Author: Kurt Helin

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Two

Jerry West took Harrison Barnes under his wing, mentored him like he did Kobe


Kobe Bryant was Jerry West’s special project.

West virtually hoodwinked then Nets coach John Calipari not to draft Kobe back in 1996, allowing the future star to fall to Charlotte, who drafted Kobe then traded him to the Lakers in a deal based around Vlade Divac. West then took Kobe under his wing, worked out with him, and taught him everything he could about the game. That worked out pretty well for Kobe and the Lakers.

Harrison Barnes has now gotten the Kobe treatment from West.

After a few years of begging for the chance, this summer West relented and brought Barnes out to his Los Angeles area home for a week of workouts and lessons, something Sam Amick details in a fantastic story at the USA Today.

For five days, Barnes joined the Hall of Famer whose Bel-Air home is just down the street from one of the more infamous basketball courts you’ll find. By day, they worked on the regulation-sized court that’s inside the home of shoe mogul Steven Jackson – a replica of the Staples Center, “Lakers mausoleum,” as West describes it, that visiting NBA teams will sometimes use for shoot-arounds or practices. By night, they all sat in the West’s family dining room, where his wife, Karen, would take food requests from Barnes and try to replenish all those calories he’d burned learning tricks of the trade from her legendary husband…

“It was crazy,” Barnes said. “To be able to not only spend time with him on the court, but off the court as well, to see how he saw the game, how I need to see the game, the things that he saw in my game. He actually took the court and practiced on certain things…

“We’d work out in the morning. We’d get some work in, and then he’d show up and put me through a workout. He’d show me stuff he would do, and then we’d go out to eat and talk about what the league is like today, stuff he saw back in the day. Who were the toughest players he guarded? Who were the tough players he went against? What was his mentality going into games? And then we just talked about life, about how he enjoyed LA, about my childhood, his childhood, all that type of stuff.”

These workouts, plus changes from Steve Kerr to both start Barnes and get him working off the ball more — always his strength — led to Barnes having the best season of his career. He averaged 10.1 points a game, shot 40 percent from three, and was a key starter on a Warriors team that won 67 games.

Barnes has looked even better in the playoffs.

Golden State wants to keep Barnes but likely doesn’t offer him a contract extension this summer, waiting until next summer (they also have Draymond Green’s contract to deal with, and he is more central to what the Warriors do right now).

Whatever happens, Barnes has been given a chance and an insight into one of the games greatest competitors that few get the chance. And he’s going to be a better player and a better person for it.



Stephen Curry, James Harden duel to final buzzer. Again. (VIDEO)

James Harden, Stephen Curry
1 Comment

Stephen Curry and James Harden have been putting on a show for a couple games now.

It wasn’t supposed to be a showdown of the top two vote getters in the MVP race, but it has felt like that at times. They have traded haymakers — or step back threes — as well as body blow drives to the rim. Both are getting some help from their teammates.

Curry and the Warriors are up 2-0 after another dramatic win Thursday. That doesn’t mean we should sleep on Harden’s performance. It will be interesting to see if this continues when the show moves to Houston this weekend.

For two games James Harden has been brilliant, but that’s not what anybody is talking about

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Two

Everyone is talking about James Harden.

Flip on a sports television or radio and here is the James Harden they are talking about:

• With the game on the line couldn’t get the last shot off.

• That he didn’t realize he was passing to Dwight Howard at the top of the arc or he would have not made that dish.

• Then in frustration he tore down a curtain.

That’s all true.

But here’s the other thing people should be talking about:

• James Harden has been nothing short of brilliant for two games.

That last point will get lost in the noise.

Harden put up 38 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had nine assists Thursday, that coming off a 28-11-9 Game 1. As it has been all season, he has gotten inconsistent help from his Rocket teammates, in part due to injury, and yet for two games he has just put his head down, lifted his team up and carried them farther than anyone expected.

The last two games, on the road, he carried them within a bucket of wins — in Houston’s late 8-1 run he had six points and an alley-oop to Howard. Harden has had two wildly entertaining duels with Stephen Curry.

“Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat,” is how Andrew Bogut described the top two MVP vote getters.

Harden entered these playoffs with critics and doubters. They questioned his ability to score against playoff defenses. They questioned his leadership.

Even down 2-0 to the Warriors, Harden has answered all those questions.

Some of those critics just didn’t like watching his style of play, using his physicality and putting the pressure on both defenses and officials. But the James Harden Thursday night was not just hunting for fouls, he was making brilliant plays with finesse — step back jumpers that nobody could stop, or lobs to Howard when defenders rotated over to stop him. He made smart decisions on when to drive, when to pass and when the best call was just him to go up with the shot. The Warriors have done a good job of forcing Harden to take midrange jumpers more this series — Houston tries to avoid that least-efficient shot — but he has hit 69.2 percent of those attempts through two games. Harden’s game is about finding the little edge, the little crack in the defense, then going right at it hard and exploiting it. It’s crafty and physical.

source: Getty ImagesHis game may lack the flair of Curry’s, but it doesn’t lack for skill.

Or effectiveness.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Rather it is the last play, where Harden got the rebound off a Harrison Barnes missed layup with 8.5 seconds left and — with the blessing of his coach — pushed the ball up and tried to create a game winner in transition.

“I got the ball off the glass and I’m thinking ‘try to get an easy one,’” Harden said postgame. “They did a good job of having two guys on me so I couldn’t attack. When I looked up I saw a red jersey, it was Dwight (Howard) so I tried to throw it back to him. So I’m thinking with five seconds on the clock I tried to get the ball back but there still two guys right there. I watched the film, it was just a tough play.”

“I will take our best player coming downhill in a broken court any day of the week to win the game, That’s where James feasts,” said Rockets’ Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said of deciding not to call a time out, adding that there were a couple Warriors out of position to get back and he liked the idea of Harden attacking a broken play.”

Statistically, that choice probably works more often than not, but trying it against the best defensive team in the NBA this past season is going to lessen those odds. It didn’t work out for Harden this time.

But that’s not all we should be talking about.