Harrison Barnes Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

After a disastrous sophomore campaign, Harrison Barnes is back on track, showing some of the same promise he flashed towards the end of his rookie season.

The Warriors are off to a 21-2 start, fueled by a starting lineup that has blitzed opponents and outscored them by 28 points per 100 possessions in 245 minutes, a league-best mark among lineups that have logged a minimum of 100 minutes, per NBA.com/stats/. Much of the attention has gone to Stephen Curry’s MVP-caliber performance, the changes Steve Kerr made to the offense and the emergence of Draymond Green as a high end contributor.

It is important to note that there has been no significant development to Barnes’s skill-set. I profiled Barnes in preseason, looking back at his first two seasons, and found that he showed flashes of ability in every facet of the game to go along with great physical tools. Barnes never lacked for talent. His spike in productivity can instead be explained by how his existent skill-set is being employed in a healthier ecosystem.

When the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala, previous head coach Mark Jackson immediately installed the veteran in the team’s top lineup and designated Barnes as the go-to option of his unproductive units built of five reserves. Barnes did well in the post but struggled attacking set defenses, especially recognizing the second line of help, often driving into crowds. This is still not a particularly strong area of the game for him; Barnes has a decent handle dribbling from side-to-side but does not attack with as much speed off the bounce when he does not have a live dribble, and has only so-so instincts passing out of dribble penetration. Golden State also did not have much passing and shooting in those lineups, except for Green – who last year was not the player that he is now.

Barnes is not the sort of player who can create for himself and others at this point, and he knew he was miscast in such a role, as he revealed to the Mercury News’s Marcus Thompson a couple of weeks ago. The combination of his limitations as a shot creator and the iffy talent around him resulted in Barnes shooting 27.8% in 97 shots in isolation and averaging only 0.62 points per possession on 97 pick-and-rolls, according to mysynergysports.com.

Kerr has solved this issue by inserting him back in lineups that feature Golden State’s best playmakers and shooters, which has freed Barnes to make better use of what he is good at; weak-side cutting and attacking closeouts. He has no ball-handling responsibilities any more (in part because the Warriors have a surplus of ball-handlers) and only gets isolated in the post in the flow of the offense, when a thinner player switches to him after he screens for the ball-handler. Those 1-3 pick-and-rolls have also been used to get Barnes other chances to attack off the catch with a live dribble, aside from defenders running him off the three-point line. He has shot 47.8% on 38 drives so far this season, an improvement from his 38% inefficiency on 223 such attempts last season. 29.5% of his two-point baskets have been dunks, and Barnes has shot 76% at the rim overall, per basketball-reference.

His interior scoring has been complemented by improved outside shooting, also best explained by context. Barnes logged just 42.1% of his minutes with both Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor in 2013-2014, a rate that has gone up to 58.7% in 2014-2015. The release in his shot is not any noticeably quicker, but by playing more time with two of the league’s most respected shooters, Barnes has been open more often and his efficiency on long-range looks have increased as a result. According to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology, he is taking roughly 57% of his shots with no defender within four feet of him, an increase of 10% in comparison to last season. With no ball-handling responsibilities and playing alongside a bunch of high end passers, he is taking 38.1% of shots off the catch, and has hit his 48 such three-point attempts at a 43.8% clip. Barnes has taken only four three-point attempts off the bounce and only three with a defender within four feet of him. Maybe only Tony Allen could do poorly with such a recipe.

Another area where his productivity has spiked is on the glass. David Lee has logged only seven minutes this season due to a strained left hamstring, and the bigger part of his playing time has gone to Green, with Barnes cast as a small-ball power forward whenever in alternate lineups and Marreese Speights logging 92% of his minutes as a center.

On the offensive glass, Barnes is taking advantage of a less-packed lane in Lee’s absence. Green is essentially a perimeter player when the Warriors have possession, developing into a much more willing and productive three-point shooter while also being utilized as a hub to initiate offense to enable Curry and Thompson to catch the ball with live dribbles. Very few players in his position can outrebound Barnes due to his leaping ability, and there are not that many big men who can successfully finish their box-outs on Barnes because he can bounce off the ground a consecutive time quicker than most of them, a term Jay Bilas has coined “second-jump-ability”. Barnes is playing with enough energy to transform those attributes into an asset, and his almost two rebounds per 36 minutes rank in the top 10 among position peers.

The understanding of Barnes’s rebounding numbers within a team concept is important here. Lee’s absence is a big factor – Green is a good rebounder despite his height disadvantage but he is not as good as Lee. The improved defense without Lee, however, is also a factor. Barnes’s improved numbers on the defensive glass are mostly a result of more rebounding chances being made available, in part due to opponents converting only 41.1% of their shots against Golden State, which leads the league in scoring allowed per possession.

While the Warriors do miss Lee to some extent, for his rebounding and scoring talents, it can be argued that they have climbed to the top of the defensive rankings specifically because he is out of the lineup. Golden State has become very flexible in switching on screens, in large part because of Barnes’s versatility. Against New Orleans last week, Barnes successfully defended power forward Ryan Anderson with his length in the post in one possession and contained point guard Austin Rivers’s dribble penetration with his 210-pound frame on the next. It was the sort of display that gave Kerr confidence to play him and Green as the two big men, with no true center, in the fourth quarter of the game against Houston, with great results.

Barnes is not the most important player on this elite Warriors team, but he is playing as a star role player at the moment, and has been a part of Golden State’s success. As a part of the right lineups and catching the ball at the right spots, he has been a far more productive and vital player than the one Warriors’ fans wanted to run out of town last season, even if his skill-set remains about the exact same. His breakout season is a testament to the values of coaching, systems and team work, rather than individual talents. He already had those.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.


