Harrison Barnes: Rookie Of The Postseason
Stars are created in the playoffs and if the past 10 games are any indication, Golden State Warriors rookie forward Harrison Barnes will be a star in the NBA. So far, the 20-year-old has led his team in scoring twice in the postseason while reaching new career-bests of 24 points in Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets and 26 points in Game 4 of the second round versus the San Antonio Spurs. Barnes has found his game and matured faster than anyone could reasonably hope for based on his performance during the regular season.
“The guy has grown up before our very eyes,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “He had an off the charts regular season, which put us in position to be the sixth seed. He has elevated his game in the postseason. It’s great to watch. I thought he took big shots. He’s a guy that’s not afraid of the moment, obviously a guy that embraces the bright lights.”
Jackson may have been caught-up in the moment of the Game 4 victory over the Spurs in his assessment of Barnes’ regular season as the young forward received just one second place vote for Rookie of the Year. Barnes averaged solid, albeit unspectacular, production during the regular season of 9.2 points on 43.9 percent shooting and 4.1 rebounds in 25.4 minutes. Even though he started 81 games, his minutes and production barely fluctuated month-to-month. Barnes did have four double-doubles, although just one double-double after November, and he reached his regular season career-high in points of 21 twice. In all, he only scored 19 or more points five times in 81 tries and scarcely resembled the impact player he has been in the postseason.
It has been an impressive 10-game run through the first and second round of the playoffs for the rookie. Barnes has scored 19 or more points in half of his games and is averaging 15.9 points on 43.3 percent shooting and grabbing 6.6 rebounds in 39.1 minutes. In keeping with the Warriors’ need to stretch the floor, Barnes is hoisting 2.6 times more three-point attempts than in the regular season for 4.7 per game and has maintained his 36 percent regular season accuracy from long distance. Barnes collected his first two playoff double-doubles against the Spurs and his 26-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 4 was the first time for a Warriors rookie in a playoff game since Billy Owens (25 points, 11 rebounds) in 1992 at Seattle.
“I honestly think this guy to my left [Barnes] is wise beyond his years,” Jarrett Jack said after Game 4 against the Spurs. “He carried us for much of the game. He did a tremendous job of leading the way, being aggressive, attacking the basket. We kind of followed his lead. At this point in the season, nobody is a rookie any longer. We’ve put him in so many situations. He’s done a good job of hitting the learning curve very fast. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
A natural small forward, Barnes has been asked to do more in the playoffs because of the injury to All-Star big man David Lee. While Barnes has been able to stay at the three spot most of the time, Jackson has asked him to slide over to power forward in small lineups and the rookie has stepped up big.
“I remember for Game 2 in Denver, coach came to me and said, ‘I’m going to start you at the four. I don’t expect you to go out there and be an All-Star and give us 20 and 10, but be productive. I believe in you, just play as hard as you can.’ Ever since I heard that, I’ve been trying to go out there and just contribute,” Barnes said. “I know I’m going to make some mistakes. I do the best I can when I’m playing the four, just trying to get the team wins.”
Barnes set a new career-high of 24 points and grabbed six rebounds in his start at power forward against Denver in Game 2 and while his efforts were overshadowed by the 30 points from Stephen Curry in the 131-117 victory, that game and first round series could easily have turned out differently if Barnes had played like a rookie.
Barnes has been the best rookie in the postseason. First among rookies in minutes played and scoring by a wide margin and second in rebounding, Barnes has been an impact player. If there was a Rookie of the Year award for the playoffs, it would go to Barnes in a landslide.