Kurt Helin

51 Questions: Is Harrison Barnes ready to be a primary option?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Is Harrison Barnes ready to be a primary option?

Harrison Barnes didn’t put together a max player resume during the playoffs last season.

During the Western Conference Finals, even as a key part of the “death lineup” in Golden State, Barnes found himself watching games from the bench. During the Finals the 6’8” swingman was in a severe shooting slump, a situation he exacerbated by trying to do too much off the ball to make up for it and creating other problems. By the end of the Finals, the Cavaliers were treating Barnes like he was Tony Allen taking an open jumper.

Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks gave Barnes a max four-year, $94 million deal anyway.

“I think he can do a lot more than he’s been asked to do, and that’s what we expect to see…” Cuban said. “Maybe not first year, but I think he’s going to grow into (the role of a go-to player). Just because a guy hasn’t done things doesn’t mean he can’t do it.”

That’s a big bet the Mavericks have made — Barnes had a below-average PER of 12.3 last season.

Is Harrison Barnes ready to be a primary option?

Cuban is right about one thing, Barnes is certainly going to have to grow into that role.

In Golden State, both of Mark Jackson and then Steve Kerr, Barnes struggled when asked to create his own shot. Remember Jackson’s last year as coach when he designated Barnes as the sixth man and asked him to dominate the ball with the second unit? Barnes shot 39.9 percent with a PER of 9.8 (the kind of number that usually screams “time in the D-League” for young players). Kerr moved Barnes back into the starting lineup where he thrived because he got cleaner looks — on 128 of his 214 three-pointers last season there wasn’t a defender within six feet of him. The gravity of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson opened up the floor for Barnes.

Dirk Nowitzki is still a quality player, but he doesn’t have that kind of pull.

Barnes has an adjustment ahead of him, and one didn’t need to watch his 4-of-18 shooting through the first two preseason games to figure that out (to be fair, Rick Carlisle said they like the looks Barnes was getting). Barnes is taking on an entirely new role with a lot more to carry on his shoulders. Maybe he can do it, but it’s unfair to expect him to be able to do it right away.

How fast Barnes adapts will depend, in part, on those around him: Does Nowitzki stave off father time for another year? Is Wesley Matthews healthy, have his explosion back, and is he a dangerous offensive threat? Does Deron Williams continue to be a solid contributor at the point? Is Andrew Bogut still himself in a new setting? If those things come together it becomes harder to defend the other options on the floor, the easier it is for Barnes. Late in the clock, expect the Mavericks to still use Nowitzki as a crutch.

Barnes is an upgrade in Dallas over Chandler Parsons, both defensively and just because Barnes likely will play the majority of games this season.

But patience will be the word in Dallas.

Barnes is part of the transition to a post-Nowitzki world in Dallas, and Cuban has bet on Barnes growing into a true No. 1 player. A guy who the offense can run through, who can create for himself and others. It’s fair to look at Barnes NBA time and question if he can become that guy, but there certainly is talent and potential there. Rick Carlisle and crew need to tap into it.

The answer to “is Harrison Barnes ready to be a primary option?” will not be answerable until the summer of 2018. Then we should have a good idea. For now, we just need to see growth. And a few more made buckets.

PBT Podcast: Damian Lillard’s Blazers, Northwest Division preview with Jason Quick of CSNNW

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Last season, the Portland Trail Blazers were the surprise team of the NBA, winning 44 games and getting to the second round of the playoffs.

This season they are not sneaking up on anybody, and they are counting on Evan Turner to be the difference maker that takes them to the next level. Which seems a big gamble.

Jason Quick of CSNNW.com joins Kurt Helin of NBC to talk Portland, Turner, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Mason Plumlee and the rest o the Blazers. Can Terry Stotts get this team back to the second round? Can they play enough defense to build on that success? The pair also discusses the rest of the interesting Northwest Division, including a very different but must-watch season in Oklahoma City. Then this is a division with teams on the rise: Minnesota, Utah, and Denver.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Paul George: With newfound freedom Pacers could score 115 a game

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Some coaches like to micromanage the game, to call all the plays and try to have as much control over what is happening on the court as possible.

Others give their players a lot of freedom within an outline of structure and trust their instincts just to make plays.

Frank Vogel is in the first camp, but he is out in Indiana and is now managing games in Orlando. The Pacers new coach Nate McMillan is in the later camp, and he wants his team to run a lot more. That’s been an adjustment through training camp and the start of the preseason, Paul George told Nate Taylor of the Indy Star, but once they get used to it watch out.

“Everything was just free flow and we’re still trying to figure that out,” George said. “We’ve been so used to a set or calling of plays and now we’re getting that freedom. I think that’s going to take some time, but once we get it, we could easily be a 115-point team a night.”

