It feels like the Kings are back.
De’Aaron Fox returned to the floor last night as Sacramento defeated Cleveland, winning their third straight game and ascending to a winning level of energy.
Even before Fox came back from his ankle sprain, the previous two games featured a much better defensive team that was finally beginning to reap benefits from some of their best players’ offense.
Kevin Huerter is, if anything, hot right now with his jump shot, and his defense has been more than adequate. More recently, Keegan Murray’s shot has started to fall and the impact of his defense has been prominent, especially in his opportunities to guard guys like Steph Curry and Donovan Mitchell. And Domantas Sabonis has been playing with a renewed aggression for the previous few contests, ending up one assist short on Monday from having two triple-double’s in a row.
Sac is also seeing production from typical guys like Malik Monk, but the same goes for less premier names such as Keon Ellis, Sasha Veznekov, and their backup centers as everyone looks bought into the organization.
Here in mid November, the Kings look to be hitting their stride with all working parts seemingly functioning in tip-top form.
However, if there’s one guy deserving of a bit of critical focus it’s Harrison Barnes. On account of his role and salary, Barnes’ last five games may stand out as the biggest conundrum for Mike Brown’s squad at the moment.
Recently, whether the Kings are winning or losing, Barnes appears to be adopting the nickname Silent Night.
To start, it’s not terrible. It’s not as though Barnes is overtly hurting the team: he usually takes only quality looks, he’s not turning the ball over, nor is he fouling a ton. But as Matt Barnes said of him on Monday’s pregame broadcast, he has a tendency to “blend in.”
That wasn’t true in the first half of opening night, but in large part, that’s the way it’s been. In fact, Harrison Barnes has played a combined 46 seconds in the previous two fourth quarters combined. He saw no time in the final period against the Cavaliers.
As a 12-year pro who just got an extension, Barnes has to have a bigger presence.
Through these previous five contests, he’s averaging 7.2 points on 36.4% shooting from the field and 26.3% from deep.
In the first five games of the season, Barnes shot 55.6% from the field and 54.2% from beyond the arc, but since then, he’s struggled to get the ball through the bottom of the net. Not only has his overall percentages been in the mud over the last five, but he’s actually shooting under 50% in the painted area.
His rebounding over this stretch stands at 3.4 boards per game, which is good. In the last three, he’s averaged over 4, but his consistency in that department is far from perfect. The second Houston game, for instance, saw Barnes with Mike Brown’s head in the rebounding column, which is to say he had 0.
A bigger critique of his rebounding could be pinpointed in two instances early in the Thunder win where Barnes appeared to miss out on an opportunity to retrieve his own miss or at least make an effort to do so. Of course, getting back on defense is a priority, but in the first example, he did not vie for a long rebound from the corner. In the second, it was far less blatant, but an opportunity to try to go after a board would have been better than holding his form in the corner before finally hightailing it to the defensive end, especially when OKC didn’t catch a clean rebound.
More than that, one of the things that seems missing is one of Barnes’ biggest strengths. Something Barnes has done for this team is have the presence of mind to draw a foul and go to the line when things get a little out of whack.
Last season, he averaged 5.0 free throw attempts per game. This season, he’s averaging 2.5, and in the last five, it’s been just 1.8 per game.
In the second Houston game, when everything about the Kings was out of whack, Barnes tallied just one trip to the line, going 1 of 2. And since then, he’s only had one other trip, which came in the win over the Thunder.
A while back, after the second game of the season, Brown was asked about the significant drop in Barnes’ field goal attempts between game one and two (16 and 5 respectively) and whether his starting veteran needs to be more aggressive. The head coach went on to note that Barnes, or anyone that’s not a star, should not be putting their head down trying to get up shots, highlighting how the offense creates with movement.
That may cut Barnes some credit; perhaps he wasn’t much of a factor because the ball was finding Huerter and Murray, or maybe because Fox came back.
Though, at the same time, Monday night was not an outlier: Barnes has been absent in a handful of games this young season. And this is all the more concerning for the Kings because Barnes was an outright non-factor in Sacramento’s seven game playoff series against Golden State.
His lack of play in the fourth quarter over the past two contests really emphasizes all of this, and with things seemingly rolling in so many areas for the team, Barnes’ propensity to disappear stands out even more.
Barnes’ leash is probably not very short, but coach Brown has made some big decisions so far this season. After all, Keon Ellis has Davion Mitchell’s rotational spot right now. So if someone steps up, Barnes’ vanishing act—should it continue consistently—could be so glaring that it’s hard not to make a change.