Is Harrison Barnes The Next Golden State Warrior To Break Out?


It’s easy to be pessimistic about Harrison Barnes’ extraordinary playoffs. He has teased fans before and has continued to tease us in his first three years in the league. His rookie season was solid, if unspectacular. Barnes would occasionally wow the crowd with highlight reel dunks and flashes of unreal athleticism and shooting touch before fading into the background. Once the playoffs arrived however, Barnes was forced to step into the starting lineup when starting power forward David Lee tore his hip flexor; his play gave us all a glimpse of the star potential the nation saw in him as the No. 1 prospect coming out of high school.

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However, Barnes sophomore campaign highlighted all the criticisms that bombarded him during his college tenure. With the acquisition of Andre Iguodala in the offseason, Barnes was relegated to the bench and was featured as the primary offensive playmaker on a weak second unit for the Dubs. With his lack of a developed set of isolation moves, Barnes struggled mightily and instigated debates about whether he had a long-term future on this team.

When head coach Steve Kerr took over, he made the decision of bringing Barnes back into the starting lineup so he could benefit from Kerr’s new, free-flowing offense and reap the rewards of defenses paying extra attention to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Iguodala, an established veteran who had been a starter for the duration of his career, accepted the role graciously and allowed Barnes to have the best statistical season of his career, even though he didn’t post eye-popping numbers.

The playoffs have unveiled the Harrison Barnes that management and fans alike envisioned when they drafted him with the seventh overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. His three-point stroke has proven deadly to teams double-teaming and swarming Curry and Thompson. His athleticism and finishing ability has been demonstrated in transition and when he has driven to the hoop with authority.

May 13, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) dribbles the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the third quarter in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 98-78. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The side of Barnes that is becoming increasingly clear is his hustle. Tasked with guarding Zach Randolph, a 6’10” behemoth with moves like jagger, Barnes has held his own and has been a big reason the Warriors were been able to turn the tide of the battle in the post against the Memphis bigs. His tenacity on the boards, his hustle for loose balls, and his ability to extend possessions for the Dubs has been a key to their dominance in the last few games, even if his name isn’t lighting up the stat sheet.

So now that he has found a niche for himself on this team in the playoffs after two-and-a-half years of uncertainty, is it possible for Barnes to take it to the next level and have that breakout that we have expected? In this new era of winning Golden State basketball, we have seen the breakouts of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green on a national level. With Steve Kerr and his staff finally unlocking the potential of Barnes in the playoffs, would it be crazy to assume he could become one of the league’s rising young forwards?

Granted we’ve all been teased by Barnes’ potential before. After a breakout in the playoffs of his rookie season, his sophomore campaign was certainly underwhelming. However, the characteristics Barnes is exhibiting in these playoffs – the shooting, the finishing ability, and hustle – are all traits that can carry over into the rest of his career.

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With defenses swarming the Splash Brothers, Barnes should be able to feast on wide-open corner threes, an area in which he ranked among the league leaders in three-point shooting percentage. When defenses choose to double-team Curry, Barnes has become a deft enough cutter to slash to the basket and take advantage of open lanes. With his ability to gain rebounding positioning against bigger players and his leaping ability, he is also likely game to score a couple buckets per game off putbacks.

Add all of those opportunities up and we may be looking at a fifteen-points-per-game scorer. He was already a strong rebounder this season, averaging 5.5 boards per contest. I could see him bumping that average to seven boards per game. All of the other teams in the league can only dream of having their fourth option averaging 15 points and 7 boards.

Barnes is still far from a perfect player. In isolation sets, he still lacks a go-to offensive skill set to gain separation to create a shot for himself. This offseason, he should work on his post-up game – specifically his back-to-the-basket moves – and his face-up game. With Barnes, the fewer dribbles he takes, the better. He is not an elite dribbler, so if he can learn to use his lightning-quick first step to beat defenders, he should evolve into one of the league’s elite wing slashers.

However, as long as Steve Kerr and his staff stay in charge and the Splash Bros. keep bombing away at their historic pace, Barnes should have every opportunity to feast on his matchups and live up to his lofty draft status as he ascends to the esoteric group of rising young wings in the NBA.