Why Harrison Barnes Is Poised to Have a Monster Sophomore Season

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2013

Most players in Harrison Barnes' situation would be upset. 

Despite a promising rookie campaign that featured a remarkable postseason outburst, the Golden State Warriors' second-year pro is going to lose his starting job to new acquisition Andre Iguodala.

The fact that the 21-year-old isn't remotely perturbed is just one of the reasons why he could be in for a breakout campaign, starting role or not.


A for Attitude

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Denver Nuggets and Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors battle for position during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on April 23, 2013
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Barnes won the starting small forward job as a rookie last season, beating out veterans Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson in training camp. Given the parties involved, that might not sound like much of an achievement. But for a 20-year-old player whose good-but-not-great college career provided more questions than answers, it was impressive.

And Barnes held onto that starting gig, too. A tweaked knee kept him off the court for just one contest in 2012-13. In the Warriors' other 81 regular-season games, Barnes was on the floor for the opening tip.

This year, he'll almost certainly be on the bench.

Remarkably, Barnes is saying all of the right things. Instead of sulking, he's spouting off sound bites that you'd expect to hear from a seasoned veteran.

According to Marcus S. Thompson of Bay Area News Group, Barnes was asked whether it bothered him to have started those 81 games a year ago, only to wind up coming off the bench this year. Instead of taking the opportunity to grouse, Barnes replied:

"I can imagine much worse problems. I feel confident about this team and where we can go. Regardless if I'm starting or coming off the bench, I think we have a chance to make a serious playoff push."

There's a school of thought that says the young thoroughbred should be champing at the bit to start. Some might say Barnes is showing a lack of competitive fire by relinquishing his job without a fight.

First of all, behind the closed doors of the Warriors' training camp workouts, you can bet he will be fighting to prove he deserves to play. But it does no good to complain publicly. Barnes senses that the Dubs have something special brewing, and he's not about to upset things by creating a preseason controversy.

And besides, he probably knows no reasonable observer would pick him to start over Iguodala anyway.

Barnes' attitude is a testament to his maturity. More importantly, his willingness to do whatever the Warriors ask of him is going to put him in a position to be even more successful than he was a year ago.


Position to Succeed

Apr 26, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) pumps his fist after the Warriors made a basket against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter during game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at Oracle Aren
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

By accepting his new role, Barnes is going to find himself under far less pressure than he was last season. That might sound strange, especially considering the high hopes his flashes of brilliance inspired. But Iguodala's arrival gives Golden State yet another proven commodity, one that will allow Barnes to pick his spots and play without feeling like he has to do everything right.

Relatedly, Golden State's veteran acquisition is going to be a perfect mentor for Barnes. Nobody knows more about the nuances of help defense or unselfish offensive play than Iguodala, and Barnes is going to get daily tutorials in both.

Iguodala's presence aside, Barnes is sure to spend much more time this year at the power forward spot. In a literal sense, he'll be in a better position to succeed.

Barnes flexed his muscles as a stretch 4 during the Warriors' postseason run, showing that he could be a devastating weapon against slower defenders. He averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during the playoffs, figures that easily surpassed his regular-season averages of 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Better yet, Barnes' shooting efficiency actually enjoyed a mild uptick in the postseason, despite a higher usage rate and a much larger allotment of minutes.

Oh, and there were cool highlights, too.

Maybe Barnes is going to come off the bench, but there's reason to believe he'll actually play more minutes this season as Golden State takes advantage of his skills in small-ball lineups. As D.J. Foster pointed out, the Warriors blew away their regular-season efficiency ratings on both ends of the court when Barnes handled the 4.

The Dubs are going to be able to run more, spread the floor and sacrifice nothing on defense with Barnes logging minutes as a power forward. The team will benefit, but just as critically, Barnes is going to have the upper hand in a never-ending series of mismatches.

Lots more blow-by dunks are coming, folks.


All the Tools

We've spent a fair amount of time talking about how Barnes' situation is going to help him make the most of his opportunities this year. But it's just as important to note that individually, this is a guy who has the raw tools and work ethic to become a star in any context.

Everyone who's ever been on YouTube knows Barnes has unlimited athletic talent.

But aside from his high-flying slams, Barnes is a remarkably polished offensive player. He has a smooth release on his jumper, plenty of range and the beginnings of a post-up game that could eventually make him a nightmare for smaller frontcourt players.

It's true that Barnes was sometimes a bit too mechanical last year, and his assist ratio ranked 50th among small forwards, per ESPN. But ultimately, there's no reason he can't develop into a well-rounded offensive threat very soon.

And defensively, Barnes' length and athleticism will someday allow him to shut down players at both wing positions. If he continues to bulk up, he'll also be able to hold his own against most of the larger power forwards who seek to back him into the lane when the Warriors go small.

Barnes may not reach his full potential in all of those areas this season, but even if he grows in just a couple of important ways, he's going to be a seriously dangerous weapon when the 2013-14 campaign tips off.


Less Is More

December 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) looks on during the second quarter against the New Orleans Hornets at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors defeated the Hornets 103-96. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA T

Typically, "monster seasons" come with bloated scoring averages and potential All-Star berths. Neither of those things are going to happen for Barnes—not yet anyway.

But he's still in line for a terrific year in the sense that he's going to dominate the role Golden State carves out for him. His counting numbers should increase a bit, and he'll almost certainly become a more efficient player. But the more telling sign of his improvement will be the way he fits into the Dubs' rotation in a new and important way.

Someday, he'll probably be a star. But his potential breakout this season is going to be of a subtler, team-oriented sort.

Maybe I'm spinning this in a way that emphasizes patience and maturity a bit too much. But that's probably just the way Barnes would want it.


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