During his four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes focused on playing defense and was a mere afterthought on offense. He signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Dallas Mavericks so he could expand his game — and he certainly did.
With the Warriors, Barnes averaged 10.1 points. Given a dramatic increase in scoring opportunities with Dirk Nowitzki sidelined, he’s now scoring 20.8 points per game.
During the Mavericks’ 94-87 loss to the Spurs, Barnes’ game showed signs of both expansion and contraction.
Barnes doesn’t move much without the ball unless his number is called, which is quite often:
- Curling around a fake hand-off resulted in an easy layup. But when he tried the same maneuver late in the game, Barnes was guarded by Kawhi Leonard and stifled.
- He was wide open after running a baseline route around a double-screen, but missed a 17-footer.
- Isos resulted in his using single baseline screens, and produced a driving layup as well as a low-post setup that came to naught when he was doubled.
- He also had a pair of layups blocked and missed a mid-range jumper in additional baseline iso situations.
- He was not open after one sequence where he set two screens, then received another.
The majority of Barnes’ shots came after he set high screens and took advantage of San Antonio’s propensity to switch. However, despite being defended by various guards, the results were mixed — two missed layups, a botched jumper and a pair of made turnaround jumpers.
In the fourth quarter, he twice went one-on-one against Leonard and — despite several fakes — was held without a dribble.
He did score on a tough-as-nails tip-in among the trees.
When Barnes bagged an early three-ball, the excited Dallas color guy announced that he was “automatic” from there. Duh! Whereas the young forward did make 37.6 percent of his triples with the Warriors, he’s only 28.6 percent accurate with Dallas.
This is where Barnes excelled.
During his 40 minutes, he variously guarded Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Davis Bertans and Dewayne Dedmon — and held them all scoreless.
Aldridge posted up twice, missing a tightly contested jumper and getting his handle ripped.
When taking Barnes into the pivot, the best Dedmon could produce was an air ball.
Two isos by Leonard led to a missed jumper and a driving layup attempt that was swatted.
In addition, Barnes’ help defense was flawless, he hustled in uphill transition, made several effective jump double-teams on high screens and always looked to box out.
Overall, Barnes scored 17 points on 8-15 shooting (including 1-2 triples). His lone assist came on a nifty kick-out from the low post to an open shooter. One of his turnovers led to a breakaway layup. He made no appearances at the stripe and committed no fouls.
Earlier in the season, most of Barnes’ scoring came from the low post, but opponents have adjusted by doubling him down there. As it is, he has trouble finishing in heavy traffic, which constitutes his most significant shortcoming on offense.
Moreover, with Nowitzki out, the Mavericks’ only dangerous scorers are Barnes and Wesley Matthews — enabling opposing defenses to spotlight them. If Matthews is quicker, much more mobile and able to create his own makeable shots, Barnes needs to be set up to get good looks.
Whenever Nowitzki does return, Barnes will fit nicely into being the Mavercks’ third scoring option.
At the other end of the court, it will be a significant miscarriage of justice if Barnes is not named to an All-Defensive team. However, he’s likely to be overlooked if only because Dallas is such a sad-sack team.