Warriors' Barnes mired in epic slump

Warriors' Barnes mired in epic slump
January 25, 2014, 4:00 pm
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Harrison Barnes missed a would-be game-winning shot at the buzzer on Friday against the Timberwolves. (USATSI)

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OAKLAND – Harrison Barnes entered the game Friday with 5:47 left in the first quarter. His first touch came about two minutes later, when he grabbed a rebound and then lost his dribble, committing a turnover.

On his second touch, exactly one minute later, the second-year Warriors small forward flung a pass into the backcourt. Another turnover.

His final touch came in the final seconds, with the game in the balance, when he Barnes was the wide-open recipient of a Stephen Curry pass. Barnes' jump shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer, forcing the Warriors to swallow a 121-120 loss to Minnesota.

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It was that kind of night for Barnes: 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting, three rebounds, zero assists, three turnovers. It has been that kind of week. It has been, for the most part, that kind of season for the 21-year-old who shined in the playoffs last spring and drew raves during summer workout sessions.

Barnes in recent days has not made himself available for interviews. I'm sure he has his reasons. But a conversation last week provided a glimpse of what he, as the team's most recent lottery pick (2012) is going through.

When I asked Harrison if unproductive games could scrape away confidence and affect mental focus, he conceded it might.

"If you're shooting the ball and missing shots, but it feels good, you know that it will start to fall,'' he said. "But it's when you start overthinking that you can get a hitch in your shot. Then you have to correct that. Then you start to do other things, and the next thing you know you're not taking your natural shot.

"You just have to trust yourself and say, 'Look, I'm not making shots now. Should I continue with the same routine? Should I guide it little more? Kick my feet out? Fade back?' You start doing those kinds of things and it's hard to get out of a slump.''

Barnes' slump is epic. He's shooting 15 percent over the last five games, 31.7 percent over the last 10 and 34.8 for January. He shot 37.2 percent in December. It's a stunning decline insofar as he shot 50 percent over 13 games in November.

Barnes' shooting slump is the single biggest liability to the second-unit offense. When he's good, really good, he puts defenders on their heels. When he's bad, as he has been, it looks as if he's on his heels.

Of the 12 Warriors who play the most minutes, Barnes ranks 11th in player efficiency rating, his 9.77 lower than all except Kent Bazemore's 6.24. For comparison, Bulls small forward Mike Dunleavy's PER is 13.67. Heat small forward Rashard Lewis, five years past his prime, is at 10.39. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, is the only player in the league with a PER over 30.

In Barnes' defense, there is considerable pressure for him to be the centerpiece of the second unit. He gets opportunities to post up on smaller defenders and isolate one-on-one matchups against larger defenders. He sometimes even initiates the offense, thus seeing double teams, though there is less of that since the arrival of pure guard Jordan Crawford.

"It's definitely been interesting,'' Barnes said. "I've kind of been learning on the fly. I was joking around with David (Lee) and Steph, saying, 'Damn, I commend you guys for what you do when you're getting doubled.' The first time I'm getting double-teamed, I understand that it's difficult.''

The biggest issue is maintaining confidence. Barnes is a dedicated worker, studying video and spending countless hours on the court. But it's not paying off. It's easy to assume his struggles have infiltrated his mind.

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"Just worried about aiming it, overthinking it,'' he said. "You just have to say, 'I was doing this before and it was successful. Now I'm missing shots.

"But I have to stick with the same (routine) because eventually you'll get out of it. If you start changing everything around, you'll just continue to stay in that lull.''

Barnes' lull has become the norm. The young man who some concluded has the brightest future of anyone on the team has reached a professional crisis.

The entire Warriors team is in soul-searching mode, though, no one more than Barnes. He won national player awards at Ames (Iowa) High School, leading the team during successive undefeated seasons. He was the jewel of North Carolina's 2009 recruiting class.

And now Barnes would be pleased to maintain his dribble, nab an assist, make a shot – any shot – anything that might put him on the path to rediscovering the prodigious gifts within.

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