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The comforting stability of Harrison Barnes

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Barnes may not be destined to be the Mavericks’ number one option, but he’s a solid bedrock for the rebuild.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back

The problem with the Internet is that it never forgets. During the 2016 Finals, I wrote a scorching piece on the lackluster play of Harrison Barnes and why the Mavericks should stay far, far away. Barnes signed a max contract with Dallas just three weeks later. He’s been good, but the team has been quite bad. That’s not so much a statement about Barnes’ ability as it is a mark about the Maverick front office. Few players are good enough to boost a franchise back to relevance.

In the two seasons since the signing, Barnes’ time with Dallas has been solid, if unspectacular. In 2016-17, his usage increased dramatically along with his minutes and he became the most versatile player on the Maverick roster, averaging 19 points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists. The 2017-18 season saw Barnes average 18.9 points, 6 rebounds, and two assists. He improved around the edges of his game, upping both his rebounds and assists per game. Barnes also took 4.1 free throws a game, up from 3.6, which was one area where Dallas needed to see a leap considering his usage and shot volume.

Though the base stats look similar, the biggest change for Barnes came in the type of shots he attempted. Barnes played much of his first season at power forward where he often took (and made) contested mid-range shots. In 2017-18 Barnes attempted 333 three pointers, 111 more than he took in the previous season.

The decrease in Barnes playing isolation basketball (and less power forward generally) was a positive improvement for both Barnes and the Mavericks.

Contract status

Harrison Barnes should be a Maverick for the foreseeable future as he’s signed for both the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season. Barnes remains the team’s highest paid player, and he’s owed just under $50,000,000 between the next two seasons.

Looking ahead

The challenge with Harrison Barnes lies in what his realistic role is on a good team. With two years of data, it’s safe to say he’s not best suited to be a team’s number one option. He’s good at a lot of things, but he’s great at things that aren’t particularly valuable anymore, like isolation mid-range jump shots. That’s all fine, particularly since the Mavericks mainly seem to understand that they have a lot of work to do on the talent acquisition front.

If we all agree that Barnes is not the piece but rather a piece, then projecting his future is rather fun. For example, the increase in his usage as a pick-and-roll ball handlers is worth keeping an eye on, because if he continues to get to the line and improve his play making, Dallas becomes increasingly dangerous on offense. As the Mavericks build a team again, these sorts of improvements around the margins will start to pay off in unexpected ways.

I’d like to see Barnes post 200 assists next season while averaging 4.3 free throws a game. His three-point shooting actually improved as the year went on, so hoping for a mark of 37 percent from beyond the arc seems reasonable. If the Mavericks add a piece in free agency or a high-impact player through the draft, his over all numbers may decrease, but with how Carlisle runs his offense, efficient players see the best boost to their value.

Harrison Barnes may not be the player we’d hoped for, but he’s the bedrock as the Mavericks move forward in their rebuild.