A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Harrison Barnes, O.J. Mayo, and the perils of illogical projections

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Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving at the 2010 N...

Harrison Barnes (right), standing beside Kyrie Irving (left) Image via Wikipedia

Last week I made a post about Andre Drummond, the frontrunner by miles to be the #1 draft pick in 2012. This post will be about Harrison Barnes, who has nearly as high a profile as Drummond at this point and is even getting some #1 pick talk himself.

First of all, I like Harrison Barnes as a future NBA player. He has size, can shoot the ball, and seems like he has a great head on his shoulders. After a disastrous start to his freshman season at UNC, he turned it around and produced at a solid level the 2nd half. But it’s clear to me that he’s not the player he was projected to be out of high school. If you’ve followed Harrison Barnes for a few years, you’ll know that he’s been projected as a #1 pick for years. He was supposed to be one of the NBA’s surest bets to be an all-star and was declared an All-American before he played a college game. What the scouts said is his combination of size, shooting ability, passing and overall head for the game drew comparisons to Paul Pierce and Brandon Roy – with a touch of Kobe Bryant and Grant Hill in his comparisons even.

Except when the college season started, the truth became obvious. Harrison Barnes was not an on ball creator. He did not have either the ballhandling skill or an athletic enough 1st step to have the driving to the rim/isolation game Pierce and Roy did in their primes. What was left was a large SF who could shoot the ball when open, and go to the rim if the lane was open. In the 2nd half of the year Barnes began to grow into this very role and most of his shots were either 3pt shots or oppurtunistic shots at the rim, while playing solid defense.

Now as I said, due to the rarity of perimeter SFs who defend, rebound, shoot the ball and are good character guys, I expect Barnes is set for a long, solid NBA career. If you look at the value Luol Deng had on the Bulls last year, that’s a nice player for Barnes to mold himself after without exceptional on ball creation ability. In the 90s Sean Elliott had a nice career and made 2 all-star teams in that 18 and 8, solid off ball SF role. Maybe, just maybe, Harrison Barnes can become the next Danny Granger and establish himself as a star being one of the best in the league hitting 3s and getting to the rim when he can.

What he isn’t, is the Paul Pierce/Brandon Roy/Grant Hill superstar all around creator at SF that I’ve seen many continue to insist. These really should have ended a month into his freshman season. He doesn’t have near the ballhandling ability, passing vision, or overall creativity with the ball that does players had. Paul Pierce was exceptional not because he was a large SF who could shoot, but because of his skill level handling the ball and creating shots combined with his size.  The inability for this to be recognized in comparison to Barnes frankly reminds me of O.J. Mayo. Like Barnes, O.J. Mayo spent most of his high school career being declared the next superstar SG, getting called the next Lebron, being the guy to take Kobe Bryant‘s throne in the future. The problem is that by his college career, we found out O.J. Mayo is a skilled SG who’s nonetheless undersized and not very athletic, which was bound to make him a player who hangs around the 3pt line and takes perimeter shots when he can – much much more like Ben Gordon or Jamal Crawford than Kobe Bryant. Mayo was simply never as talented as his reputation suggested due to physical limitations, and turned 22 less than a month after his rookie season started, by which point players should generally be accepted as what they are. Yet through his rookie season and years after (essentially until last season) he continued to draw comparisons as a breakout star, as a player between Gilbert Arenas and Kobe Bryant waiting to happen. People believed in the way O.J. Mayo carried himself, in his skill level, in the fact that once upon a time he was supposed to be a superstar – but didn’t see how wrong the original projections were about his talent. It’s not O.J. Mayo‘s fault he’s now perceived as a disappointment, it’s everyone else’s for not realizing an undersized SG with mediocore athleticism who enters the league at 21 likely has a limited upside.

And that’s how I feel about Harrison Barnes. I like him, but barring a massive turnaround that simply doesn’t happen after a freshman’s season, his NBA skillset is rather obvious – He’ll be a big SF who hits 3s and can finish at the rim, but doesn’t have star offensive creation potential. He can be someone’s Luol Deng, Shane Battier, Sean Elliott and a longtime starting SF who really helps his team. But he’s simply not an “upside” prospect or future franchise player and perenniel all-star. Talent rules and in this case, Barnes is not as talented as his high school reputation suggested by almost any objective measure. It’s just objective logic – A player who’s game is limited to off ball shooting and defense by the end of his freshman year should not be projected to have a superstar’s on ball game, but Barnes continues to have these projections placed on him.

Unfortunately I feel if Harrison Barnes goes #1 or top 3 in next year’s draft, I feel like he will be deemed a disappointment for reasons that go beyond him.

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Written by jr.

October 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm

One Response

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