Harrison Barnes had a solid regular season, making the All-Rookie first team as a debatable choice for that honor. He started 81 games for the playoff-bound Warriors, but Barnes took a back seat to Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and, when healthy, Andrew Bogut.
Again being the seventh banana on a playoff team as a rookie isn’t to be scoffed at. But it’s not exactly special.
Then, in the playoffs, Curry and Lee battled injuries, and the Warriors put more on Barnes’ plate. And again and again, he answered.
Barnes became the first rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 to average at least 16 points per game in the playoffs. But unlike Jennings, whose scoring average increased from 15.5 in the regular season to 18.7 in the postseason, Barnes didn’t show this penchant for scoring during the regular season, when he scored just 9.2 points per game.
By exceeding 16 points per game in the playoffs as a rookie, Barnes has already put himself in pretty good company. Just 76 players have done that in NBA history, including four in 1947, the Basketball Association of America’s inaugural year, making everyone a rookie.
In the 15 years before Jennings, the feat was accomplished by just Derrick Rose, Nenad Krstic, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, Zydrunas Ilgauskas,Stephon Marbury andArvydas Sabonis. That’s pretty good company and Nenad Krstic.
No rookie had averaged 16 points per game in the playoffs with a regular-season scoring average lower than Barnes’ since Brian Shaw in 1989. That season, Shaw averaged 8.6 points per game before upping that to 17.0 while Larry Bird and Danny Ainge missed a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pistons.
And therein lies the lesson. These high-scoring playoff outputs by rookies occur in small samples and are often accompanied by strange circumstances unlikely to repeat themselves.
Of the 76 rookies to average at least 16 points per game in the playoffs, 54 averaged fewer points per game in the their second regular season than in their first. Seven more players improved only marginally, by fewer than two points per game.
Of the remaining 15, including Barnes, a majority are Hall of Famers – Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Bailey Howell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Cliff Hagan and Paul Arizin. Four more – Dwyane Wade, Anfernee Hardaway, Bob Dandridge and Jeff Ruland – became All-Stars.
Nothing can erase Barnes’ awesome playoff run, when scored so well against two above-average defenses in the Nuggets and Spurs. But he’s unlikely to parlay that scoring success into a great second year.
However, if he does take the next step next season, history says Barnes would be on the fast track to stardom.