Harrison Barnes Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Harrison Barnes had a promising rookie season as an important part of a team that was tied 2-2 with the Spurs heading into game five of the Western Conference semifinals. But either because of Andre Iguodala’s addition changing his role or some other unknown reason, Barnes’s second season was a disaster. Other than on-ball defense and transition scoring — aspects he can be easily effective in due to his physical profile and by playing hard — Barnes tanked in all other areas of his game.

The biggest difference was the way he was used. Barnes spent 1318 of his 2058 minutes in his first season in five-man lineups that had all of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee in it. Once the Warriors signed Iguodala, head-coach Mark Jackson installed the veteran in Barnes’ place and designated the 21-year-old as the leader of his second unit. A second unit is an outdated concept, as it’s widely understood by now the best way to manage your rotation is staggering minutes in order to always have one of your best players on the court and limit the drop-off in production once you substitute. Jackson, however, was not much of a forward thinker in that department.

As Iguodala dealt with injuries that held him to 63 appearances, Barnes still had opportunities in his absences to log 593 minutes with Golden State’s aforementioned most gifted offensive trio. Yet throughout the season, Barnes was mostly cast as the go-to option of dreadful units built of five reserves, lineups that lacked much talent in the way of shooting and passing outside of Draymond Green. With Jarrett Jack gone to Cleveland, the Warriors struggled to find a capable backup point that provided his combination of shot creation and off-ball usefulness, going from Toney Douglas to Jordan Crawford to Steve Blake. To try and circumvent those issues, Jackson emphasized playing through Barnes in the post.

It is actually understandable as to why that was. Barnes has impressive footwork for a wing player and a varied post game, utilizing two-step running jump-hooks, pull-up face-up jumpers off jab-steps, turnaround fadeaway jumpers, and spins left to take it to the basket. He was somewhat effective, too, particularly so when guarded by smaller players, showing good patience using his lower body strength to back them down or create separation. And although Barnes was only an OK scorer in comparison to the rest of the league, ranking in the top 100 on a per-possession basis, his attempts from three- to 16-feet away from the basket – a low percentage area, in general – increased from 31.5 percent in his rookie season to 36.3 percent in year two.

He did, however, only look to score from the post. Scoring off post-ups is a lost art, as increasingly often nowadays, teams post up to draw a double team and kick the ball out to generate a more valuable look from three-point range, moreso than to score. However, Barnes was not that sort of offensive catalyst, passing out of the post on less than a fifth of his post-ups and teammates averaging just 0.727 point per possession off those passes. With defenses keying on him without Curry and Lee in to ignite ball movement, Barnes further struggled scoring out of dribble penetration. He was held to 38% shooting on 223 drives, only able to take less than a quarter of his shots at the basket and held to 59.2% shooting there. Barnes is an incredible athlete who, it figures, would be a much more efficient finisher at the basketball because of this, but he does not consistently play up to his level of athleticism. Barnes’s physical tools are also not enough on their own to get him to the rim; he has a tight handle when dribbling from side to side, looking to dribble the ball low in traffic, but struggles at recognizing the second line of defense, has not shown many instincts passing off the bounce, and also did a lot of catching-and-holding. Of the team’s rotation players, only Thompson, Jermaine O’Neal and Marreesse Speights passed the ball fewer times per game, and those are all also better finishers.

Every now and again, Barnes will explode off the ground and remind you of the kind of physical specimen he is. However, he was more likely to do so in his first year (his dunk-attempt rate dropped five percentage points as a sophomore), when he was in a better position to attack closeouts with his explosive first step and long strides. Barnes struggled badly as his own shot creator, shooting just 27.8 percent on 97 attempts in isolation and held to 0.62 point-per-possession on 69 attempts off pick-and-rolls, averaging three free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

With regards to his jump shot, Barnes looks like a good shooter when shooting off of the catch. He does not possess a particularly quick trigger, especially in comparison to Curry and Thompson, but he has a smooth release with good mechanics. Even then, though, the ball did not go in as much as it should. Barnes hit only 40 percent of his approximately 192 catch-and-shoot attempts, and while 40 percent of his attempts were from the corner, he hit them only at a 35.5 percent clip. In fact, if you discount his three-point shooting in transition (44 percent on 38 attempts), he hit just 33 percent on jump shots in the half-court.

Barnes played with good effort on defense and leveraged his athleticism to make an impact in individual defense. He held opponents to 33.3 percent shooting in 83 plays defending in isolation, and allowed just 0.87 points per possession in 167 defended pick-and-rolls. His short range quickness is particularly impressive, as he can take an extra step inside to help seal the lane and return to his man with great momentum to intimidate average shooters when the ball is swung to them. However, his off-ball statistics were not as flattering, and he ranked outside the top 45 in defensive rebounding rate among position peers. Overall the Warriors defended better on a per-possession basis without Barnes on the floor, even though he shared a third of his minutes with interior defensive anchor Andrew Bogut.

Barnes, then, needs to have a bounce back season. In his first two years of the league, he has shown flashes of effectiveness at all facets of the game, but he has also shown little in the way of being able to adapt effectively to his own scouting report and developing his skill set. Many players stagnate as sophomores, but Barnes arguably regressed as the team around him improved. He needs to quickly reverse this trend, especially with his extension window opening up next summer. Perhaps, with a new coach and some slightly different personnel, this will happen.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.