Five words that changed the course of Dallas Mavericks basketball.
A year ago, the Mavericks gave Chandler Parsons the latter of his crude demand and never looked back—but fans did.
Instead, the Mavs offered the max to a fourth option, role-playing, hide-and-seek-in-the-NBA-Finals participant. Harrison Barnes was handcuffed to the exact same deal that Parsons was demanding and later accepted from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Every decision creates another set of “what ifs,” and fans instantly questioned whether the Mavs should have buyer’s remorse about Barnes.
Media types didn’t think he could create his own shot and were openly down on the idea of the signing. Even some of us wondered how he would ever live up to that contract and were opposed to signing Barnes if it meant letting Parsons walk.
But for most of the season, all Chandler Parsons could do was walk.
Barnes and Parsons would have been compared to each other for the rest of their careers had the comparison actually been a fair one. But after just one season, Barnes has already played 2128 more minutes than Parsons. Only 92 players in the League played more minutes last season (Barnes and Wesley Matthews were the only two Mavs to play this much).
Barnes basically played an entire Dario Saric more minutes than Parsons last season. (Saric played 2129 min last season).
The decision to choose Barnes over Parsons was inarguably the correct one. There’s no disputing that, and it seems petty to even bring it up.
(Disclaimer: No Kevin Durants were consulted in the writing of this article.)
The decision was quickly deemed correct thanks to this comparison, but was the investment in Barnes actually worth it?
Two of the biggest complaints about Barnes coming into last season were:
- Can he create his own shot
- Can he even dribble?
As the fourth (sometimes fifth) option on a championship team, the League had never really seen Barnes create offense for himself—he just never had to. In his second year his then-coach Mark Jackson decided to bring Barnes off the bench as the leader of the second unit. That season, Barnes played 54 games off the bench and shot just 39 percent from the floor.
And while Barnes could obviously literally dribble, could he functionally be able to handle and maneuver like some of the greats in the game?
The answer ended with Barnes becoming one of only 36 players in the league to average 19 points or more per game last season, ranking last in turnover percentage (6.8 percent, the lowest of his career) and second to last in usage percentage (25.3) of that group.
Barnes created a lot of that offense on his own, ending the season as one of six players to attempt four or more isolation possessions per game while also being efficient in those attempts. Of those six players, Barnes ranked second in field goal percentage (45.7 percent) and scored the third most in isolation attempts (46.1 percent score frequency).
The other five players in that group? Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Carmelo Anthony.
In his final year with Golden State, Barnes only averaged only one iso-attempt per game and only scored 41.5 percent of the time.
If Barnes’s offensive game were a business, its slogan would be: “Improvements in creating efficient offense, and yes, I can dribble!”
Besides his infamous work ethic, Barnes has Mavericks special assistant God Shammgod to thank for the improved ball handling. In a recent Dunc’d On Basketball podcast, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon remarked that besides Barnes’s honeymoon (maybe), Shammgod went everywhere with Barnes to help him continue to improve in that area over the summer.
Last season Barnes answered two of his big questions, but big questions in the NBA are like Heads of Hydra—cut off one and two more shall take its place.
So here are four questions to be investigated this season:
- Can Harrison Barnes get to the free-throw line more?
- Can Harrison Barnes attempt more three-point shots?
- Can Harrison Barnes create more offense for other teammates?
- Can Harrison Barnes create any offense off of a pick and roll?
Of the 36 players that averaged 19 points or more last season Barnes ranked:
- 35th in free-throw attempts per game (36th: Klay Thompson)
- 32nd in three-point attempts per game (ahead of Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan)
- 36th in assist percentage
Barnes also ranked in the 35th percentile in pick-and-roll ball handling, right there with Tony Allen, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and (oddly) Anthony Davis.
Those are four obvious ways he can improve on the offensive end. He has answered big questions before, and there is nothing to prove that he won’t be able to answer a few more.
Record aside, Harrison Barnes quietly put together a great first season with the Dallas Mavericks. This upcoming year will bring a slightly different team and role for the sixth year forward from The Jumpman’s alma mater.
The waves made by the arrival of Dennis Smith Jr. were felt as soon as he was projected as the starter by Coach Rick Carlisle.
Smith Jr. has been handed keys that were most recently tossed back and forth between Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki. Barnes will certainly still lead the Mavericks in minutes played and shots per game (as he did last year), but how will Smith Jr. and Barnes play together?
That relationship is one of the key things to watch in this season. Barnes is signed for two more seasons with a player option in the third. The front office loves him, and it would be hard to imagine him going anywhere else when that deal is done. Dennis Smith Jr. is just beginning his five-year rookie contract that will either end in a max extension or some level of disappointment. Either outcome, these two are the future of the Dallas Mavericks franchise. How they play together will determine the Mavs’ outlook for the foreseeable future—and it’s a fun one.
As we watch them try to figure it out, remember it’s because the Mavs chose...
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(We just can’t let the Warriors win more things…)