After a rather non-descript regular season as a rookie, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes enjoyed a breakout performance in the 2013 postseason as the Warriors made a surprise run to the second round before bowing out against the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
Barnes averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 12 playoff games, and it only seemed natural for the youngster to take the next step in his progression as a player in 2013-14. Some saw Barnes, the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft out of North Carolina, as a star in the making.
Unfortunately, things haven't exactly gone as planned.
The acquisition of Andre Iguodala in the offseason did complicate matters a bit, because Iguodala took the spot in the Warriors' starting lineup that appeared earmarked for Barnes. But even with Iguodala in the fold, Barnes was in position to have a major impact as a sixth man.
Things got off to an ominous start when Barnes missed the first four games of the season with a toe injury. However, Barnes impressed in his season debut, scoring 14 points in 14 minutes in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. And over the first month of the year, Barnes did play relatively well in a larger role due to injuries to Iguodala and Stephen Curry. Barnes averaged 13.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting overall and 52.0 percent from three in November.
Since that solid start, the season has gone downhill for Barnes. Sure, there are flashes here and there of the 21-year-old's immense talent, but the results simply haven't been there on the whole. Worst of all, his performances are hitting a new low as Golden State hits the stretch run.
The month of March has been an unmitigated disaster. In 11 games, Barnes is averaging 6.5 points in 26.8 minutes per game, shooting a miserable 30.8 percent overall and 21.9 percent from long range. The last five games have been especially wretched, with those shooting numbers dipping to 20.6 percent overall and 6.3 percent from deep. That includes an 0-of-7 goose egg in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks in a tighter-than-expected win on Thursday.
Barnes' woes are especially troublesome with Iguodala dealing with a knee injury. While Iguodala is only expected to miss one more game with tendinitis in his right knee, there's always the chance the injury lingers. And if that happens for some reason, the Warriors will need Barnes to play better.
Golden State has won the last two games without Iguodala, but the results in general without him haven't been pretty. Although Barnes himself enjoyed some individual success when Iguodala missed 12 games earlier in the year with a hamstring injury, the Warriors went just 5-7 as their usually dominant starting lineup took a major hit with Barnes a part of it instead of Iguodala.
During Iguodala's 12-game absence, the lineup of Barnes, Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut played 225 minutes together and had a net rating of -9.6, per NBA.com's stats page. On the season, that lineup has a net rating of -5.9, compared to a whopping 15.2 net rating for the normal starting lineup that features Iguodala, per NBA.com's stats page.
Trying to explain why Barnes has regressed is somewhat of a mystery, but his shooting splits offer some explanation. Compared to last season, Barnes is taking significantly fewer shots in the restricted area:
Not only is Barnes taking a lower percentage of his shots at the rim this season, but he's also making them at a much lower rate. Barnes made 62.9 percent of his shots in the restricted area last season, compared to just 53.3 percent this season, according to NBA.com's stats page. The second-year man has also seen his free-throw rate dip from last year, and his corner three-point shooting has taken a major fall, although his overall three-point shooting has in fact seen a very slight uptick.
Barnes' struggles haven't been limited to the offensive side of the floor. While Barnes has done well defending in isolation this season, his 0.92 points per play allowed overall ranks 300th in the NBA, per Synergy Sports. He has really struggled defending the ball handler on pick-and-rolls, giving up 0.91 points per play in those situations. Compare those numbers to Iguodala, who has allowed 0.82 points per play overall and 0.67 points per play against the pick-and-roll ball handler.
It of course must be noted that the Warriors are 44-26 and threatening the Portland Trail Blazers for the fifth spot in the Western Conference. And when Iguodala has been healthy, Golden State has had a ton of success, albeit in a small sample size, with a small-ball lineup featuring Iguodala, Barnes, Curry, Thompson and Lee. So having Barnes does give head coach Mark Jackson some flexibility with lineups depending on matchups.
But if Iguodala's injury continues to nag him, the Warriors are in big trouble unless Barnes gets out of his funk. Even if Iguodala returns at full strength, Golden State needs Barnes to play much better if they're serious about making a deep playoff run.