Last season’s second round match-up between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs may as well just be referred to as, “The Harrison Barnes Coming Out Party.” In those six games, he was a headache for Gregg Popovich. But why, after having a solid-but-unspectacular rookie season, did Barnes explode in those six games?
The answer lies in the way the Warriors used him. His role as a stretch four helped greatly; he was able to use his strength, quickness and shooting ability to give opposing power forwards fits. But let’s be honest: much of his success, and the mere fact that Golden State was able to play Barnes at the four, stemmed from match-ups that worked in Barnes’ favor — as was also the case in the previous round against the Denver Nuggets. Against Denver, Kenneth Faried often drew the assignment of shutting down the rook, which didn’t go so well because of all the mismatches the move caused.
After his post-season success, Barnes revealed that he planned on working on his handles and improving his strength over the offseason to prepare himself for the extended minutes he was expecting to play at the four in 2013-2014. I wasn’t so crazy about it, though. In fact, I hated it. I thought it was a terrible decision. One destined for the toilet bowl. One where he would get exposed, walked all over by bigger, stronger players. One that would shatter his confidence and eventually leave him out of the rotation, especially with Andre Iguodala coming aboard. One that couldn’t possibly work over a full 82-game season.
But I was wrong. So terribly wrong. We’re only 14 games into the season, but what Barnes has shown thus far in the post is a thing of beauty.
Most of the time, Barnes is the third option for the Warriors, which is simply a result of him sharing the court with Curry, Thompson and/or Lee. For that reason, he doesn’t tend to get the Tony Allen’s or Thabo Sefolosha’s of the league guarding him. Instead, he’s had Marcus Thornton, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Gordon Hayward body him up to try and stop him from scoring so far this season. At 6-foot-8, Barnes has a natural advantage in those match-ups and he knows it, which is why he uses his size and strength to bully them in the post.
There are two ways Barnes tends to get open in the post: 1) He simply uses his strength and size to fight for position against a smaller guard or 2) he sets a screen on, for example, Russell Westbrook in the hope of forcing a switch so he can do, well, the first thing I noted. Either way, what he does really well is get himself into good, scoring position, regardless of where he might be on the floor. As you’ll see from his shot-chart below, Barnes has been inefficient from just four spots this season; other than that, he’s been great, especially from right at the basket to about 15-feet. And he knows it, which is why he continues to post up, as it allows him to attack the defense from those spots.
The majority of Barnes’ shot attempts this season have come right at the rim. After that, it’s the small area surrounding the free throw line where he’s made a killing. You may simply shrug that off for small sample size, but Barnes makes a concerted effort to get to that spot on post-ups. As you’ll see in the video below, Barnes catches the ball in the mid-post and likes to bump his defender three or four times before rising over the top for a jump-shot. While he is capable of scoring in a variety of ways from different spots on the court, his preference is to get just inside the free throw line.
What impresses me the most is that, no matter who is guarding him, Barnes is so composed and patient with his back to the basket. He’s also always on balance and doesn’t try to do anything he can’t. For example, when someone like Westbrook is guarding him, he knows he won’t be able to bulldoze his way to the basket, so he uses his slight strength advantage to get a little closer and when he’s in his sweet spot, he simply uses his length to shoot over him, facing little disruption. When someone weaker is guarding him like Jeremy Lamb, he uses his strength a little more to get closer to the basket and lets his great foot work do the rest of the work.
Nearly a quarter of Barnes’ shot attempts this season have come from post-ups, and he’s shooting a shade under 50 percent in those situations on 30 attempts, which ranks him in the top 50 in the NBA, per Synergy Sports. Sure, it’s a relatively small sample size when compared to, say, Dwight Howard, who has posted-up a whopping 95 times, but it’s still impressive for a small forward. And in comparison to last year, Barnes is posting up more frequently and is already much more efficient, shooting 9.1 percent better.
So what should we make of all this? Well, for one, it makes the Warriors that much harder to guard because it gives them yet another strong scoring option. We already know that Barnes can knock down open jumpers and get out on the fast-break, but being able to give him the ball in the post is huge because who in the hell is going to help off of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson? Nobody. Unless they’re crazy. When Iguodala does make his way back into the lineup, Barnes’ minutes per game will likely dwindle back down to the mid-20’s and he’ll assume his role on the bench. But don’t let that fool you: He’s a great asset to this stacked team and is continuing to evolve his game. And until Iguodala comes back, Barnes will continue to put up impressive numbers thanks to his new and improved post game.