Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 at 2:01 pm  |  26 responses

The Underrated All-American

How Harrison Barnes has gone from over- to under-rated.

by Matt Domino / @PuddlesofMyself

My college had a terrible basketball team (sorry Thoroughbreds), so here is the short story on why I’m a North Carolina Basketball fan.

In 1993, my father took me to the Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in East Rutherford. The first game was Cincinnati vs Virginia, a classic early ’90s matchup. When that game was over, I was ready to leave, but my dad told me there would be more basketball. So I was treated to UNC vs Arkansas. From the moment I saw those power blue uniforms, I was hooked and have been a Tar Heel fan ever since.

So, it is my great joy to see North Carolina at the top of the AP rankings for the ‘11-12 season. They bring back a stacked roster centered around Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall to combine with one of the top recruiting classes in the country featuring James McAdoo or “Not Bob McAdoo’s Son” as we’ll come to know him.

We know they’re going to be good and that they’ll have a target on their back, but I want to focus on the absolute key to this team; a player who through his up-and-down first year has become underrated—Harrison Barnes.

Barnes was the top-rated prospect of the ’10-11 NCAA freshman class. He was the first ever freshman to be voted to the Preseason All-American Team. People talked about his maturity, his calmness, his great shot and immense skill. And then he proceeded to play like an average freshman forward for the first half of the season.

The only way to describe Barnes was “blah”; that calm and coolness no longer seeming like great qualities without the promised skill. Once Kendall Marshall entered the starting lineup on February 6, 2011 the story has been sold as, “Marshall enters lineup, knows how to run team, Barnes drastically improves.” Or in other words Barnes Being Good = Kendall Marshall Being Good.

This fact may be true, as any basketball player/team relies on a heady point guard to lead them, but it has been overplayed through the offseason and preseason. And, because of this, Harrison Barnes who was once overrated, has now become somehow underrated.

In order to break this line of thinking (Barnes needs Marshall; Barnes is underrated) you need to look no further than the latter portion of the season once Marshall was inserted into the lineup. Yes, Marshall’s control of the offense triggered the Tar Heels’ success, but at the same time, the Heels relied on Barnes’ cool in the face of pressure to truly guide them.

Barnes lived up to expectations in this stretch of the season by hitting winning and/or clutch shots in games against Clemson, Maryland and Miami; setting the tone for the Tar Heels’ 81-67 dismantling of Duke in the last game of the season; and saving them from embarrassment in the ACC Tournament by keeping UNC in the game against Miami to set the stage for Zeller’s game winning shot and putting the team on his back against Clemson by scoring 40 points.

In the NCAA Tournament, it was more of the same. As the stakes were raised, Barnes seemed to crave the ball more and more. He hit big shots with confidence and calm against Washington and against Kentucky he nearly carried UNC back against an inspired opponent. As the season and the Tournament went on, Barnes developed that rare ability to relish the big shot and make it coolly. This trait made his success seem inevitable, which is the mark of any truly great player.

Barnes does follow in a line of Roy Williams era Tar Heel swingmen like Rashad McCants and Wayne Ellington who needed a great point to set them up (Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson). But Barnes is different. He does not possess the character questions that hindered McCants and he holds a leadership quality that Ellington never needed with Lawson and Hansbrough as teammates. Barnes continues a tradition, but at the same time is breaking the mold, partially out of necessity, but mainly out of skill.

Now, Barnes can improve. Yes, he can be a more aggressive penetrator as well as a savvier rebounder. But instead of merely reinforcing the same storyline that Barnes needed Marshall to succeed, can’t we instead say that Barnes was a quiet, intelligent kid from small town Iowa who had unreal expectations foisted on him and who took time to develop into a leader and come into his own as a freshman on perhaps the most prestigious program in the NCAA?

Could it be that his marked progression is due to comfort and trust in teammates as well as his own development as a leader? Could it be that this kid will put together a monster season that no one is expecting or looking for? I believe all of these things are true and that the last one is more than likely.

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  • arjae828

    beast. but still, something about him screams Marvin Williams. I think it’s because he seems to have trouble creating shots off the dribble. I see his ceiling as Paul Pierce but even that would require some serious work in the creating department.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Good work Matt, although I haven’t heard to much “Barnes was reliant on Marshall” talk, but I am on the West Coast so….either way, I enjoyed this and think your right on the money that Barnes is at this point underrated by many and will be very productive this season.

  • http://www.puddlesofmyself.com Matt Domino

    I’ve heard that before, Arjae828 about Barnes being like Williams. I think the extra year helps him and I do think he is a headier, more determined player. Pierce is a great comp (Barnes is a better shooter) and you’re right, he does need that extra aggressiveness to even come close.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Pre-season All-American two years in a row, magazine covers, virtual lock to be a top 5 selection in the 2012 NBA draft, heralded by most as the best player on the consensus pre-season number 1 team in the country.
    Yeah, I could see how he’d being underrated…

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    *not to say I think he’s overrated, just saying I think he’s rated just right these days.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Exactly. What the hell is underrated about HBarnes? The guy has been first-team all-american 2yrs in a row as a freshman and a soph, plays on one of the best programs and is a guaranteed top-5 pick in the draft. If anything the guy is overrated.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I have heard a lot of people talk about how he isn’t & won’t be what he was made up too. I mean I realize a lot of the media is still projecting him as the best player in the country – but there are a good number of people who are pretty far down on the kid, that I have heard at least.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Yea, I don’t think he was ever considered underrated. I mean, as soon as draft 2011 finished. People were already saying Harrison Barnes was miles ahead of the pack for the next draft. As of now, he’s still considered a top 2 pick. The only other player who might be selected ahead of him based on size and potential would be Andre Drummond. I say that because teams often select big men over swing men. Actually, another person who might be in the running for top pick would be Anthony Davis. I like kid’s game but he needs to really pack on some pounds.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Miles ahead of the 2012 class? Are you crazy? This is the most stacked class since 03. Plus there is still Jared Sullinger.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    If ADavis packs on about 20 pounds and avg. 15/10 with 2blks, I could see him jumping Barnes and Drummond for the #1 pick.

