He won't say the Black Falcon is back. Harrison Barnes isn't going that far. But he did acknowledge he's starting to feel comfortable in his new role as the Warriors' sixth man.
"I'm not going to front," Barnes said just before the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday in New Orleans. "It's been a challenge."
Smart move to temper the expectations. But lately it seems Barnes might be finding a groove. He heads into the All-Star break looking a tad more like the game-changer off the bench coach Mark Jackson hoped Barnes would be when he was supplanted in the starting lineup by Andre Iguodala. Barnes has four straight games with at least 10 points. That's not exactly dominating but certainly encouraging considering he scored in double digits in just two of his previous 13 games.
Fans desperately hope it's a sign the Barnes from the playoffs is ready to resurface.
Maybe his stint in All-Star weekend will help. Perhaps the camaraderie of being with his fellow up-and-comers in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge, where he scored 16 points, jolts his progressing confidence. Maybe participating in Saturday's dunk contest will encourage him to soar more when the season resumes.
That would go a long way toward helping the Warriors find some security in the treacherous Western Conference. Any second-half run the Warriors envision can't happen without productivity from the second-year forward out of North Carolina.
No doubt, the Warriors need Iguodala to end his bouts with passivity. But Barnes holds the key to the Warriors' fate. Production from Barnes could propel the Warriors onto a second-half surge to 50 wins or more. Scarce production from Barnes could find the Warriors in a fight for the eight seed.
He is the Warriors' counterpunch. He's the ace in the hole when the starters need a jolt. He's the plan B when the defense throws in a wrinkle.
"When you're coming off the bench, you're expected to come in and produce," Barnes said. "No matter the situation or what the defense is doing, you've got to bring something. Obviously, people will load up on our starters, so I'm needed to come in and score as well as defend and rebound."
In hindsight, it makes sense Barnes would take some time to find his groove. Coming off the bench takes a certain mentality. The North Carolina product doesn't have it innately.
But Barnes is a cerebral guy, and he approaches basketball the same way. He's calculated in his attack. He finds his spots. He stays in his lane. He's cognizant of his struggles and weaknesses. And when things don't go well, his confidence suffers.
It's taking him some work to put mistakes behind him, to impose his will on the game. He's not the relentless, unconscious gunner Klay Thompson has proved to be. He doesn't have the always-on motor of Draymond Green.
On top of that, defenses have a plan for Barnes after watching him exploit holes in schemes during the playoffs. The help is waiting in the paint, preventing him from victimizing another the way he did Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic on a dunk last season.
That's why even though he's averaging five more minutes than last year, when he started every game he played, Barnes is averaging only one more point (10.4). After shooting 57.8 percent in the paint last season, he's down to 49.7. His rebounds are down, and his defense has regressed.
But lately, Barnes has had a pep in his step. He's attacking the rim. He's knocking down clutch 3s. The serious stare occasionally morphs into a growl.
It could be a sign of things to come. Or it could be the latest blip from the Warriors' biggest tease. Since All-Star breaks are about hope, let's go with the former.
Warrior says he's getting used to sixth-man role.