The NBA’s mid-season break is upon us. While the Dallas Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. was selected for the Rising Stars game, Harrison Barnes was not selected for the varsity game. He wasn’t ever really in consideration for the honor, but does that mean he’s underachieved this season?
Earlier this season, we took a look at what a “successful” season for Barnes might look like. An All-Star selection was never a goal. Instead, the Mavericks were looking for Barnes to expand his game, get to the free throw line more often, and become a reliable closer. He has indeed added to his game, becoming a better ball-handler, and he’s overpowering smaller defenders while darting past bigger ones.
Barnes’s free throw attempts were up in the beginning of the season, and he’s hit 10 attempts in a pair of games. Even though the number of his attempts have gone down as the season has gone on, on average he’s still attempting a career-high 3.9 free throws per game -- up from 3.6 last year.
The Mavericks’ record in close games has been well-documented over the season. They’ve already played 32 close, or clutch, games in which the score is within five points in the last five minutes. Unfortunately, their 7-25 record in such games does not bode well for Barnes’s closing ability. Outside of a few good performances, and one incredible shot in Memphis, it’s hard to say he’s been the closer the team needs when the games really matter. Lately, coach Rick Carlisle has gone to others in these clutch games rather than force-feeding Barnes.
So here’s a look at Barnes’s numbers compared to Paul Pierce, whom Barnes has said he is modeling his game after. Since Pierce was his team’s first option in a balanced attack, the comparison is appropriate. And to see how he’s developed, here are Barnes’s stats last season.
|Paul Pierce (03-04)||23.0||6.5||5.1||.402||.299||18.7|
|Harrison Barnes (17-18)||18.4||6.8||2.0||.453||.344||15.3|
|Harrison Barnes (16-17)||19.2||5.0||1.5||.468||.351||16.2|
The glaring difference is Barnes’s overall scoring numbers. They are nowhere near Pierce’s average, and in fact have dipped since last year. He’s also averaging fewer field goals attempted per game which explains the dip and also points to the Mavericks getting more shots for others (Dennis Smith Jr., anyone?). His rebounding is much stronger this season, too, almost two rebounds better than last year.
The Mavericks would undoubtedly be even further from the playoffs without Barnes. He’s the team’s best scorer. However, he’s become a great isolation player who doesn’t elevate his teammates’ games the way other All-Stars do. Dirk Nowitzki used to say it was hard to practice passing alone since he was in the gym by himself all those years. Nowitzki eventually added passing to his game, and the hope is Barnes can do the same.
Follow Jeff Mapua on Twitter @JeffMapua