You forgot about Harrison Barnes, didn't you?
The Black Falcon is reborn with the very dangerous Sacramento Kings; will he get his revenge over the franchise that drafted him and then abandoned him for Kevin Durant?
The playoffs are BACK baby! The long, grueling, extended dress rehearsal that is the regular season is over and the defending heavyweight champion Golden State Warriors are ready to defend their title.
They’re 16 wins away from doing it successfully, but they have their work cut out for them as their mediocre regular season record put them into the sixth seed where homecourt advantage will be hard to come by. Standing in their way in the first round is the #3 seeded Sacramento Kings, a division rival that boasts a young core and leads the league in scoring.
There are plenty of juicy storylines for Warriors fans to savor: beloved former assistant coach Mike Brown becoming the coach of the year in his first season with Sac…two passionate Northern California fan bases rooting for their squads…and the Dubs going for their first title repeat since Kevin Durant was in the Bay.
Speaking of KD, in this series we’re going to see the return of his predecessor in Golden State’s small forward spot: HARRISON “BLACK FALCON” BARNES.
Do you remember the time?
HB was a polarizing figure during his time in the Bay. As the 7th overall pick in 2012, he was supposed to be the versatile two-way wing the Warriors needed to deal with the Kobe’s and LeBron’s of the NBA world.
He helped the Warriors get back to the playoffs in 2013 as one of the young fresh faces alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He also helped start Golden State’s dynasty by doing plenty of dirty work to win a championship in 2015.
He was also a key member of the 73-win team in 2016, and won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics with Team USA. That ‘16 season, over 66 games HB averaged 11.7 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 38% from beyond the arc.
His athleticism and grit unlocked Golden State’s small ball lineups, as he was able to hold his own defensively against much larger power forwards. Check out Golden State’s coaching staff praising him for his hard work all those years ago:
“He’s not only very strong, to the core strong, but he’s very quick,” says Luke Walton (Warriors former assistant coach). “So he can use that to his advantage too. We feel like big guys battling against Harrison, as strong as he is, isn’t as much of an advantage as them trying to guard Harrison on the other end with how quick he is and shooting from the outside.”
Ron Adams, the Warriors’ defensive guru, agrees. “He likes guarding people in the post,” says Adams, who foresees a league full of Harrison Barnes’ in the future. “I think the way our game is progressing it’s going to be demanded of a lot of people,” he says. For now, Barnes provides a glimpse of that future. “He’s a very versatile defender and his fundamentals are solid. He’s up for the challenge.”
But all that couldn’t keep him from being shipped out to get Durant that summer, in part because of a stunningly hollow NBA Finals performance that helped LeBron’s Cavs comeback from a 3-1 deficit left Dub Nation frothing with frustration.
Here’s some key excerpts from Golden State of Mind’s season review on Barnes following that NBA Finals collapse:
Many believe he's overrated and has been since his days at North Carolina, when he couldn't even lead the team to a Final Four despite being a top recruit. He's the Warriors' fourth and often fifth option. I could make those wide-open corner threes, people claim. He's often indecisive with the basketball in his hands, hesitating: Should I drive? Should I take this jump shot? Maybe I should pull up for an awkward 21-footer (as he is wont to do)? He doesn't attack the basket, never averaging even 2.5 free throws per game for a season, nor creates efficiently for himself. If he's so versatile, athletic and agile, how come he can't average five boards or one steal per game?
The stage was set prior to the season's beginning with Barnes rejecting the team's initial offer of $16 million per season, or 4-years, $64 million over the life of the deal. He would bet on himself, that he deserved more than Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, perhaps even Kawhi Leonard's annual salary.
Barnes shot 2-14 in the possible clinching Game 5, at home, missing all six of his shots in the fourth quarter. In Game 6, when the Warriors fell behind by 20 in the first quarter, he did not score a single point nor garner one assist. Infamously, he was benched for James Michael McAdoo, who had hardly played to that point in the playoffs. And in Game 7, with the Warriors desperately needing a spark offensively, with no Andrew Bogut, Barnes was so ineffective that Steve Kerr was forced to go to Brandon Rush with the season on the line. One solid performance and the Warriors may well have been champions again; instead, horrifyingly, Barnes disappeared completely.
