No player has seen his draft buzz change more this season than Harrison Barnes. When the season began, Barnes was a consensus No. 1 overall pick that was expected to dominate college basketball like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and John Wall before him. When the season reached its midway point, Barnes was struggling mightily, and a lot of people forgot about him. Now, fresh off a strong performance in the 2011 ACC Tournament, Barnes' stock is rising again as we enter the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The difference between Barnes and those three players mentioned earlier is that Barnes needed some help to get the most out of his skills. Whereas one could plop Durant, Rose and Wall onto any team and they would immediately become the alpha dog, Barnes needed someone to help facilitate his development.
That facilitator came in the form of freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, who has taken over the playmaking role and allowed Barnes to focus on scoring. As Jonathan Givony of Draft Express has noted, Barnes' scoring numbers and shooting percentages in pretty much all situations have gone up since Marshall was inserted into the starting lineup on January 18. In general, Barnes' scoring average has gone from 13.3 points in January to 17 in February to 22 thus far in March.
There's both an upside and a downside to this development. Let's get the downside out of the way first. Barnes' biggest issue as a pro prospect is his inability to create a good shot for himself off the dribble. On the season, he is shooting just 4.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, which is a troubling development because getting to the basket and getting easy points at the rim isn't going to come any easier in the pros. This forces Barnes to rely on his outside shot to score, and that has a tendency of coming and going. In this way, teams can take his scoring away much more easily than they could with some of the other top prospects in the draft.
The flip side, though, is that NBA teams shouldn't worry about Barnes fitting in. Barnes isn't the kind of guy who will force things, and while he isn't scoring, he still does a lot to help his team. He's an excellent rebounder for his position, averaging 7.1 per 40 minutes, he defends his position well and and he's also very good at cutting to open space to get free. The latter skill is something that has been on display after Marshall took over the starting job. In this way, Barnes is a complete player that should be able to adapt to a role pretty quickly.
Going forward, Barnes will have some interesting potential matchups in the NCAA Tournament, as he could face Washington, Syracuse and Ohio State in succession if the seeding holds up. He will need to prove that he can become a better creator off the dribble against good defenses. If he can, it will help his stock tremendously. If not? Teams will justifiably be hesitant to commit a high lottery pick to a player who can disappear so easily.
WHO: Harrison Barnes, guard/forward, North Carolina. 6'8, 210 pounds. Perimeter scorer.
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Timberwolves, Wizards, Jazz and Cavaliers
NBA COMPARISON: O.J. Mayo's game with Rudy Gay's college mindset.
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