When Harrison Barnes left the Golden State Warriors in free agency last summer, it was fair to question what exactly the Dallas Mavericks were signing on for.
Would they truly be getting a 3-point marksman, someone whose shooting from deep hovered around 40 percent in the Bay Area, or just another beneficiary of the Warriors’ offensive firepower? Were they actually picking up a building block for the future, or would Barnes be exposed as just another run-of-the-mill player away from his All-Star teammates?
And Barnes, 25, heard all those questions.
“I enjoyed the challenge of, ‘Nobody thinks I can do this outside of Golden State. What can I do now?’” Barnes said. “To be able to leave from that and make your own path, it was something I embraced ... I used it as motivation.”
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But now in his second full season in Dallas, Barnes has proven his performance with Golden State was no mirage – and he proved that again Wednesday in a 115-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
The 6-foot-8, 210-pound small forward from North Carolina led his team in scoring (although that honor almost went to the seasoned veteran Dirk Nowitzki and his 19 points), but it wasn’t a matter of the former Tar Heel forcing himself on the game.
Instead, his mere presence on the court drew defenders and opened up space for Nowitzki and rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. to operate. Then whenever his teammates most needed him, like when the game was tied at 94 midway through the fourth quarter, he showed up with consistency.
Actually, that fourth quarter showing proves Barnes’ worth almost perfectly. With the game locked, desperately needing to score to keep pace with the Hornets (read: Kemba Walker, who finished with 41), Barnes was the one the Mavericks consistently fed the ball to. And then once they did, he rewarded their confidence, connecting on four straight shots to keep Dallas in front.
Then again with less than two minutes left and needing a score to put the game out of reach, who to turn to? Barnes, naturally, and naturally he finished again, even with Hornets forward Marvin Williams draped all over him.
“He closed the game. I mean he was absolutely brilliant,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He hit on a variety of shots – 2’s, 3’s, drives. Look that’s what great players do.”
The by-product of the funnel to Barnes? His final statline: 25 points, 1 rebounds, and the victory.
Now, it’s true that Barnes’ team hasn’t emulated the success of his former employer, but that’s no fault of his. He’s led the Mavericks in scoring in each of the last two seasons (18.6 points per game this campaign), and he’s done it rather efficiently, shooting 45 percent from the floor.
“Look, he’s had a year and a half of this now,” Carlisle said. “Last year was a good initiation for him, on a team that had struggles, had injuries, had a tough schedule early – he was really thrown to the fire early and learned a lot about what it was all about.
“He’s the guy that’s gonna be that guy ... This shouldn’t surprise anybody.”
There is a reason, after all, why Hornets acting head coach Stephen Silas was so worried about Barnes the past few days, and a reason why he ultimately had to pull Frank Kaminsky off the Barnes assignment on defense – in fact, Silas probably wishes he would have switched Kaminsky off Barnes a possession or two earlier.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying this: yes, there were questions about Barnes’ ability to be the alpha male when he first signed in Dallas, and yes, there were questions about whether he could support a system rather than being a product of one.
But now, a year and a half into his tenure with the Mavericks, there is an answer to those questions, especially one the Hornets learned on Wednesday – Harrison Barnes is a legitimate NBA player, with an offensive game to be reckoned with.
As for those who still have doubts about him? Well, don’t.