Against the Minnesota Timberwolves a few weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors had the ball, down one at home with eight seconds to play. Harrison Barnes set a screen for Stephen Curry and the defense (wisely) decided to double him out of the pick. Barnes intelligently rolled to the open space and Curry fed him the ball for a wide open 3-pointer at the buzzer. Barnes bricked the shot, the raucous crowd at Oracle Arena deflated and the Warriors lost the game. The moment pretty much defined Harrison Barnes’ 2013-14 season so far.
Last year as a rookie, Harrison Barnes had a solid regular season and was instrumental in a surprising playoff run for the Golden State Warriors. Without All-Star power forward David Lee in the lineup, it was all but assured the Denver Nuggets would be advancing to the next round. Instead, Barnes logged super-human minutes as a stretch-4 and Golden State’s small-ball lineups overwhelmed a Denver team that had no way of guarding that many perimeter shooters.
It was a huge coming-of-age moment for Barnes, who averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in six games against the Nuggets. He also shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range, forcing Denver’s defense to spread itself out and allowing the Dubs to attack the basket when Stephen Curry wasn’t burying the Nuggets from downtown. But the best was yet to come in the second round, especially for a guy who had gone through the regular season largely unnoticed. Well, about as unnoticed as you can be after doing something like this:
Against the San Antonio Spurs, it was still the Steph Curry Show. But Barnes had an even better series in the second round, averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. Though his 3-point shooting dipped to 30 percent, he still shot 43.5 percent from the floor in the series. Barnes’ versatile game was fully on display, especially when the Warriors went to him on a few isolation plays that ended in a few clutch pull-up jumpers.
The Spurs advanced in six games and put an end to Golden State’s Cinderella playoff run, but the consensus was clear: The Warriors were going to be a force in the West next season given Barnes’ playoff breakthrough. The rookie’s emergence as a crunch-time scorer and the Dubs’ effective small-ball lineups were such a revelation there was plenty of talk about trading David Lee for another piece that could turn this team into a true title contender.
Instead, the Warriors did the smart thing, kept Lee and brought in Andre Iguodala, an versatile wing defender who was basically a more established version of Barnes. Heading into the season, no one really knew who would be in Mark Jackson‘s starting five. Would the Dubs go with a small-ball lineup and replace Lee with Barnes? Or would Lee keep his starting job and thus hinder Barnes’ development?
Unfortunately for Barnes, the answer was bench duty. At the start of the season, it was seen as a good thing: The Warriors had one of the strongest starting fives in the NBA and Barnes would get a chance to thrive as Golden State’s main offensive weapon off the bench. He was supposed to be in the discussion for the Sixth Man of the Year award. A few months later, Barnes struggles are well-documented with Warriors fans and it won’t be long before panic prematurely sets in.
Statistically, Barnes is actually having a better year than his rookie season, averaging 10.1 points and four rebounds per game. He’s getting about four more minutes per game off the bench this year, which is actually a significant increase considering he’s no longer a starter. But the increase in production hasn’t matched the increase in minutes and for the most part, Barnes has been pretty bad as a reserve.
Though his numbers are up, Barnes’ Per 36 Minutes numbers have dropped from 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last year to 12.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season. His field goal percentage has dropped from 43.9 percent on 7.8 field goal attempts to 40.8 percent on 9.1 attempts per game. His 3-point shooting has improved to 38.5 percent, but Barnes is still averaging less than one made 3-pointer per game. In the playoffs last year, Barnes put up 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 38 minutes per game.
For a Warriors team that desperately need bench contributions, Barnes has failed to deliver on that front. Maybe there was too much preseason hype. Maybe Jackson’s reliance on Barnes to carry the reserves is too much, too soon. Maybe last year’s postseason was more of a fluke than a revelation. But the most likely reason behind Barnes’ 2013-14 struggles is this: As long as Andre Iguodala is a starter, Barnes will have to learn to adjust to his new role of trying to carry the bench.
There’s no reason to let panic set in just yet, however. Though this hasn’t been the breakout year the Dubs were expecting, Barnes is still only in his second season and has plenty of time to develop. He’s only had 44 games to adjust to his new role off the bench and has shown enough flashes in his short career to reassure fans that he’ll grow into a talented contributor. Tempered expectations, especially surrounding a guy who didn’t breakout until the playoffs last year, is a good idea.