Why Harrison Barnes is better in Dallas

A lot of people laughed when Harrison Barnes signed a max contract this summer worth $94 million over 4 years. A lot of other people got angry. The more optimistic among us pointed to the contract and said, “Well, if Harrison Barnes can make $94 million, then anything is possible.”

Only a very small percentage of the country thought he actually deserved the money. After all, Barnes’ single contract was equal to the amount of money Michael Jordan made in his entire career and, regardless of how much you know about salary cap logistics and the NBA’s TV money – or even understand how much more money Jordan has made from his brand – it almost feels wrong to heap so much money on a role player, even a young and talented one.

Barnes’ shooting percentages dipped in the 2015-16 season to a good-but-not-great 46.6% from the field and 38.3% from three, despite often being the fourth or fifth option for the Warriors and taking almost half of those threes from the short corners. Golden State didn’t miss a beat when Rush replaced Barnes in the starting lineup after Barnes sprained his ankle.

Then came the NBA Finals disaster. Barnes shot just 5-of-32 in Golden State’s final three games, all losses.

Judging any player on a three-game sample is a mistake, though. We should already know this – we did the same thing to James Harden after he no-showed in the 2012 Finals (he went 9-of-31), and he’s turned out all right. There are more parallels, too – Harden played the second-fewest minutes among Team USA players in the 2012 Olympics, Barnes played the fewest. Both were still very young, as Harden was 22 and Barnes 24.

Barnes may never be the all-world player Harden is, but it’s safe to say that, through eight games, he’s done more than enough to deserve his max deal. He’s shooting a higher percentage than ever (49.3%), getting to the line more often (3.7 FT makes per game), and he’s almost doubled his scoring average (from 13.6 to 21.4). There are only five players in the NBA averaging more points on a higher shooting percentage right now: Anthony Davis, Demar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry – all of whom are veritable MVP and First Team All-NBA candidates.

So why has Barnes been so much better? He’s feasting on a shot most people thought the Warriors and “the modern NBA” were killing – the mid-range pull-up. Barnes has shot 60.5% from between 16 feet and the 3-point line, per Basketball-Reference. That’s an unsustainable number, but even his percentage from last season – 50.9% – is good enough to be scary. Watch the types of mid-range shots he’s getting, and it’s clear he can get his shot off whenever he wants.

Tony Snell is 6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan, and he doesn’t even sniff Barnes shot off the jab step – despite the fact that his standing reach is over 5″ longer than Barnes’. So why does this look like an easy shot? Because Barnes’ 38″ ridiculous standing vertical allows him to elevate effortlessly over stand-still defenders.

Give him a running start, and Barnes never gets any higher – his max vertical is just 39.5″. Snell, meanwhile, gains an extra half a foot on his vertical when running, going from 30″ to 36.5″. That means Barnes’ best advantage is, strangely, on defenders with their feet set – not on players closing out hard on him, as would be the case for most players.

He isn’t quick enough to get by a lot of players his size, and he can have difficulty finishing over big men who have a chance to see him coming (he shot just 54.5% around the rim last season, worse than smaller players like Chris Paul), and he doesn’t always have consistent range from three. Both of these things are almost necessities for a role player in Golden State. In Dallas, though, where the Mavericks and Rick Carlisle have created an offense around a slow-moving, mid-range jump shooter for years, Barnes is a perfect fit … and certainly worth a max contract.

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