Golden State Warriors: Is Defense Harrison Barnes’ Only Flaw?


Harrison Barnes is steadily showing Warriors’ fans why he was drafted No. 7 in this year’s draft. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has compiled 37 points over his last two games backed by a pair of solid rebounding efforts as well. Slowly, he is molding into Mark Jackson’s favorite weapon to attack the basket. There’s just one flaw to his emergence—defense.

November 7, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) dunks the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 106-96. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Defense didn’t appear to be a concern coming out of college. In fact, he was a highly-rated defensive prospect according to several national pundits. And the stats can attest to their opinions, as Barnes posted a very nice 96.4 DRtg, which is a stat that measures how many points a player roughly gives up over 100 possessions, in two years at North Carolina. Plus, his 2.7 DWS (Defensive Win Shares) mark in 2012 ranked ninth in the ACC.

As we all know though, the NBA is an entirely different animal. Players are quicker, and the entire pace of the game is incomparable to even the highest levels of college basketball. Thus, Barnes’ wobbly transition.

The sharpshooter’s mediocre transition into the NBA defensively hasn’t been terrible to the extent where he is subbed in and out for defensive and offensive purposes. He just struggles against more seasoned and stronger small forwards. And that facet should come as no alarming surprise because, well, when a 20-year-old rookie opposes someone of the likes of Andre Iguodala, something usually gives.

Through nine grueling games, Barnes has posted roughly a 99 DRtg, which is about average. Though the fact that he has only posted a DRtg below 100 twice this year is a bit concerning. To no surprise, both of those efforts came against teams with sub-par small forwards in the Suns and Hawks. For reference, both Atlanta and Phoenix rank 26th and 23rd in offensive efficiency from the small forward position.

Barnes’ two worst outings, on the other hand, came against the Grizzlies and Clippers. A lousy defensive performance against the Grizzlies was probably expected given the fact that he had to matchup with Rudy Gay who is one of basketball’s best small forwards. While Caron Butler isn’t exactly Rudy Gay-esque, he is a veteran who can burst out on occasion. Barnes was on the other end of his outburst, unfortunately.

While Barnes seems to be taking most of the fault here, he isn’t the only one contributing to his rookie mistakes. First, when put in the wrong lineup combination, he’s going to struggle. It’s really that simple.

The lone lineup that has seemingly caused most of his havoc consists of Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack, David Lee, Carl Landry, and himself. The first observation with that specific alignment is the fact that it is a small group. So, when an opposing player slithers past Barnes, the odds of that player scoring are a tad higher with a partly weaker interior.

Granted, the aforementioned lineup has only played 14 minutes together this season, but its collective DRtg checks in at an inflated 133.5 level, which is really bad.

This year, a common theme for the Warriors have been absurdly inflated foul totals. Per Team Rankings, they allow 21.2 percent of their points on free throws. That ratio trails just the Kings and Raptors for the league’s worst mark. You would figure that Barnes has contributed to this disaster, and indeed he has.

Committing three fouls per game, Barnes has put his fair share of opposing players on the charity stripe. Obviously, he’s going to commit fouls. It’s a common cycle that most rookies endure, and head coaches have come expect it. So, Barnes’ high foul rate, which occasionally leads to free throws, has upped his DRtg slightly. As he garners more experience in the league, however, that factor of his DRtg should decrease steadily.

A lot is expected of a lottery pick both offensively and defensively. Barnes looks to have gained confidence on the offensive end after a few nice showings, but defensively, he’s still a work in progress.  But don’t be mistaken, he possess all the tools necessary to eventually mold into a stellar defensive player. At the moment, he is scuffling to adjust, though.