Why Harrison Barnes is Critical to the Kings’ Success and Why He Probably Shouldn’t Be

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 17: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center on December 17, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Harrison Barnes is having his best season, exceeding career averages and posting career highs. He has played himself up as the right hand man to De’Aaron Fox, and thus the second best player on the team. 

Barnes is certainly a luxury to any coach, and there is little doubt surrounding Barnes’ variety of skills, from his ability to guard any variation of positions on the floor to his veteran fundamentals.

Barnes’ outstanding play this season was a critical factor in the Kings’ streak of winning seven of eight and, moreover, in the now broadening gap between Sacramento and a prized playoff spot.

If that gap is indeed going to close, Barnes will need to keep up his great play. If he cannot do so, then the Kings are as good as a lottery team once again.

The True Barnes

The fundamental truth about Barnes is that he was never meant to be a number-two guy on a team in serious contention. His game isn’t about taking over contests and consistently dropping a deluge of points. Rather, he’s a complementary starter capable of knocking down an open three, playing team defense, and avoiding being an inhibitor of production along the way.

We saw this in Golden State where Barnes played alongside three all stars while remaining a critical component of the team. Early in his playoff exposure, in a handful of series where the pre-championship Warriors played the Nuggets and Spurs in 2013 and the Clippers in 2014, Barnes illustrated inflated offensive production. This was because of the attention paid to Curry and Thompson which subsequently lead to an influx of opportunities for the then-young forward. Barnes seemed to execute every time his number was called and when the team needed him most, but it was never an indication that Barnes was going to develop into some elite, first-option scorer. 

Glimpses of a prolific future flashed sparsely after Barnes signed with a subpar Mavericks team and averaged his most points per game in his one-plus years spent in Dallas, but that number never surpassed 20.

When he came to Sacramento in the winter of 2019, Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox looked to be the one-two punch for Sacramento for years to come and Barnes was seen as the perfect veteran third option. Unfortunately, however, with Buddy’s lack of improvement, Barnes has been slated as the number-two option on offense upon the back of arguably his best season.

But is that a good sign for the Kings?

A look at this year

Again, he isn’t perfect. What Barnes lacks at times is consistency. Every so often he’ll go on cold streaks or become a non-factor on the floor— two things a number-two player on the team can’t be doing if they realistically want to win ball games.

The Kings are 12-18 on the year and Barnes’ stat line looks vastly different in games the Kings have won compared to games the Kings have lost.

M. BagleyMINFG%3P%FT%REBASTBLKSTLPTS
Last 12 Games27.9.549.387.6008.11.10.40.617.0

Compared with Fox’s stat lines for games the Kings win and games the Kings lose, Barnes’ inconsistency is blatantly apparent.

D. FoxMINFG%3P%FT%REBASTSTLPTS
Wins34.6.469.394.7663.37.40.823.3
Losses32.4.465.291.6173.26.91.621.7

That inconsistency is not a serious problem; that is, unless it’s coming from your number-two player. Barnes was never meant to be that for a contender, but that’s the reality for the Kings at the moment.

Until Buddy gets back to looking like the player he was in 2018/19, until Bagley consistently shows why he was the second overall pick, or until Haliburton develops a tad more, Barnes will remain a very critical piece to the Kings.

But that could prove an indication of problems for both Barnes and the Kings.

In the last eight games, Barnes has really struggled and dealt with injury and, in turn, the Kings’ record reflects his poor play. The Kings are on a current seven game losing streak with Barnes missing the last three of those contests. But even when on the floor, in his last five appearances Barnes is averaging:

 MINFG%3P%FT%REBASTSTLPTS
H. Barnes35.7.492.392.8266.13.60.816.7

Recall: when Barnes struggles, the Kings struggle. That parallel is endemic in this seven game losing streak.

We saw something similar happen last year to Barnes where with about a month remaining before the all star break, he looked worn down and played inefficient basketball.

H. BarnesGMINFG%3P%FT%REBASTSTLPTS
Jan 18 - Feb 12, 20201333.1.451.395.8444.92.20.211.7

Being two weeks away from all the all star break, Barnes is in need of much needed rest once again and is getting some due to his injury. But if the Kings prefer a playoff push rather than tanking, and with a handful of games before the break, Sacramento can’t afford to be without Barnes much longer—even in these few games remaining—in fear of sinking further down the standings.

What do the Kings do with Barnes?

Harrison Barnes is a critical piece to the Kings, but the trade deadline is fast approaching and his stellar play has predictably garnered attention throughout the league.

Boston is said to be interested in Barnes, and though the Kings have said they’re not interested, a lot of things can change before the deadline—especially if the Kings continue to lose at this rate.

Barnes does have one of the more expensive contracts on the roster and there would be no better time to sell than right now considering he is playing the best basketball of his career. If the Kings do, in fact, trade Barnes, it will most likely be for draft picks or younger players, which will signal the end of any playoff run for Sacramento.

If not, though—and with Fox expected to continue his all star type play throughout the year—the weight of the season will rest on Barnes’ shoulders. He will need to remain consistent if the Kings want any chance of ending their postseason drought.

The dilemma becomes even more of a pickle when you factor in the fact that the Kings can’t really ask for much more than what Barnes has provided this season and throughout his two and a half years in Sacramento. 

But again, even as he was viewed as the piece to take the Kings to the next level, that was never going to happen because that is not what Barnes provides as a player, even at his best. What he does provide is great leadership, solid two-way basketball, and a deep understanding of the game, all of which contribute to Barnes’ high value.

In regards to Barnes, it’s decision time for the teetering Sacramento Kings and a lot of their thinking relies on how this team performs in the immediate future.

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