In the midst of his third season in Dallas, Harrison Barnes continues to be a leader both on and off the court. Statistically, Barnes is second on the team in scoring and shooting his highest percentage from beyond the arc since he arrived in Dallas.
A little over the halfway point of the season, I sat down with Barnes for a mid-season Q&A on the state of the team, his role, the upcoming summer and more.
How are you feeling right now in the season? Physically and mentally?
BARNES: Good. Anytime you shoot it well or shoot it not well, people will say this and that. But when you are injured man you have a whole different perspective on things. Anyone from a few games or a few weeks or sometimes a year, you definitely have a greater appreciation for the game. I am happy to be out there and I am feeling good.
How has your role changed from last year to this year?
BARNES: Every year I have been here my role has changed. Learning to adapt and just be aggressive. I know that what I am asked to do is a variety of things but the biggest thing you can control is your effort. Defensively I know what I can do and affect the game. Offensively you are going to be put in different situations to make shots whether it is isolations or spot up shots.
What is one area of your game that you want to continue improving?
BARNES: It’s defensively. We were joking with some of the defensive coaches on if I could be all-defense. Just little things where guys have made it the past couple of years and take on that challenge. Just taking on different matchups and making these guys work. A lot of these guys I’m guarding every single night are hot players averaging 20, 25, 30. I just try to make them work and try to get better on that end.
Where is the team now compared to the beginning of the season?
BARNES: At the beginning of the season it was rough. We definitely have been through some ups and downs. A little bit of turmoil there. I think we have a resilience. We know that we can win any game that we are out there and we have shown that. It is just a matter of getting some road wins.
Are you a leader on this team?
BARNES: Yeah, no question. I try to lead by example. That was the best way that I have seen guys lead. Being around guys like Steph (Curry) my first four years. Seeing his game and how he worked. People will marvel at something he did when the lights were on but it was all the work he put in outside of that. He didn’t need to be a rah-rah guy or say anything because everyone knew and respected what he did. I definitely try to lead these young guys by the example I set and the work I put in.
If you could hand out a Most Improved Award on the team, who would it be?
BARNES: Honestly, and he doesn’t get a lot of credit, but probably Dorian Finney-Smith. The matchups that he has been thrown out against. At the beginning of the season, he was our true starter. When I was hurt, he started. When Dennis was hurt, he started. When Luka was out, he started. Whoever is out he started and he would always have to go guard the toughest matchup. His first game (in 2016) he guarded Giannis. I think he has really improved a lot for us. Him and Maxi.
What do you think about the Luka highlight plays that energize the crowd?
BARNES: I think it’s great. He loves them and enjoys them. His favorite play is definitely the end of shot clock and end-of-quarter heaves. There is definitely a lot of potential and a very bright future.
This summer you can be a free agent. How are you approaching free agency?
BARNES: My wife and I have enjoyed Dallas. It has been very welcoming to us. I told Donnie whenever he wants to have that conversation let my agent know. I would definitely love to continue to play here, but it is a business as we have seen. You just have to be prepared for whatever. Some of that is in my control, but a lot of that is out of my control.
With the trade deadline coming up, how do you lead this team through a time like this?
BARNES: Winning cures all. As long as we continue to push forward and play good basketball that eases a lot of pressure and outside noise. I think that is the biggest thing. More importantly, you can’t take moments for granted. Teammates, in three years that I have been here and I’m sure Dirk can speak on it differently, but it has been a new starting lineup every year. It has been new players every year. A new vibe every year. We have seen it can change very quickly, but I think since I’ve been here this is the best team that we’ve had.
Approaching the All-Star break, what would the playoffs mean for this team?
BARNES: That’s the biggest way you learn and grow in this league. I was fortunate in my first year to make the playoffs. I think what I learned in the regular season and the playoffs helped propel my career in a way that nothing else could. But it also helped bring the team together with that shared experience. Everyone had that shared loss as opposed to us being done on April 10 and people are looking forward to the draft pick and blowing up the team. Compared to us being in it. A seventh seed or eighth seed and we lost and everyone is like ‘dang, that experience is really fun. We want that again. We want a better seed.’ Then we have that collective will.