Player: Harrison Barnes
Relevant stats: Barnes played and started in all 64 of Sacramento’s games this season. He averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 34.9 minutes per game. Barnes shot 49.8% on 2-pointers, 38.3% on 3-pointers, and 80.3% on free throws.
Contract status: The Kings re-signed Barnes in the summer of 2019 to a 4-year, $85 million deal that descends. It will pay him $22.2 million in 2020-21, $20.3 million in 2021-22, and $18.4 million in 2022-23.
Recap: The hardest position to fill in the NBA is on the wing, and Sacramento made their move for their cornerstone wing of the future at the last trade deadline, acquiring Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks. They were able to re-sign him last offseason at a perfectly reasonable dollar amount, giving them team control over a player entering his prime at a position of scarcity for the next three seasons beyond this one. That was reason enough for the Sactown Royalty staff to give Barnes’ contract a B+ last summer.
The Kings need Barnes to be a secondary option on offense, someone who can hunt switches off of a De’Aaron Fox pick-and-roll, draw extra defenders on a post-up to spring Buddy Hield or Nemanja Bjelica, spot up himself, or attack a closeout. He doesn’t have to create for others or himself, but he needs to finish plays decisively.
When he is put in position to work off of a primary creator, Barnes looks very comfortable. He finished in the 76th percentile in spot-up efficiency, scoring 1.11 points per possession (PPP). Those plays accounted for 29% of Barnes’ offense, per NBA.com’s playtype data.
Barnes can also be opportunistic in the halfcourt. He reads the defense well, allowing him to get into the paint on cuts and for putbacks. Barnes ranked in the 94th percentile of the league in putback efficiency, well above most bigs. Cuts and putbacks only account for 9.1% of Barnes’ plays, however.
Other than spot ups, Barnes’ most frequent play type is post-ups, which make up 16% of his offensive possessions. Zach Lowe pointed out last year that Barnes had a bit of tunnel vision when he had his back to the basket, and that has mostly remained true this season. A matchup against the Thunder in February, when Barnes routinely found himself defended by a smaller player, was a sobering reminder of Barnes’ inability to think beyond scoring during post-ups. He is still efficient in these situations (0.97 PPP, 68th percentile), but there remains room for improvement.
Barnes was actually an above-average passer among forwards, as his assist percentage jumped from 6.7 last year to 9.9 this season. The amount of time he played without a true point guard, given Fox’s injury, likely factored into that, but it bodes well that Barnes can continue to expand his game, even incrementally, at this stage of his career.
Defensively, Barnes has never been as impactful as his physical tools might suggest. His block and steal rates are always among the lowest in the league, a trend that continued in 2019-20, and he doesn’t really make opponents feel his presence, though he is generally in the right position. He can toggle between both forward spots depending on the matchup, but he doesn’t rebound well for his size, which makes longer stretches at power forward potentially untenable. At this point, he is an average defender, and the Kings were 0.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
Future with the Kings: As alluded to before, finding a starting-caliber wing is among the trickiest exercises for an NBA front office. The fact that Barnes is one makes him indispensable for Sacramento. One problem for the Kings, however, is that Barnes may be aging into a power forward as his athleticism declines, which makes him less valuable and also harder to fit around Marvin Bagley.
The Kings just have to be realistic about what Barnes is. He doesn’t have the upside of a star, or probably even an All-Star, but he is a durable performer. In fact, his minutes load might be one of his most attractive qualities. There are rarely games when Barnes leaves you feeling awed by his performance, but he also doesn’t stand out for negative reasons. He is solidly consistent, and Sacramento needs someone like him around to temper the wild swings of their young core. Even he has to play at the four more consistently going forward, he can credibly defend that position and space the floor provided the Kings pair him with a strong rebounding center.
Sacramento was 4.3 points per 100 possessions better with Barnes on the court this year. The team still didn’t have a positive net rating with him overall, though it was positive when Barnes was at power forward, but he was still the best rotation player on a day-to-day basis. He enhanced some of his skills (spot-up shooting and post-ups) and didn’t exacerbate any weaknesses. He also grew a disgusting beard that demonstrated faith in his teammates.