s voice, but even if you didn’t let’s talk about the terrible argument that Bleacher Report recently ran which lists Harrison Barnes’ deal as the second worst in the league at the power forward position. Click the link if you want, but it’s a really poor line of thinking, trust me.
First, the argument states that, “Dallas' most popular lineups featured Barnes at the 4, where he tackled both explosive and traditional defensive assignments with relative ease,” which comes in stark contrast to the very next sentence which says, “He wasn't enough to roll out at power forward when Dirk Nowitzki played the 5...”
So wait, was Barnes an explosive 4 that handled defensive assignments with relative ease or not enough to roll out at power forward? Methinks these two things cannot both be true.
That aside, when Barnes first came to the Mavericks no one thought he’d be playing significant minutes at the power forward — there is a lanky German man on the team that plays that position rather well — but when forced by injuries to play that role, Barnes not only acquitted himself well but served as the engine for an 11-5 run for the Mavs in what had been a dark season to that point. To judge him as if he had been brought to the team to play the 4, makes his versatility into a weakness instead of a strength. Barnes can play the 4 when Carlisle finds it advantageous, but he is a small forward. That alone should eliminate him from inclusion in any worst contract list, especially when you compare him with other small forward contracts, like Chandler Parsons, who, it should be noted, he directly replaced.
But the cardinal sin with the argument is the inability to recognize that player deals are negotiated, not in an open market where every player is available to every team, but in an environment bound by scarcity and time. When Harrison Barnes was signed, the Mavs had just been left at the altar by Deandre Jordan (who would later be left at the altar by CP3 because karma is real). At that moment in free agency, Dallas was preparing to start a lineup of Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, Justin Anderson/Chandler Parsons, Dirk, and Zaza Pachulia, which didn’t exactly make us a free agent’s paradise. Meanwhile, the League was so drunk off the cap hike that Allen Crabbe, Luol Deng(!), and Evan Turner were paid the Big Bucks™️ for their services at small forward. If you were Donnie Nelson, what would you do with that hand of cards? Re-sign Parsons to a max deal? Throw max money or near max money at one of those other clowns? Make Justin Anderson your franchise’s small forward of the future?
NBA fans and writers have an irrepressible desire to compare apples with oranges when it comes to player contracts. Sure Lebron, Kawhi, and Jimmy Butler are all better forwards than HB and young guys like Jabari Parker, Otto Porter, and (gulp) Jae Crowder are on better contracts, but guess what? None of them were available or willing to come play for the Mavericks in the summer of 2016, and Harrison Barnes was. Other free agents that might have realistically filled that roster spot, like Parsons, don’t hold a candle to Barnes. Making Justin Anderson the starting small forward would have been a tank embrace so bold, it would have made Sam Hinkie blush and disrespected Dirk’s desire to compete in his final years.
In a perfect world, of course the Mavs wouldn’t be paying $94 million to a player that struggles to get to the line and serve as a facilitator for teammates, but Harrison Barnes wasn’t signed in a perfect world. He was signed in one the most extreme seller’s markets the NBA has ever seen, and despite that, he has far exceeded expectations, especially when compared to other small forwards that were on the market at the time. Instead letting the Deandre fiasco send them into a death spiral, the Mavs snagged a young player with a great work ethic who blew the roof off his previous year’s stats and took the Harrison Barnaissance from one writer’s twisted vision to a bonafide reality.
Sadly, under-appreciating Harrison Barnes is not new or uncommon. In a separate January 2017 article, Bleacher Report ranked Harrison the 15th best power forward in the league, behind most notably Ryan “Too Little Defense for D’Antoni” Anderson, Danilo “Second Coming of Bargnani” Galinari, and Derrick Favors, who posted a 9/6/1 triple slash line last season. Those three players are 28, 28 and 26 with a laundry list of injuries. Barnes just turned 25 and is one of the most durable players in the league. And he averaged almost 20 points last season. Clearly a scientific ranking.
NBA writers and fans writ large are clearly having trouble evaluating Harrison Barnes’ value, but in Dallas we’ve seen it up close and personal. If you come at my boy, you’re wrong, and we’ll let you hear it.