Harrison Barnes was quite the conundrum for the Golden State Warriors last season. After an impressive display of talent and confidence in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Barnes had a disappointing season in 2014. Barnes is just 22, but his sophomore slump has led to an influx of harsh critiques and trade rumors.
In his rookie season in 2012-2013, Barnes was the starting small forward for the Warriors. Entering his sophomore season in 2013-2014, Barnes’ starting spot was given to Andre Iguodala. For the first time since his freshman year of high school, Barnes had to come off the bench. This proved to be a significant adjustment for Barnes.
Going from a starter to a reserve is a tough adjustment for any NBA player. For a second-year player who is still trying to find his niche in the NBA, this was an incredibly tough change for him, from a basketball perspective and from a mental perspective.
In addition to a change in his role, Barnes also had to deal with missing multiple games due to injury for the first time in his NBA career. Barnes had a foot/heel injury at the beginning of the season, which limited his time to adjust to his new role.
Given all these changes, Barnes lost confidence. The struggles on the court became mental struggles. If he messed up on a play, it clearly affected him on the next play. He appeared to be thinking too much about his next move on the court, instead of reacting to a play and making the necessary adjustments.
He knew the Warriors’ bench needed more scoring, so his new role as sixth man added more pressure on him to be that reliable scorer and number one option off the bench. Barnes had trouble adopting the sixth man mindset, and it affected his confidence.
His sophomore season became a vicious cycle between losing consistency and confidence. How can Barnes show his true potential and regain his confidence in his third season?
The first and most important aspect of his game that Barnes needs to improve on is his ball-handling skills. Barnes acknowledged this, and he told Diamond Leung of the Bay Area New Group that he’s been working on his ball handling this offseason. He knows that if he becomes a better ball handler, it will benefit his team in so many ways.
“That’s huge,” Barnes said. “To be able to run pick-and-roll, to be able to put Steph (Curry) off the ball, those are the type of things that’s going to help the team win. When you look at the way guys were hounding him in the playoffs, if he could have got a breather, if he could have got an extra guy to handle the ball to put him off (the ball), that would have been big, so definitely I want to improve on that.”
Once his ball handling improves, he’ll be able to more easily create his own shot and create better shots for himself. He’ll also get to the rim more easily and more quickly, which will allow him to take advantage of his speed and athleticism more. Once he can get to the rim more easily and consistently, it’ll also allow him to potentially kick the ball out to Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson for a wide-open shot.
The second aspect of Barnes’ game that he can improve on is his three-point shooting. This past season, Barnes shot more threes, but he shot them at a lower percentage than in his rookie season. Barnes should look for more catch-and-shoot opportunities, in order to improve his three-point percentage. This will allow him to think less and knock down more shots.
In catch-and-shoot opportunities last season, Barnes shot 37.3 percent from three during the regular season, so he could certainly improve. If Barnes could get more comfortable from three-point range, his offense would come to him more naturally, and it would add another element to the Warriors’ offense.
One way the Warriors could find more catch-and-shoot opportunities for Barnes is to play him at stretch four more, which he had success with in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. It would allow the Warriors to space the floor even more and have another three-point threat.
As a stretch four, Barnes could be used as an off-ball cutter too, which would take pressure off of him to create his own shot. Instead, a shot could be created for him, which would greatly benefit his confidence when his shot isn’t falling. Barnes as a stretch four allows him to capitalize on his weaknesses more.
If Barnes can improve on his ball-handling and three-point shooting in the offseason, he will certainly start to regain some of the confidence he lost last season. Also, he knows he’ll come off the bench this upcoming season, so hopefully he can get off to a better start and build more confidence as a sixth man early on.
If Steve Kerr can utilize Barnes more as a stretch four and take advantage of his athleticism, Barnes, as a player, and the Warriors, as a team, will greatly benefit.
Barnes has a lot to prove this upcoming season, and whether or not he regains some consistency and confidence is dependent on his work this offseason.