This article was first published on SLAMonline.com
After a successful first season in Dallas, Harrison Barnes is expected to take another leap.
By Reed Wallach
People worried that after seeing his stats dip in the 2016 NBA Finals that Harrison Barnes would not live up to expectations of a top-10 draft pick. After signing with the Dallas Mavericks last offseason, fans may have forgotten that Barnes was a key cog to the most memorable regular season in NBA history. Always a quiet player, the North Carolina product didn’t need to speak in his first season in Dallas, he let his game do the talking.
Barnes, only 25, thrived in his first season in Dallas as he became a primary scoring target for the first time in his career. He averaged a career-best 19 points per game, as the Mavericks began the process of passing the torch from Dirk Nowitzki to Barnes. While some numbers took a dip with the added workload—his three-point percentage was down three percent—Barnes began to show his potential as a stretch four. At 6-8, Barnes is the ideal smallball four and the Mavs are buying into that line of thinking. The question is, can Barnes improve on certain aspects of his game and carry a team back out of the basement of the Western Conference?
With Dirk in the twilight of his career, Barnes is going to continue to see more minutes at the four. After playing about half of his time at power forward in Golden State, Barnes played 60 percent of his minutes on the floor at the four last season, according to Basketball Reference. However, Dallas posted a plus/minus of -3.0 per 100 possessions last season. Could that be due to Barnes’ teammates more than him? Potentially. But if the former Tar Heel is going to be the frontcourt anchor of the new-look Mavs after Dirk retires, he is going to need to improve his rebounding and defensive numbers.
Barnes is a broad bodied forward, but still only weighs in at 210 pounds. A strategy that head coach Rick Carlise may want to emphasize this season with Barnes is pairing him alongside a true center, such as Salah Mejri. Last season, when the two were on the floor together (14th most of any two-man lineup), Dallas allowed a shade under 100 points per 100 possessions and had a positive net rating of 2.0.
Pairing Barnes with a rim protecting big—like Nerlens Noel—could mask some of the issues that come with his lack of rebounding, as pairing Barnes with another versatile big did not go very well. For example, he and Dwight Powell got killed on the glass and the duo allowed more than 111 points per 100 possessions when on the floor together. Barnes’ trajectory in this League may be at power forward, but his unique skill set means that he works best with a select group of players.
The Mavericks have not missed the playoffs in back-to-back years during the 2000s and owner Mark Cuban is always looking for ways to improve the team. While they are still in the beginning stages of a perceived rebuild with Barnes entering the second year of his four-year $95 million contract, Dirk only has so many years left before he hangs them up for good. The team brought in Dennis Smith Jr with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 Draft and he is expected to compete for Rookie of the Year. Along with DSJ, they still have savvy veteran Wesley Mathews Jr, Yogi Ferrell, who had a breakout season in ’16-17, an improving Seth Curry, and Noel, who is playing with hopes of securing a big deal next summer.
This is going to be an exciting year for Dallas with Smith in the fold, but the biggest storyline for them isn’t the explosive rookie but rather if Barnes can live up to his potential as a leader of the next group of stars.
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