Our look at the Portland Trail Blazers' 2012 NBA Draft prospects marches on! We began last week with Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bradley Beal. Andre Drummond came yesterday. Now we move to a guy who's likely to be available at #6 even though a couple of years ago he threatened the top position: North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes.
At 6'8", 228 lbs with decent wingspan, good strength, vertical speed, and jumping ability, Harrison Barnes is just about everything you'd want out of your prototypical NBA small forward. He's a utility knife type player with a host of skills at his disposal. He can defend. He can rebound. He's smart. He works hard. But that's not why you get him.
You draft Harrison Barnes because the big, shiny, sharp blade in that knife sleeve is his scoring ability. This draft class is praised for being well-rounded and intelligent. You're going to get your fair share of quality NBA starters from this pool. But if you want that old-fashioned guy who knows his job is to put the ball through the hoop and has the talent to back it up, that's Barnes.
This guy's shot is sweet and pure. He rises straight, releases high. He's not just a catch-and-shoot guy either. In fact that may be the weak point in his shooting game. He's mister two dribbles, back you off with the drive threat, then swish it over your head. He's the Magician of Mid-Range. You're used to seeing Trail Blazers wings getting lost as soon as they put the ball on the floor. That's how Barnes' offense gets found. He's not only comfortable shooting on the move, he's masterful at it, hitting J's or drawing fouls with ease. The ability to get to the line should pad his scoring stats nicely.
The downside here is that he has to be the Magician of Mid-Range because he doesn't possess the explosive athleticism needed to get by his man and get to the rim, even at the college level. His shot is sudden and therefore hard to defend but he doesn't change directions well off the dribble, nor does he commit to getting to the cup. For two dribbles you're his puppet. If you're still on him after the third, you own him. NBA defenders tend to figure out those things quickly. Barnes will still score plenty on guys running through the motions, but if you're looking for consistent, high volume scoring, a #1 option, or a game-winning shot against a great defender, you probably need to look elsewhere.
Complicating matters: Barnes is neither a passer nor a true catch-and-shoot guy. You can't use him as your main strong-side attacker because his ability to self-create is limited. But you can't use him as your weak-side outlet because he's going to catch the ball and start dribbling it, allowing the defense to recover. In neither case will he be adept at passing the ball to shift the defense. Until he develops an instant release off the catch or finds some passing vision you're going to see a lot of, "Ball goes to Barnes...and he's dribbling it around again, well-defended."
Despite those weaknesses, Barnes should flourish with a team willing to set up his shots and have a little patience as he develops his game. He'll always be a good utility player and he has the potential to be a top-tier small forward.
The question for the Blazers is whether they need another small forward out of their highest lottery pick in years. If they were to decide against signing Nicolas Batum, Barnes would make a lot of sense. They could certainly use the shooting and offensive ability. But with Batum in the fold, where does Barnes play? That said, if he's the best player left when they select, they need to think hard about drafting him anyway. He may be worth shifting their lineup for, perhaps experimenting with Batum more as a shooting guard. Either Barnes or Batum would make a tantalizing trade piece in a couple of years. Plus, you only have to see that pull-up jumper once to fall in love with it. Chances are good Barnes will fill a couple gaps in his offensive game and become a superb asset, hanging around Luol Deng or Caron Butler territory...not your first option but a legitimate piece of the puzzle. If they see him reaching that level, how could the Blazers pass him up?
Weigh in with your own thoughts below. Would you be happy or disappointed to see Barnes available at #6? Would you call his name for Portland?