Did Harrison Barnes fly at the combine or something?

June 16th, 2012 by Kevin Hetrick

The draft is in twelve days, so I’m posting something on a Saturday.  As the draft approaches, Cavs:the Blog should be pretty busy.  A podcast is planned for tomorrow and I’ll be shooting for a fairly steady stream of content over the next two weeks.  Today’s subject is a second look at Harrison Barnes.

Barnes launches from deep in the NCAA tournament

Many a mock draft links Cleveland to North Carolina’s Barnes.  Barnes recently re-grabbed everyone’s attention, enthralling scouts as this year’s “workout warrior” at the NBA draft combine.  His nearly forty-inch vertical, fifteen reps in the bench press, and leading sprint speed wowed all in attendance.

What does it mean though?  For an idea, I perused the draftexpress measurements database for the most similar players to Barnes for size and athleticism.

My original list of “workout warrior wings” included: Joe Alexander, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay, Jason Richardson, Josh Smith, Dahntay Jones, George Williams, Richard Jefferson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, David Noel, Tamar Slay, Chris Singleton, Thaddeus Young, Xavier Henry, Eddie Basden, Joey Graham and Luke Jackson.

Not a bad list, but after perusing their strengths & weaknesses and college production; I will focus on two players: Rudy Gay and Jason Richardson.  Both highly regarded in high school before leading their basketball power-house schools to deep, but failed NCAA tourney runs – Gay and Richardson entered the NBA draft following their sophomore years and were selected in the top-ten.

Gay entered Connecticut as a highly lauded recruit; praised for his size, length and explosiveness.  Like Barnes, he never completely lived up to the lofty expectations, mixing displays of dominance with periods of malaise.  Boiled down to catch-all stats, their performance in college looks similar; Barnes with offensive rating, usage and PER of 108, 26 & 21 – Gay at 108, 24 & 22.8.  Also like Barnes, he possessed great intangibles, but occasionally struggled creating efficient looks at the basket. Obviously players are like snowflakes though, with no two exactly alike.  Gay played more athletically and utilized his 7’ – 3” wingspan to accumulate 3.5 steals plus blocks per game.  Relatively poor as a shooter, he connected on only 32% from downtown.

Other than the “sophomore, athletic wing with good size, who took his team deep in NCAA tourney” thing; Richardson and Barnes feature relatively significant differences.  While both own 6’ – 11” wingspans, Richardson measures 2” shorter in height and 15 lbs lighter.  He was a lights-out three point shooter at Michigan State, converting 40% and tallying an offensive rating of 127 on 22 usage during his sophomore season.  Also, a nearly 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio combined with his one block and one steal per game, provided for reasonable box-score-filler.

So putting those diversions behind us, where does that leave Harrison Barnes?  His outstanding combine still leaves many questions unanswered; in some regards, it may increase them.  How can a long, 6’ – 8” tall player, the fastest man in the draft and with a 39” vertical, only block 13 shots in 38 NCAA games?  And why a minuscule 11% of available defensive rebounds?  His one assist per game as a perimeter-oriented offensive focal point remains troublesome, and after a blistering start to the season, from my January 5th profile until the end, he only nailed 31% of his threes.  In the pivotal possession of his final college season, down seven with two minutes to go in the Elite Eight, North Carolina took twenty-six seconds to shoot.  The possession, predominantly featuring Barnes, ended with back-up point guard Stilman White getting a lay-up blocked, and Kansas running the other direction for a dunk.  Game over as the Jayhawks waltz to an 80 – 67 victory.  Prior to that evening, White scored 25 points on the season; an elite player needs to make a play there, and Barnes could not.

Anyways, Barnes’s career amounts to more than one play.  In January, I compared Barnes to 2010 – 2011 Danny Granger; a 20 & 5 guy with slightly above league-average true shooting (55%)… a really nice player as a third offensive option.  Whether coincidental or not, Gay and Richardson offer almost identical NBA offensive production.  For his career, Richardson accumulated 18 & 5 on 53% true shooting, peaking with 23 & 6 on 54% in 2005 – 2006.  Over the last five seasons, Gay averaged 19 & 6 with 54%.

While comparing someone to other players does not constitute a complete player evaluation; using HB’s combine numbers to correlate to previous draftees helps to solidify my view from January.  My projection is of an almost-all-star, a top-40 NBA player, but ultimately, not an elite talent.  There are worse outcomes though than a twenty-per-game scorer with tolerable efficiency and proper size & speed to capably cover his defensive responsibilities.

While I prefer the “shorter-saner-in-his prime Ron Artest, Andre Iguodala, Gerald Wallace” spectrum of MKG to the “Rudy Gay, 2010-2011 Danny Granger, taller Jason Richardson” comparables of Barnes; whether the Cavs select either guy, the team receives a significant talent infusion.