Any time a team adds a young player, it’s tempting to look into the future and wonder what type of player he could become. Last season, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell both showed flashes, that could make the next few years an exciting time as we follow their development.

The Mavs are betting — big — that 24-year-old forward Harrison Barnes can not only show similar flashes and further his growth as a player, but also contribute in a much more concrete, consistent fashion right away in his first season as a Maverick. Anderson and Powell will likely have the benefit of coming off the bench, at least when the team is at full health, but Barnes will start and almost certainly play major minutes for a Mavs team hoping to make the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons.

The good news for the Mavs is his game is already polished enough to be a heavy-minute player on a high-caliber team, as he’s proved in four playoff seasons with the Golden State Warriors, the last two of which saw him start every game in the NBA Finals. With the Warriors, he was often the fourth option behind superstars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, but Barnes averaged a career-high 30.9 minutes per game last season and posted career-highs in both points (13.6) and assists (2.1) per 36 minutes, an indication that perhaps he’s ready to take on more of a lead offensive role for a good team.

The better news for Dallas is Barnes is also a good defender, with the ability to defend multiple positions on a nightly basis. His post defense against Zach Randolph in the 2015 playoffs helped the Warriors recover from a 2-1 series deficit to win the matchup in six games. He also took turns on Kevin Durant and LeBron James last season with the Warriors, though Andre Iguodala received the most work on both. His ability to defend the best wings in the league, however, will give head coach Rick Carlisle the freedom to split that duty between Barnes and Wesley Matthews, who spent most of last season chasing around the best wings in the NBA for 34 minutes a night. Add Anderson into the mix, and suddenly Dallas has a sturdy, tenacious group of perimeter defenders that can all guard 2s, 3s, and even many 4s.

So no matter the strides Barnes makes in the coming seasons — and he is sure to make plenty, as he’s playing for one of the best head coaches in the NBA — it’s important to remember that he is already talented enough today to help the team compete in the loaded Western Conference. Before you can envision what a player can one day become, though, it’s imperative to understand what he can already do. And here’s what we know about Harrison Barnes after four seasons in the Association.

He abuses smaller defenders in the post

In today’s switch-happy game, Barnes is capable of taking complete advantage of smaller defenders in the post. That’s worked to his advantage all four seasons in his career, but last season in particular, as opponents would try all sorts of wonky defensive alignments to try slowing down the Golden State offensive machine, sometimes pitting small forwards against Curry and point guards against Barnes.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

Barnes makes backing down Tony Parker look easy, and he finishes just as easily. With opponents not only switching so often but also worried about the Warriors’ shooters, Barnes never really faced much pressure in the post, seeing just 12 double-teams in 95 post-up chances, per Synergy Sports.

Post touches made up just under 13 percent of his total possessions used last season, according to Synergy, after representing only 5.5 percent of his offense in 2014-15. That could be a natural response to the way teams defended Golden State; the Warriors also used Barnes at the power forward spot more than half the time last season, according to Basketball-Reference, possibly altering the way he was deployed on the floor. He played small-ball 4 for the upstart Warriors in the 2013 playoffs, as well, and scored at least 23 points in four games against the Nuggets and Spurs. He’s got the offensive capability; now he just needs the opportunity.

For as many questions there have been about his potentially diminished role in Golden State’s offense the last couple seasons, look at it this way: 12.7 percent of his offense came from post-ups last season, while 14.9 percent came in the post the season before Steve Kerr took over as head coach. (He averaged a career-high 0.905 points per possession in the post this season.) The only major shift there’s been in his offensive role under Kerr with the small-ball Warriors is fewer isolation touches, at just 8.4 percent under Kerr and about 15.6 percent before him.

But more and more teams are turning away from iso ball these days, including and especially the Mavericks and new-age Warriors. For reference, just 6.3 percent of the Mavs’ total offensive possessions used last season came in isolation, per Synergy, and more than half of them were by point guards, and usually late in the shot clock when an initial play came up empty or with just a few seconds left in the quarter.

Anyway, here’s Barnes using a Dirk fade against Kyle Korver, a player much closer to the 6-foot-8 forward’s size, in the post.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

Barnes is already on record saying he looks forward to challenging Nowitzki to shooting competitions, so maybe they can start with these. Hey, I think the Mavs will be OK with it if he turned the one-legged fade into a reliable weapon during the next few seasons. Barnes also turned the ball over just 8.5 percent of the time out of 118 post-ups — including when he passed to shooters or cutters — so that’s potentially something Dallas could work with. If he’s going to be seeing smaller defenders this season, he has the ability to make them pay. And because bigger defenders will always guard Nowitzki, Barnes will usually have a size advantage.

This Mavericks team appears to have a weird strength. Barnes, Nowitzki, Matthews, and Deron Williams are all good and effective to varying degrees in the post. Last season Dallas pretty frequently ran a play for Matthews out of a Williams post-up, so maybe this season we see more things like that, only for more players. All four are solid passers, Williams in particular, and Nowitzki is a marksman when dishing out of double-teams, which he still saw last season even at age 37. Although posting up is becoming more and more a thing of the past in the NBA, the Mavs have plus-sized players at four positions in the starting lineup who can all back players down, so this team is more than capable of taking advantage of any size mismatches that roll its way this season, if it so chooses to go that route with any regularity.

He’s a knock-down three-point shooter

Barnes shot 38.3 percent from deep last season and 40.5 percent the year before, which will help to replace the three-point shooting void left by Chandler Parsons’ departure. Dallas values the 3-ball more than almost any other team in the NBA — the Mavericks attempted the fifth-most treys in the league last season — so that element of Barnes’ game is going to be vital from day one, especially if he’s spending a lot of time on the floor with pick-and-roll buddies Williams and Nowitzki. The Mavs and their German anchor do a better job creating space than almost any other team, and that helped Matthews drain 189 3s last season, 10th-most in basketball. Barnes can only help in that regard.

