If there’s one thing that Coach Dave Joerger has been relatively consistent about in his short tenure as head coach of the Sacramento Kings, it has been keeping his rotation relatively short. Although the rotation has been wildly inconsistent as Joerger searches for answers at several key positions, he doesn’t like going too deep into his bench if he doesn’t need to. One player that he keeps coming back to however is veteran Matt Barnes, who is 5th on the team in minutes per game.
Barnes earned a lot of trust from Dave Joerger last season in Memphis, when the Grizzlies were face with devastating injuries and still managed to persevere and make the playoffs. On that team, Barnes was one of the few constants for Joerger, able to play 76 games and the most minutes of any of the 28 players that the Grizzlies rostered for the year. Yet the numbers don’t lie, and Joerger’s unlikely success with that Memphis squad might have clouded his judgement as to Barnes’ exact impact. The Grizzlies last year were actually a better team without Barnes on the floor, and that same scenario is repeating itself in Sacramento, except this time, Joerger is playing Barnes despite the fact that the Kings have been relatively injury-free.
Even without looking at advanced statistics or on-off splits, Barnes has not been good this year. Despite playing the 5th most minutes on the team, Barnes is shooting a career-worst 37.1% from the field and just 30.7% from three (and has the 2nd most 3PA on the team). Barnes is also trying to be more of a playmaker, and while his assist rate is at a career-high 15.5%, his turnover rate of 18.1% is almost as high as when he was a rookie. No other Sacramento King turns the ball over at a faster rate (Ty Lawson is next highest at 17.4% and he handles the ball a lot more).
But Akis, you might be saying, Barnes isn’t in there to provide offense or shooting. He’s in there to lock opponents down and provide toughness. Theoretically, you’re right (although I’m sure the Kings would love his three point shooting to be a lot more consistent given how many he shoots) but that hasn’t stopped the Kings from being a better defensive team when Barnes is off the court than when he’s on it. Per basketball-reference, opponents have an Offensive Rating of 111.4 with Barnes on the floor and just 106.9 when he’s off, and offensively the Kings go from a 108.7 Offensive Rating to 105.7, leaving Barnes with a net rating of -7.5.
Not all of this is Barnes or Joerger’s fault of course. To be fair, it’s not like the Kings have a whole ton of better options to choose from. Rudy Gay, who so many seem to think the team is better off without, has a team-high net rating of +10.3. Not having him in the lineup (like against Portland) really hurts Sacramento. Only Garrett Temple (7.2 points per 100 possessions better), Ty Lawson (3.9 points per 100 possessions better), and Kosta Koufos (104.9 points per 100 possessions better) have good defensive net ratings for the Kings. Guys that should be playing instead of Matt Barnes, like Willie Cauley-Stein, Anthony Tolliver or Arron Afflalo, have all been statistically awful on defense this year.
But Barnes has not earned the trust and minutes he’s been getting this year and shouldn’t be playing nearly as much as he is, especially when Omri Casspi provides a lot more on one end of the floor. Casspi’s younger, a better shooter and a better rebounder. Yet Casspi is 9th on the team in minutes and has only gotten to shoot 27 threes on the season, compared to Barnes 114 attempts. Casspi has shot over 40% from three point range for the last two seasons and shouldn’t be 9th on the team in attempts, especially when the team as a whole could use more spacing to open up things inside for DeMarcus Cousins. Garrett Temple should also see more consistent playing time, as he’s been playing very well on both ends of the floor and is also shooting above 40% from three point range. Even if Temple is coming off the bench as Joerger seems to prefer, he should still be playing the majority of the minutes at the Shooting Guard position, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him play some SF instead of Barnes if the situation calls for it.
In short, the Kings should be playing their best players more often, and Matt Barnes is not among them. Part of that’s on the Kings front office for not giving Coach Joerger a ton of options, but at some point the Coach has to realize there are better options for him to choose from.