Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series examining top prospects in the NBA Draft. Profiles are based on conversations with NBA general managers and scouts.
Let’s start with the good stuff:
Harrison Barnes is already built like an NBA small forward, owns the smarts and maturity of someone who is ideal for the pros, and is just plain smooth. He possesses great form on his jumper and can knock it down from the perimeter and beyond.
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He may not be overly athletic (although he’s not bad), but he is an expert at losing his man and freeing himself for open looks. Sometimes, he even uses shot fakes to elude defenders who play him close. What a concept, right?
On top of all that, the 6-foot-8 forward uses great footwork and countless hours in the gym to make up for what he may be lacking in pure speed and quickness.
“He’s very polished,” said an NBA scout. “Because of that, his transition from college to the NBA should be fairly seamless.”
Another scout added this:
“Of all the guys in the draft, he’s one of about four or five who I think can step in and start and contribute right away. That should make him a top-four or top-five pick. It should, but I don’t know that it will. For whatever reason, he’s sort of gotten a bad rap.”
Ah, yes. The rap.
Coming out of high school, Barnes likely would’ve been the No. 1 overall pick, if the NBA allowed that sort of thing.
But during his two years at North Carolina, his stock took a bit of a dip — as the celebrated Tar Heels never reached the NCAA title game and Barnes was viewed as somewhat of an underachiever.
He gained a reputation for being a little soft, and a star who was unwilling to take, or make, the big shots. Of course, a lot of that comes from fans, and not the men who are actually paid to evaluate talent.
“People who have watched his full body of work aren’t complaining too much,” said an Eastern Conference GM. “The kid was built for the NBA. There’s better spacing (in the pros than in college), and he won’t come in as everyone’s focus. He should be open a lot. When he is, good things happen.”
Barnes has also been accused of being a one-trick sort of guy, or a jump shooter who does very little else well. It’s true that he’s not a great passer or ball-handler, or create many opportunities for others. And yes, he’s been a little streaky overall.
Then again, no one is expecting him to play point guard or turn into The Next Kobe Bryant.
“If you want a guy who’s ready for the NBA, a guy who can get open and make outside shots, he’s your guy,” said a scout. “No, Barnes isn’t going to single-handedly change the course of your franchise. He just doesn’t have that type of athleticism.
“But I think if you pair him with a really good point guard, he’ll be outstanding. His best years are probably ahead of him. He’s a good kid, very mature, and understands the game. Along with everything else, he responds well to coaching and seems like he’ll be a good guy to have in the locker room.”