DALLAS — It was a position of need for the Dallas Mavericks this offseason, leading the front office to bolster the front line with a bevy of additions at power forward. Still, after seeing leading scorer Harrison Barnes thrive at the power forward position during the 2016-17 schedule while 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki battled a nagging Achilles injury, the Mavericks figure to look to the budding star again for lengthy minutes at the four this upcoming season.
Seeing Nowitzki miss 25 of the Mavericks’ first 30 games last season due to the injury, Barnes picked up the slack while sliding from his customary small forward position. Barnes then slid back to the small forward spot after the mid-season acquisition of center Nerlens Noel in a trade with Philadelphia on Feb. 23. But after seeing Barnes produce a career-best season across the board, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is confident that the 6-foot-8 versatile forward can once again handle a heavy workload. That said, Barnes is expected to be called upon once again this season while operating as a starting small forward and the primary backup behind Nowitzki.
“Coming into (last season), most people thought Barnes was a three that could play four. And what he’s showing now is he’s a true four and he’s a real offensive weapon at the four who can play three and who holds his own, despite being a little bit undersized at times,” Carlisle explained last season. “You know, any time Dirk is out there, it helps space the floor. And it’s going to give Barnes more room to operate.”
Emerging as the Mavericks’ No. 1 offensive weapon with Nowitzki out, Barnes finished last season averaging a team-high 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while making 79 appearances. He also connected on 46.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc, leading the Mavs in scoring 37 times last season after doing so with Golden State just six times in 307 games during his first four years in the NBA. Barnes set a new franchise record by reaching double figures in the first 43 games to begin his tenure in Dallas as well, showcasing his consistency on a nightly basis. However, after several offseason additions at power forward, the Mavericks will have plenty of options behind Nowitzki at the four spot.
Working out a trade this summer with Miami for the services of 30-year-old big man Josh McRoberts in exchange for former second-round pick A.J. Hammons, the Mavericks added a proven veteran to provide depth at the power forward position. The Mavs also inked German big man Maximilian Kleber, who figures to compete with McRoberts and three-year pro Dwight Powell for minutes at the four. Meanwhile, two-way contract signee Johnathan Motley and summer-league standout Brandon Ashley hope to contend for playing time this season in a loaded frontcourt. But it’s Barnes that is expected to shoulder the bulk of the minutes at the four behind Nowitzki after showing he could handle the responsibility last season. And according to the 25-year-old Barnes, he will be more than ready once again to take on the heavy burden at both positions this season.
“You know, (last year) I had to play a lot of four. Obviously, I’m capable of playing both positions. I like playing the three, but it’s whatever the team needs me to do,” Barnes proclaimed after the conclusion of the ’16-17 season. “Getting to the free-throw line more, rebounding and playmaking. There’s a lot of different things I can do to improve, and I plan to. That’s something I’ll be prepared for and ready for when that time comes.”