The Pacers scored 102.2 points a game last season, which was in the middle of the NBA bell curve, and they played at a just slightly faster than average pace. This season expect both of those numbers to go up.
Part of that is McMillan taking the reins off and just letting the team run and freelance. The other part of this is a talent upgrade — Jeff Teague at the point is an upgrade over George Hill, Thaddeus Young gives them more depth, and Myles Turner should take a big step forward in his second season at the five.
If the Pacers find the comfort level that George talked about while continuing to play good defense, this team could have home court in the first round of the playoffs. They are potentially that good. There are a few teams at that level in the East, but don’t sleep on the Pacers.

Blake Griffin picks up shoe on court, tosses it in Cory Joseph’s face

AP Photo
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Blake Griffin‘s shoe tossing is in mid-season form already.

This wasn’t intentional, but it was pretty funny.

Jamal Crawford lost his shoe during a possession during the first half of the Clippers preseason game against Toronto. Griffin picked the shoe up, but when he realized that a pass was coming his way and he had to get rid of the shoe, he tossed it toward the sidelines — right into the face of Cory Joseph.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

Ouch.

Like I said, I don’t think this was intentional. Then again, would I put it past Doc Rivers to draw something like this up? Maybe this is just the team working on their new “high pick with a shoe” play.

A week in, star-studded Warriors still finding chemistry. As should be expected.

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — At Warriors team headquarters, Zaza Pachulia sits alongside Kevin Durant in the locker room as they dress for practice or ice down each day afterward.

They chat about life, not just basketball. It’s these very moments and conversations, face to face and a few minutes without the distraction of their smartphones, that Pachulia is counting on to help new-look, star-studded Golden State begin to find a chemistry that will carry the group deep into the postseason once more. And, they hope, another championship.

Pachulia is so passionate about it that he spoke up the other day, reiterating to his new teammates the importance of building relationships to reach the top.

“Understanding that it’s only been a week since we’ve been together, so we’re still trying to get to know each other on and off the court,” said Pachulia, who accepted just $2.9 million to join the Warriors. “It’s very important. This team so far has been successful for a couple reasons – obviously talent that we have and the chemistry they had before. That’s why I’m mentioning on and off the court. Seven days you can’t make everything happen but we’ve got to understand and we’re working on steps to move forward.”

Shortly before tipoff of Tuesday night’s preseason blowout of the Clippers, Durant and Draymond Green briefly chatted during warmups and exchanged a snazzy handshake.

Before the jump, Durant pointed to the crowd on either side of the court. Then, he immediately showed the Warriors and their adoring crowd at Oracle Arena just what he brings on both ends with that 7-foot-5 wingspan and ability to score and create shots for others.

Durant has already said he expects a nightly double-double from himself.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “I’m not saying it would be a for-sure thing. If you set your mind to something you can always do it. Nothing’s impossible. My teammates believe I can do it, the coaches believe I can do it. It’s a matter of me going out and trying every night.”

He is challenging himself “to do a better” job rebounding to take pressure off Pachulia and fellow newcomer David West.

Coach Steve Kerr, reigning NBA Coach of the Year, has warned it will take time for this All-Star Warriors bunch to find its way. He doesn’t expect Durant to be perfectly comfortable yet, not a week into the preseason with only a limited number of practices with fellow starters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Pachulia.

Kerr has pulled KD aside a few times to check in or go over a quick video clip as a learning tool. Durant is determined to become more instinctive on both ends.

“I let him know it’s cool to coach me up,” Durant said. “At any moment if I need to make a cut or set a screen, he’s letting me know it would be a good time to do that.”

Durant believes he can learn and adjust on the fly, even if he’s out of his comfort zone right now.

Curry appreciates Durant’s drive.

“He has a great attitude when it comes to that,” Curry said. “Coach also has a great attitude about coaching everybody, no matter who you are. We’ve got to remember we’re still in literally the first seven, eight days of this.”

There have been flashes already of what can be.

West dished to Shaun Livingston for a dunk late in the first quarter, then Durant drove for a layup the next time down. Golden State led by 51 points – 102-51 – after three quarters in the 120-75 rout Tuesday.

While Kerr warns about patience in putting things together, this was hardly a bad first look for the loyal home fans. He doesn’t buy any big predictions from outsiders about his team at this early stage.

This is a far different roster than the one that won an NBA-record 73 games last season and lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to Cleveland.

Nobody’s overly concerned about the adjustment process for Durant.

“Nothing really has surprised me. He’s so talented, he’s such a good guy, he’s such a good teammate, he cares about the team, he cares about people,” Kerr said. “Like anybody going to a new team, it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s harder going to a new team when you’re a star than it is when you’re a role guy and you’re used to just finding that niche right away and nobody’s talking about you and you figure it out.

“When you’re the star and the spotlight’s on you and you’re thinking all these thoughts about `What about shots for Steph and Klay and I don’t want to screw anything up.’ I know Kevin thinks about all that stuff. He’s a wonderful guy, incredible talent. It will take some time. Obviously he’s going to be great.”