11 months ago, the Dallas Mavericks polarized their fan base by signing former Warriors’ forward Harrison Barnes to a four year – 94 million dollar contract. This was a divisive topic for the Mavs’ faithful as a near civil war broke out between optimists who hung their hopes on the 24 year olds’ athleticism and championship pedigree, and the stubborn detractors who consistently referenced his lack of experience leading team, and his poor outing in the 2016 NBA finals. It was truly a tumultuous time to be a MFFL.
Initially, the newly crowned franchise cornerstone fueled his detractors even further, providing them with plenty of ammunition to use against both the young forward and the front office staff as he stumbled through the preseason to average 6.9 points per game on 26.7% shooting. Causing even the most optimistic Barnes’ supporters began to waiver.
Fortunately for all involved, Barnes never lost faith in his own abilities, and when future first ballot Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki was sidelined for the first quarter of the season with an Achilles tendon injury, he quietly picked up the mantle of offensive focal point, and carried the Mavericks, not into success, but into optimism.
Barnes remained the central focus of the offense long after Nowitzki was deemed healthy enough to re-enter the lineup, and his personal success (19.2 PPG) helped push the Mavs to the doorstep of the playoffs, only to fall just short.
Barnes’ play this year silenced all of his naysayers, and validated his max contract, but has also left MFFL’s everywhere wondering what his ceiling as a player can be.
These are the five areas with the most room to grow:
- Outside Shooting
Barnes did a very respectable job increasing his scoring average from 11.7 PPG to 19.2 PPG while shooting an efficient 46.8% from the floor. The most impressive part of his near 47% shooting was his average-at-best three-point percentage of 35.1%. It has only been two years since Barnes was shooting over 40% from three-point land, and if he can inch his way back upwards of 38%, then it is not unreasonable to believe that he could average 22 or 23 PPG in the future.
This is perhaps the most important area of development for Barnes moving forward. His 5.0 RPG season average was consistent with the 4.7 RPG average for his career, but is not quite at the level that the Mavericks need their max contract forward producing. Barnes is at his best playing as the small ball Power Forward from the mid range, and will need to increase his rebounds to around 7.0 RPG to justify extended minutes at the 4 spot.
- Ball Movement
Barnes is not a point forward and never will be, but the Mavericks are not asking him to be. His mid-range and isolation games are very strong, and his post work is solid. Even still, 1.5 assists per game is probably a little low when you have shooters such as Seth Curry and Dirk Nowitzki sharing the floor. If he makes a conscious effort to recognize tough situations, and passes out of them as opposed to taking difficult, contested shots, it is reasonable to believe he can average 2.5 or close to 3.0 APG.
As previously stated, Barnes is probably best suited to record the majority of his minutes at the 4 spot moving forward. That means significant time banging around with bigger stronger players at the block. While his performance in the post was respectable this past season, increasing his lower body strength will greatly benefit him moving forward in regard to both statistics and durability.
From the outside looking in, it never felt as if Barnes was afraid to be the leader of this team. Clearly the Mavericks are Nowitzki’s team until he retires, but Barnes filled in nicely during his absence to begin the season. Despite the midseason addition of Nerlens Noel and the upcoming ninth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Mavs will be Barnes’ team for the foreseeable future. Using Nowitzki’s tutelage in learning how to lead a team will greatly benefit the success of the franchise moving forward.
These are the areas that Barnes has the most room to grow, and doing so would truly solidify his role as Franchise Centerpiece. However, even if the 2016-17 season was his ceiling, he has vindicated himself as a max contract caliber player.
Written by: Tyler Junell