LeBron James became one of just five players in history to score 40 points in back-to-back NBA Finals games during a Game 6 win, keeping Cleveland’s season alive. On the opposite side of things, Harrison Barnes continued to struggle mightily. In Games 5 and 6, the Warriors’ starting small forward combined to shoot 2-of-22 from the field (9.1%).
Eight players from Golden State’s 73-win roster are set to come off the books this summer — none more noteworthy than Barnes. The 24-year-old swingman and member of the “Death Lineup” has frequently been pegged as a free agent who will garner a max contract, but is he worth that kind of money? His youth, postseason experience and contributions to the best team in NBA history all work in his favor, but the statistics should give teams pause. Using PointAfter visualizations from Graphiq, we’ll break down why Barnes is not worth that kind of investment.
Barnes has completely disappeared from the NBA Finals of late. Ben Golliver pointed out his 0-of-8 shooting performance in Game 6 — something the former Tar Heel managed to do last year as well.
His outstanding play in the 2013 playoffs — when, as a rookie, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 12 games — gave rise to a mythical narrative for Barnes as a guy who steps up in the postseason. However, Barnes hasn’t matched that output in the playoff atmosphere since. His scoring prowess in this year’s postseason compared to the regular season is down across the board.
He’s scoring fewer points at a less efficient clip (from beyond the arc and inside it), which is certainly not what Golden State needed in the absence of Draymond Green (Game 5 suspension) and now Andrew Bogut (leg injury).
If “Playoff Barnes” was nothing more than an anomaly, it’s impossible to justify a max deal for him this offseason.
Last summer, free agents boasting the coveted “three-and-D” skillset were hot commodities. That might actually be an understatement, as $231 million in salary was committed to just five players of that archetype: Khris Middleton, Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll, Iman Shumpert and Wesley Matthews.
It’s worth noting, however, that only one of those talents received a max deal: Matthews. His contract jumped to the max after DeAndre Jordan reneged on his agreement to join the Dallas Mavericks.
Of course, that contract was difficult to defend almost immediately. Not only was Matthews coming off a torn Achilles — a devastating injury for any athlete — but the shooting guard shot just 30.3% from beyond the arc in November. He recovered in December, but once again fell to 30.4% in January — inconsistency that plagued him throughout the year.
Barnes doesn’t have any such injury background to be wary of, but he’s also not close to the same defensive talent as the quintet of wings signed a year ago. In fact, Warriors opponents were superior offensively when Barnes was on the court.
They shot a higher percentage from the field, grabbed a greater percentage of available rebounds, dished out more assists and scored more points per 100 possessions when Barnes was out there, which doesn’t say anything kind of Barnes’ defensive résumé.
Furthermore, Barnes’ defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of -0.6 ranked 11th on the Warriors.
Barnes did drain a highly respectable 38.3% of his three-pointers this season, but the lack of defensive chops may not even put him in the same category as guys like Carroll and Green. Does that make him deserving of a max deal?
Without performing consistently on both offense and the less glamorous end of the court, the answer is obviously no.
During the regular season, Barnes posted a 12.32 player efficiency rating. That ranked 236th out of 350 qualified players. His mark was worse than Cameron Payne, Lance Stephenson and Spencer Hawes, among others — not exactly hinting he’s worth top dollar on the open market.
Not surprisingly, Barnes’ PER was less than impressive compared to his Warrior teammates.
Barnes was no doubt overshadowed by a plethora of marquee talents in the Bay Area, but his numbers don’t exactly instill confidence that he can be “the guy” elsewhere with added opportunity.
And yet, with 2016 set to be a shallow free-agent pool in terms of talent, it would not be the least bit shocking to see an organization somewhere around the NBA landscape offer him a max contract.
Barnes won’t turn 25 until next May, so there’s still a completely reasonable chance a breakout is on the horizon. But until that happens, paying max money to a vastly unproven commodity will come back to haunt upstart franchises looking for long-term building blocks toward contention.