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Will return to small forward with Kings bring out the best in Harrison Barnes?

Barnes is back in his old role.

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When the basketball world takes a look at this year’s Sacramento Kings, there are a few things they tend to hyperfixate on. The duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, Mike Brown’s defensive influence, if Keegan Murray was the right pick and how the new cast will play together. One thing that doesn’t get brought up as much as it should is how Harrison Barnes will play this season now that he’s back at small forward.

Many people around the league believed the Kings would ship HB off in a package for a really talented player. Especially since him and Murray share so many qualities. However, the Kings decided to go a different route and put a little trust into one of their key players. Going into his 11th season in the league, Barnes is poised to bounce back from some of the criticism he’s gotten in the last couple of years.

When the Kings traded for HB back in 2019 —in the middle of a game —he was on the tail end of the best three-year stretch of his career. After back-to-back NBA Finals appearances with the Golden State Warriors, he joined the Dallas Mavericks in 2016 and even though the fit wasn’t great, was one of their best players.

Over the course of two and a half seasons in Dallas, HB averaged 18.6 points, 5.1 rebounds while shooting 4.5 three pointers per game on 37 percent and 44 percent from the field on 15.6 attempts per game; the highest volume of his career.

Since coming to the Kings, he has still been one of the better players on the team. But his shooting volume has dropped, partially due to the fact he took on a new role. For the majority of his career, HB has played the three. But in Sacramento, he has often been tasked with playing at the four.

Yes, in the modern era, many wings play multiple positions have have similar assignments. However, the Kings have struggled with both rebounding and interior defense for quite some time now, and HB was put into a position to try and pick up some of the slack when he’s in at the four. But with the addition of Murray and some depth at the four spot, HB will be set up to thrive in the 2022-23 season.

What is the best-case scenario for Barnes?

The best-case scenario for HB is for him to have his most efficient and impactful season since he was traded to the Kings. He won’t need to average career highs and lead the team in points. He will simply be reliable in every aspect of the game and be the on-court leader for the starting five. This will be the most talented team HB has played for since leaving the Warriors. Similar to how Andre Iguodala impacted that team, HB will need to do so in Sacramento in this scenario.

What is the worst-case outcome?

The worst-case scenario would be for him regress, and make the Kings regret not trading him when they had the chance. There were a ton of rumors floating around that he could been involved in a deal that would land the Kings some really talented guys like Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle. But nothing ever happened, and the front office feels as though they have the roster they need to make a real push this season.

It’s no question whether or not he’s a good player. The question is just if he’s the right player to make the Kings better at this point in time. With free agency looming ahead for him in the Summer of 2023, this could be HB’s last chance to prove his value to the city.

What do you think is the most likely role for Barnes?

Earlier this week, head coach Mike Brown made it clear that HB will indeed be the starting small forward to start the year. At small forward, HB will no longer have to guard larger players on a regular basis and should be more impactful on that side of the ball. In turn, he will also not be relied on as heavily on the boards, meaning he can transition to offense faster.

If he can consistently get out in transition quicker and more frequently, his volume may go up on offense. It will never be how it was in Dallas, since he will at best be the King’s third scoring option, but an additional two or three looks per game could be very beneficial for a Sacramento team that struggled greatly from deep last season.

Barnes will be a key three-and-D guy for the Kings this season, but he is also the the most experienced player on the team. Unlike the other old guys on the roster, Barnes will still be playing 30ish minutes per game. His time in the league will allow him to stay calm and make key plays at crucial points in some of the Kings’ close games.