On its surface, this may seem like an odd question to ask. After all, Harrison Barnes didn’t have a bad year last year. Barnes finished last season averaging 16.4 points per game, an improvement over 16.1 the year before when we lauded Barnes for having one of the best seasons of his career. Barnes also upped his 3 point percentage from 39.1% to 39.4%. So why am asking if Barnes can bounce back? Because those numbers belie the way Barnes really looked last season.
We can see it in other numbers, like the way Barnes went from 6.6 rebounds per game to 5.6, and his assists went from 3.5 per game to 2.4. But more than anything, it just seemed like Barnes wasn’t having the same impact. He looked, to be perfectly blunt, a bit checked out.
Now if Barnes was checked out, I wouldn’t blame him at all. Playing out the string on yet another lost season for the Kings, with no hope in sight, it’s hard to stay motivated in that type of situation. We can debate whether players should remain motivated, or point to players who bring it every night no matter what, but you could also argue that Barnes did just that. He looked checked out, but still was productive for the Kings. He never complained, and his performance never really slumped.
But it sure feels like he’s capable of more.
The hope is that a full season alongside Domantas Sabonis can revitalize Barnes, and optimize his strengths. Barnes has never been a dominant rebounder, Sabonis is. And Sabonis’ passing should reward cutters and corner spot-up shooters, two areas where Barnes excels.
The big question mark will still be the defense, as it always is with the Kings. Barnes will likely see more time at small forward than power forward this season. Barnes was never a lock-down defender against fours, but the added speed of guarding more traditional wings will pose a new challenge for Barnes. At 30 years old Barnes certainly isn’t past his prime, but he’s also not at an age where he’s gaining foot speed. How Barnes handles guarding guys more on the wings will be critical. Barnes has never been an elite defender, but he’s also been a solid team defender. Unfortunately, the Kings have often relied on him as one of the team’s best defenders, and the current roster doesn’t boast many defenders better than Barnes, outside of Davion Mitchell.
There’s also the ever-present question of Barnes’ future with the team. Entering the final year of his contract, Barnes could be an appealing trade target for contenders looking to bolster a playoff run without taking on long-term contracts. The last few years have seen a ton of trade rumors around Barnes, perhaps this is the year he’s actually traded. The Kings could also try to work out an extension for Barnes, or wait until next year’s free agency to sort out a new deal. The Kings will face a tricky dilemma at the deadline, especially if the Kings and Barnes are performing well early in the season. Do you trade a proven veteran and risk disrupting team chemistry and momentum, or do you risk losing Barnes for nothing in the summer just for the chance at ending the playoff drought?
The nice thing about Barnes is that you can count on him to be consistent. We may hope for him to be more than what he is, but entering this season I have full confidence that Barnes will be a good player. The challenge with trading Barnes has always been that he’s a really good player, even if he’s not a great player. It’s hard to find a trade for Barnes that immediately improves the Kings. There’s value in that, for however much longer Barnes remains with this team.