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


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.