  • Bob Samsung

    If you really want a good summation of who barnes is and what we represents in terms of intangibles read this : http://theblackfalcon.net/articles/barnespart3.html

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    @nbk, wow you need to relax. And for the record, I didn’t say that. I was stating what someone said after the draft. DraftExpress: RT @WojYahooNBA: An NBA scout gushing over Harrison Barnes battling KDurant in Chicago last night. “Top pick in the next draft — by far.”
    2011-06-28 03:24:45.
    And yes I know this is the most stacked class since 03. Everyone in the top 10 is already considered a win for the team. And everyone within top 20 would still obtain a solid contributor. NBAdraft.net currently has 1) Drummond 2) Barnes 3) Davis, while draftepxress has 1) Davis 2) Drummon 3) Barnes.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I’m relaxed, I misread your comment. — But Wojanaihatelebronski is hardly a reliable source for what was collectively being said. I understand that some scouts might have said that about Barnes, but I would be shocked if those are the same scouts that teams rely on to give them draft analyses. Anyone who has seen the incoming freshman class knows that there is no clear cut #1 at this point. Infact, Draft Express, NBADraft(.net), & the hoops report all have 3 different #1′s in their mock drafts. (Davis, Drummond,& Barnes – in that order)

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I have also heard that Michael Gilchrist (i haven’t seen much of him admittingly) is also in play anywhere from #1 – #10 depending on how he looks against comparable competition. In-fact, anyone wanna give me a rundown on that kid?

  • seun

    very athletic, can play lockdown defense, good court vision, great rebounder, versatile player, unselfish player almost to a fault, incredibly talented.
    less than ideal shooting mechanics, cant really create his own shot.
    Very, very talented player but at the same i seriously doubt his ability to be a elite player in the nba on offense. despite this he can go anywhere from 3-14 depending on how his freshman year plays out. most likely he goes between 10-14 because i just dont seem him getting that many opportunities to prove that he can be a number 1 option on a nba team. oh and once he gets to the nba his defense is going to be out of this world i mean the guy can flat out play defense.

  • mike

    Decent wing player, but watching him play I’ve never really been blown away by his talent. Maybe I’m missing something. But more likely is that he was overhyped by ESPN coming out of high school. Same thing happened to Avery Bradley.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    MKG reminds me of a more-skilled GWall. An athletic 3 that attacks the basket with ferocity, possess good handles, decent mid-range, and advanced defensively for his age.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Thanks fellas

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic


  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    GREAT! NOW it works! Thanks!!!!
    @mike – Gilchrist wasn’t “overhyped” as much as he’s just been in the spotlight for a very long time and scouts have been able to pick his game apart longer than say, Anthony Davis who just came out of nowhere his senior season.
    Same thing happened to OJ Mayo.

  • Lou

    I keep reading that Barnes is a better athlete than Pierce. I disagree. Pierce last season at 33 was more athletic than Barnes was during his freshman season. Barnes couldn’t even get to the rim against college defenders much less pull off some of the dunks that Pierce threw down last season. When Pierce was younger, his first step and lateral agility were elite and his leaping ability was good. Barnes has a below-average first step, good lateral quickness and good leaping ability.

    I don’t get the hype about Barnes. Good college player but his lack of handle (it hasn’t looked improved in a scrimmage and UNC’s first exhibition game) and quickness severely weigh down his NBA ceiling. If you take away his high school pedigree, I don’t think people would be as high on him.

  • bob samsung

    Barnes shot over 67% in the last two minutes of games within 5 points. The dude is freakin special, there’s no other way to say it. Found his clutch stats here: http://www.theblackfalcon.net/articles/barnespart2.html

    Kids like that find a way to make up for not having elite athleticism. And you think he isn’t athletic, just youtube some of his dunks…

  • http://www.slamonline.com UNFROZEN CAVEMAN LAWYER


  • jason

    i am a big fan, too, and your observations are pretty astute. point blank, both barnes and marshall are very good at what they do. regarding barnes “downs” last year, all he needed was an adequate point guard to get him the ball in a position to go to the basket or pull up for a jumper; and not always have to work to create his own shot. barnes’ boldest move of last season came late against kentucky in newark, when the faster opposing guards were hounding and handling marshall. barnes was forced to create his shot late in the game. facing the player guarding him, he threw the ball off the backboard and drove towards the basket to make an emphatic dunk. however, the kentucky center — harrelson i think is his name — got lucky and read the play and deflected the ball away from barnes as it came off the backboard. that play, if successful, could have led to a national championship. only a great player would have attempted it with so much on the line

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Just curious, who do y’all think would be a better pick/fit for the Raps? Barnes to fill the SF void or Drummond to replace Bargnani at PF? Or…take Davis and stick him in SF. lol

  • Jay

    Matt, you sound like every bandwagon Tar Heels fan (in terms of how you became a fan). Barnes is definitely not underrated. He was really hyped, underachieved, and he’s still really hyped and now we need to see him rise up and consistently play at a high level. I also disagree that he’s the “absolute key” to the Heels this year. You can make the case for quite a few different players on the team, but if I had to vote I’d vote Henson.