Ones Who Got Away: Matt Barnes/Jamario Moon Edition

August 5th, 2009 by John Krolik

It’s likely that this blog has, since its inception, grown to the point where it has literally multiple readers on a daily basis. However, only one of those readers has consistently commented on multiple articles, making one simple demand without regard for the context. And if the internet isn’t for empowering vocal minorities, then what is it there for?

So to show my appreciation and the fact that it is literally impossible for me to be a bigger pushover, I present you, on this most glorious of slow news days, a detailed comparison of Jemario Moon and Matt Barnes, the hybrid foward the Cavs ended up getting and the one who ended up on the team that knocked the Cavs out of the playoffs.

In a lot of ways, Moon and Barnes are more similar than they are different. Both are 29-year old late bloomers, with Barnes spending the first 3 years of his career on a tour of the NBA’s benches and Moon going through community college, the D-league, and even the Harlem Globtrotters before getting picked up by the Raptors for the 2007-08 season.

The main difference between the two players is that Barnes is regarded as knowing his game better, while Moon is regarded as the more gifted athlete.

There’s statistical and anecdotal evidence to back this up: Barnes was named a co-captain after a year with the Warriors despite being a role player on the team, and was a versatile cog in the Warriors’ watershed upset of the Mavericks a year earlier. As a forward, Barnes averaged an impressive 5 assists per 48 minutes last year, while Moon only averaged 2.

Offensively, Barnes’ greatest weapon is his versatility. All things being equal, he’d love to set his feet and launch open threes, which he can do fairly well for a power forward, shooting 35% last season from beyond the arc. (Like a lot of forwards, Barnes developed a three-point shot late in his career as a Darwinian mechanism, and you can tell from his unorthodox stroke; he flies forward as he shoots, and there’s a sort of hitch in his release, but he gets the shot off quickly and puts good rotation on the ball.)

But Barnes also has some guard skils and is gritty when he decides to go to the basket, with a tight handle, surprising finishing ability (63% on inside shots), the ability to pass, and a desire to finish drives that he starts.

Also, Barnes has played a lot of four for both Golden State and Phoenix, and a backup four with the capability to make outside shots is something Cavs fans have openly coveted since the addition of Shaq.

However, you have to remember that Barnes still isn’t really a four; he defended the position horribly even for Phoenix, and remember that saying someone’s a four because Don Nelson and Alan Gentry played them there is like saying a relationship is normal because it was in a Woody Allen movie. (Or Woody Allen’s life.) There’s absolutely no guarantee he would have been able to hold his own playing the 4 in Cleveland’s defense-centric system. Still, Barnes is versatile, smart, gritty, and a homeless man’s Rashard Lewis offensively, and he’ll make a great addition for the Magic.

With Moon, everyone knows about the athleticism, and it’s pretty freaky stuff. His propensity for dunking everything when he gets around the basket gave him a league-leading 75% eFG on “inside” shots last year, ┬áhe’s a monster in the open court, and he loves to finish alley-oops as much as any player in the league. However, he’s not known as a guy who gets the most out of his abilities on the offensive end. As mentioned, he almost never passes the ball, his ball-handling skills are nearly nonexistent, and he hates contact around the basket, with a horribly low foul rate of 3% with the Heat last year.

Also, analysis of Moon’s offensive game from the Raptors and Heat fans I talked to seemed to range from “I wish he’d settle for less jumpers” to “Every time Jemario would shoot one of those goddamned outside shots with 15 seconds on the shot clock, a little piece of me would die as I lay there, screaming out silently for any proof of a benevolent God, only to be left alone; so cold and alone. Now I look at my children and just see strangers.”

As much flak as Moon catches for his overreliance on being a catch-and-shoot player, he’s actually pretty much exactly as good at it as Barnes is; Moon had a 46.5% eFG on jumpers last year, with 79% of them assisted, while Barnes had a 46.9% eFG, with 77% of them being assisted. And Moon was actually the better three-point shooter, shooting 35.5% on threes to Barnes’ mark of 34.3%. A lot of the difference in the two players’ shooting ability probably has to do with perception. When a guy with role-player athleticism and a solid package of skills like Barnes launches, it feels like what he’s supposed to be doing, but when a freak like Moon pulls up everyone in the arena can feel the possibility of a dunk dying.

Defensively, Moon has better “tools” than Barnes in terms of length, athleticism, and “instincts” (blocks and steals), but has never been assigned to defend the position. One feels he could defend the new, more versatile model of power forward quite well, but is absolutely unproven at doing so. Meanwhile, Barnes has indeed guarded fours, but has done so in a manner that suggests he’s barely adequate at doing so. So who you’d want defensively is, at some level, a matter of opinion, like whether you think an elite middleweight will beat a merely very good light heavyweight at UFC 101. (MMA mentions on consecutive days!) Personally, I like the potential of Moon defensively, but there’s certainly an argument to be made that you know Barnes won’t kill you on that end.

Overall, the feeling I have is that there’s no specific skill, even shooting, that Barnes has a clear advantage in over Moon, but Barnes is much better at knowing how and when to utilize his skills to be an effective role player, while Jamario is much more prone to taking himself out of the game. The onus will ultimately be on the players on the court with Moon and the coaching staff to try and tailor the game towards his strengths and keep him from having to figure it out for himself. Moon may have been more available than Barnes, and might even have more upside over the long haul, but the downside is there’s a feeling that our new backup swingman does not come pre-made.