OAKLAND -- The Warriors season is past its midpoint, and Harrison Barnes' star, so bright in the playoffs, hasn't shined nearly as brightly as it did last spring.
The expectations for him were exaggerated. Seduced by memorable dunks and a potent 12-game stretch in the playoffs, people saw a star. The reality: Barnes is a talented-but-flawed, second-year player who needs developing.
Barnes' breakout last spring was the result of a season-long process. And that process started all over again with all the changes to Golden State's roster this offseason. The addition of Andre Iguodala forced Barnes to the second unit. And even that bunch is an odd collection that doesn't really give Barnes the support he needs. That's why he's averaging 7.9 points on 38.1 percent shooting as a reserve.
His struggles to this point were more probable than that beast from the playoffs resurfacing.
Putting Barnes in the starting lineup to get him back on track isn't going to happen. (Coach Mark Jackson says injury is the only reason he'd change his starting five.) Trading Barnes for bench help isn't going to happen, and it shouldn't. Playing him at power forward isn't going to happen, not as a steady diet, not as long as David Lee is around.
The solution for Barnes is a long-term one, which means patience is in order. The first step is accepting that Barnes' performance in the playoffs was not a breakthrough to stardom but a confluence of extraordinary circumstances that played to his advantage.
There is no denying that he played extremely well: 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 38.4 minutes. But that was a break from the inconsistency that plagued his regular season. He struggled to find his role. His aggressiveness wavered along with his confidence. Those things didn't just disappear.
Lee got hurt. Once Lee tore his hip flexor in the opening game of the playoffs, Barnes had unlimited minutes and all number of touches. The pressure of trying find his shots among the plethora of scorers, the worry over getting yanked if not effective, all were gone by Game 2 in the first round.
On top of that, the Warriors were forced to play with a small lineup: three guards with Barnes as the power forward. If defenses kept a traditional power forward in, Barnes had a quickness advantage. It also kept the floor spread wide, giving him room to work.
What's more, Stephen Curry's shooting streaks resulted in teams putting a bigger player on him, leaving a smaller player to guard Barnes. Defended by point guards such as Ty Lawson and Tony Parker, the 6-foot-8 Barnes feasted.
That all ended with the postseason. Maybe some of those circumstances return in the postseason.
This only highlights the primary truth about Barnes: He's a 'tweener. He can dominate situationally, but he can also be negated. And until he grows as a player, that will remain true.
NBA small forwards, on good teams, are usually either offensive creators (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George) or defensive stoppers who can spot up (Luol Deng, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum). Barnes doesn't fit into either category decisively.
His skill set dips into both, which makes him such a promising talent. But he can't handle the ball well enough yet to consistently create his own shot, which is why he struggles to be productive without a clear advantage in size or quickness. Nor is he a defensive stopper, though he's good at chasing around smaller guards.
The goal should be to get him to a level of consistency while he develops his skills. That's what Jackson had to coax out of him last year, setting up Barnes' playoff outburst. That same process is underway once again.
That's why even though his rebounds are down despite an increase in minutes, Barnes won't see a dip in playing time. Even though he's down to 41.6 percent shooting, he will continue to be fed offensive opportunities. Even though some other teams are calling about Barnes, the Warriors would need to hear an offer they can't refuse to part with the former North Carolina star whom they drafted seventh overall in 2012.
The Warriors could really help Barnes by highlighting his strength as a finisher. Getting him up the floor in transition works to his benefit. Running some plays to get him some alley-oops, or get him where he can just catch and go up, offsets his ballhandling struggles.
But if you are waiting for him to turn into Carmelo Anthony, you should stop. Now.
Washington (21-22) at Warriors (27-18), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA
David Lee would "really like to make" second straight All-Star team. PAGE 3
BREAKING DOWN HARRISON BARNES
G Min. FG% FT% Reb. Ast. Pts.
2013 playoffs 12 38.4 .444 .857 6.4 1.3 16.1
2013-14 as a starter 15 38.7 .453 .723 4.7 2.2 14.3
2013-14 as a reserve 26 24.2 .381 .717 3.5 1.0 7.9