DALLAS – Harrison Barnes is known as a sure-fire offensive player who knows how to get buckets. But lately, the Dallas Mavericks forward has been receiving high praise for his remarkable work on the defensive end of the court.
“He’s picked his defense up to a level that is exceptional,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Right now he’s one of our top two defenders.”
Translation: Barnes is the Mavs’ second-best defender behind center DeAndre Jordan. That speaks volumes about the player who led the Mavs in scoring over the past two seasons, but decided over the summer that he wanted to elevate his game by making playing defense a definite priority.
Still, in Barnes’ typical selfless fashion, he talks about defense being a team effort and credits his teammates for making him look better than he is on defense.
“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win, really,” Barnes said. “Coming into games you just do the job defensively so we’ll have a chance to win.
“When you’re guarding guys like LeBron (James), Tobias Harris – whoever it may be – when guys got it going, you know that look. So regardless of my night offensively, if I can hold them below their average. .that’s what’s going to help us win games.”
Any time a player with an offensive pedigree like Barnes can add a defensive mindset to his game, that’s a major plus for a team. In this case it’s been a win-win situation for the Mavs.
“I have such great respect for the work he puts into his game,” Carlisle said. “He’s put an amazing amount of work into the conditioning and the preparation that’s required to guard guys like Tobias Harris (of the Los Angeles Clippers).
“(Last Friday) night he was guarding LeBron James (of the Los Angeles Lakers), in Houston he was guarding good players in that game. He’s getting a tough matchup almost every night, and he’s got a pretty big scoring load on his back. But the tone he has set defensive in the last month has elevated our total team play.”
Just because Barnes has increased his play on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t necessarily mean his offensive game is slacking. On the contrary.
In fact, Barnes is also in the midst of the best offensive groove of the season. Over the last nine games, the seven-year veteran has scored 20 or more points six times.
That includes tallying a season-high 30 points last Sunday against the Clippers, one game after scoring a season-high 29 points against the Lakers. During that two-game span Barnes is 20-of-45 from the field and 7-of-15 from 3-point range.
“It’s the percentages,” Barnes said, referring to his offensive explosion. “You miss a lot of shots early on, and then you start making them. It all evens out.
“It’s nothing particularly special. The shots that I was missing early on, I’m finally making them.”
Being fully healthy also has helped Barnes’ overall game.
Barnes strained his right hamstring in the first week of training camp, missed all four preseason games, sat out the first four regular season games and didn’t return until the Mavs played at Toronto on Oct. 26.
But now, he’s his old self again.
“Knock on wood, I’m feeling good,” Barnes said. “My legs are underneath me, my body is feeling good, so I want to continue to build off that and hopefully I can continue to help this team.”
On the offensive AND defensive ends of the court.