Finishing sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting, Harrison Barnes is doing something that none of the five guys who finished above him are doing; making plays in the postseason.
In the wake of David Lee’s hip flexor injury and now Stephen Curry’s injured ankle, Barnes has stepped up to playing an increased offensive role for the Warriors at power forward or his usual small forward spot depending on what Mark Jackson needs from him. To see this type of versatility from any rookie is impressive, but to do it on the fly during the midst of the postseason shows just how talented this young player is and how bright his future is going to be.
During the regular season, Barnes was more of a casual role player, averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds per game while playing around 25 minutes per night. But since Lee went down, Barnes has stepped up to averaging 40 minutes per night and increased his scoring to 16 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Against San Antonio, Barnes is playing an incredibly crucial part for the team as they try to deal with the Spurs size up front and seventh most efficient offense in the league. Carl Landry has stepped in to better match up size wise than Barnes could against Tim Duncan, but the rookie is tasked with a difficult challenge of his own in facing off with Kawhi Leonard.
This matchup is as crucial as Tony Parker versus Stephen Curry or Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut. With the exception of a wild game one where the two pretty much cancelled each other out in terms of scoring, whichever has had the better offensive night has seen his team win the game in this series.
Both these players are extremely athletic and important to their team’s futures, but who would have imagined how important their role is in this series is questionable. From a scoring perspective, Barnes is the superior player, but Leonard holds the edge in defensive skill. If the Spurs want to avoid a repeat of their game four let down in which the Warriors overcame an eight point deficit in the final five minutes, they have to figure out how to maximize their advantages in this matchup.
Keeping Barnes under 20 points is crucial, but getting Leonard going as the team’s third scorer behind Duncan and Parker will pay off in that it will wear down Barnes on both ends of the floor. The rookie played 51 minutes in game four and close to 53 in game one. Add in his big performance game two and a stressful game three and even a rookie’s stamina can be pushed to its limits.
Down the stretch and in overtime, Barnes was big in game four. How well Leonard can contain him in game five and whether or not he can challenge Barnes to play defense on the other end may make or break the Spurs’ game five efforts. If Barnes goes off for another 26 points and 10 rebound type of performance again, the Spurs may find their latest championship run floundering, pinned to their ability to go back to Oakland and win what promises to be a tough game six no matter what happens on Tuesday night.