He did struggle a bit from deep in the Finals last season, hitting 9 of 29 from beyond the arc in the seven-game loss to Cleveland. Outside of Draymond Green, though, no key Warrior shot anywhere near their season percentages from deep in that series. (Plenty of credit ought to go to the Cavaliers for that.) Throughout the rest of the 2016 playoffs, Barnes hit a much more respectable 36.1 percent on 47 attempts. Exaggerating those struggles is a case where the narrative kind of took on a life of its own.

As far as “openness” goes, Barnes was less open on a regular basis in the halfcourt last season than he had been any other season in his career, according to Synergy. Just 59.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers were “unguarded,” by the site’s standards, down from 67.2 percent in 2014-15 and 76.1 percent during his rookie season in 2012-13. Barnes sank 41.9 percent of unguarded jumpers in 2015-16, and connected on a solid 39.2 percent of the “guarded” Js. With him on one side and Matthews on the other, Nowitzki’s gravity in the middle could lead to some easy points for the Mavs, so long as the guards are able to provide dribble penetration.

Forecasting the pick-and-roll

The final key on the offensive end for Barnes is going to be whether he can assume more ball-handling duties. Chandler Parsons was a key secondary playmaker in the Mavs’ starting five last season, and his ability to break down defenses and give Williams or J.J. Barea a bit of a breather was a huge factor in the team’s offensive success while he was healthy. Barnes has shown an ability to score himself in the P&R, actually averaging a career-best 0.939 points per possession in those situations last season, per Synergy, which ranked second among regular Warriors rotation players behind only Stephen Curry.

2016-07-19 16_58_19-Microsoft Excel - Barnes Synergy

Question marks arise, however, when noted that only 4.4 percent of Barnes’ possessions last season came at the helm of the pick-and-roll, and that number has never climbed higher than 8.2 percent in his career. Can he take on a larger volume of pick-and-roll plays while still maintaining a good level of efficiency? He’s shown he’s capable in the past, and that appears enough for the Mavs.

Oftentimes with the Warriors last season he’d take a ball-screen and pull up for a mid-range jumper. He did a good enough job knocking those down, but you can bet the Mavericks coaches will encourage him to take the ball all the way to the bucket. He recorded a 39.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Combine in 2012, so if an athlete as explosive as he is can get going downhill, not many players are going to want to stop him. Here are a few examples.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

Sometimes Barnes had the advantage of running pick-and-roll against small lineups, as he was playing power forward. He could have that same luxury in Dallas, though. What if he’s playing 4 and Nowitzki is the center? Who’s going to block him? The Mavs have had success running pick-and-rolls with other forwards in the past, namely Parsons and Vince Carter. With time and work, Barnes could develop into that type of player, as well, if he can tighten his handles and become more aggressive going to the bucket. And given the other offensive strengths he already has, he’d become a heck of a player if he could.


As Synergy’s rankings go, Barnes was at least an above-average defender when guarding against pick-and-roll ball-handlers (as both the small and big defender), post-ups, isolations, players coming off screens, and hand-offs.

Not bad.

His 6-foot-8 frame is aided by solid core strength, his huge vertical leap, and his lengthy wingspan, which has been measured anywhere between 6-foot-11.25 and 7-foot-0.25. That gives him the length to defend big guys on the block, but he’s quick enough to defend 25 feet from the rim, as well.

It’s very difficult to quantify ability on defense because there simply aren’t enough good metrics to determine a player’s value. Too much depends on team strategy and every other player on the roster doing his job perfectly, which usually doesn’t happen all the time across 82 100-possession games. You kind of have to work off the eye test, and from what the smartest people tell you. But suffice it to say Barnes has a good reputation on defense and his presence in the lineup, along with the addition of Andrew Bogut and an expanded role for Justin Anderson, could potentially vault the Mavericks much further up the defensive charts this season. Dallas ranked 16th in defensive rating in 2015-16, and at this point it isn’t ridiculous to think, health considering, this club could push toward or even into the top-10.

Here’s one play from last season, when he guarded LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and didn’t give up any ground.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

Here he is tracking the explosive Victor Oladipo from beyond the three-point line, then contesting his shot at the rim and forcing a miss.

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

Chris Paul effectively beats him in the play below, but Barnes’ wingspan forces a high-arcing shot and a miss. (It should not go unmentioned that Barnes is defending DeAndre Jordan in this play. He frequently defended centers before switching onto point guards. That’s versatility.)

[wp_hyena imageurl=’’ data_hyena='{“slate”:”300,0.10,15″,”player_fade_speed”:”500″,”control_opacity”:”0,0.9″,”fade_speed”:”250,250″,”style”:2}’]

With Golden State, he served as a player who could guard positions 2-5 and even switch on to point guards. Rick Carlisle has to be thrilled to secure such a versatile guy on his team. He and Matthews could be one of the best 1-2 punches among wing defenders in the NBA this season. Again, throw Anderson in there, too, and there’s a lot of potential.

Barnes is going to further develop his game, but he’s already a player capable of contributing heavily on both ends of the floor right away for the Mavericks this season. Whether he’s the first option or the 13th, he’s going to provide rock-solid outside shooting and defense, and he can add athleticism in both open-floor and halfcourt situations. That’s just the foundation of his game. The rest is for Barnes, Carlisle, and the coaching staff to work out together over the course of the next several seasons — and the sooner the better.

Share and comment

More Mavs News