The Dubs jettisoned him to make room for KEVIN FREAKIN’ DURANT (A+++ move), and Barnes’ response made it clear that he knew the Dubs were done with him after those Finals, eventually leading to him joining the Dallas Mavericks:
However, Barnes knew after his exit interview in the wake of the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers that he had likely played his final game for the franchise. He described his chances of returning to the Warriors at that point as "slim to none," even though Golden State had the right to match any offer he received as a restricted free agent.
"There were a lot of emotions after a Game 7 loss," said Barnes, who will return to Oracle Arena as a visitor for the first time along with fellow former Warrior Andrew Bogut on Wednesday, when the Dallas Mavericks face Golden State. "I think a lot of people were upset, frustrated. And we blew a 3-1 lead. So that was the mindset. I think we knew they were going to blow it up if we lost that series, which we did. I can't say I was surprised."
Golden State enforcer Draymond Green admitted on his podcast that he believes Barnes is still salty about the way he was removed from Golden State’s dynastic destiny:
In our own Eric Apricot’s brilliant fan poll series discussing which former players should be Honorary Warriors for life, Barnes received a mix reaction from Dub Nation:
“Dub Nation still has affection for Barnes and his contributions to the 2015 championship and the 73-win season. But there is a small part of Dub Nation that holds a bit of a grudge, so he qualifies for Honorary Warrior, but not Honorary Warrior For Life.”
Comparison is the thief of joy
A lotta folks who had high hopes for HB as a Maverick alongside Dirk Nowitzki and eventually Luka Doncic. He signed a 4 year/$94 million dollar deal down in Big D. Annnd here’s an excerpt from the Mavs Money Ball discussing HB’s failures to lift Dallas as leading man:
The blunt truth is that the Mavericks were a bad team with Barnes as their best player. His fit as a lead guy, coming from being a role player on a championship team, was never the right one. He was maybe the most overpaid player in the NBA, garnering a max contract despite the Mavericks almost always being a worse team when he was on the floor.
The past season and a half, the Mavericks weren’t just better when Barnes hit the bench, they were considerably better. For a team that was as bad as Dallas was the last three seasons, it was remarkable how much better they played when Barnes wasn’t on the floor.
Meanwhile GSW would go on to terrorize the league and win championships with Durant, including a hilarious moment where Durant was asked if he was going to miss jumpshots like HB in the NBA Finals and KD deadpanned, “You think so?”.
KD would win two Finals MVP’s against the Cavs and solidify the Golden Empire’s reign. Meanwhile Barnes suffered the ultimate insult to injury when he was traded to the Kings MID-GAME.
THE DISRESPECT TO THE BLACK FALCON!
Meanwhile back in the Bay, the Warriors eventually replaced Durant with Andrew Wiggins and won their fourth championship of the Splash Bros era last summer.
You know, I’ve thought a lot about the comparison between Barnes and Andrew Wiggins during Two-Way Wiggs’ time here. While adding Wiggs was initially derided by those who lacked vision, I figured Wiggins would be a good fit as I believed he could at LEAST space the floor and play defense like the Black Falcon did.
Wiggins has far exceeded that comparison. If KD was the ceiling of what a small forward looks like for Dub Nation, Barnes was the perfectly adequate floor for what the fanbase expected out of that position. Better than journeymen like Glenn Robinson III and Alfonzo McKinnie… but not an All-Star.
Wiggins became an All-Star in the 2022 season and had a heavy impact in the NBA Finals last summer, activating a gear that transformed him into a monster rebounder and lockdown defender.
VENGEANCE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD
But HB isn’t done yet folks, not by a freakin’ longshot. In five seasons with the Kings, HB has become the consummate pro, averaging 15.4 PPG, 5.3 rebounds, while shooting 47% from the field and just under 38% from beyond the arc.
Most of those stats have come in futile efforts for Sacramento teams that were nowhere near contending for a title.
But this season, they’re the #3 seed in the Western Conference and the Pacific Division champs. HB has been an instrumental factor in their success, settling into his role as a veteran floor spacer with strong efficiency, per Forbes:
The 30-year-old forward turned himself into an elite offensive efficiency player after arriving in Sacramento four years ago, sporting a TS of over 62% over his past three seasons, providing the Kings with a level of consistency that's been a major boost for the current roster.
Barnes is this efficient due to his ability to identify the right shots, and leaning into analytics. Pegged as a midrange scorer when he was drafted seventh overall in 2011, Barnes has embraced the three-point line in recent years, and almost entirely disregarded the long two-pointer, instead opting for interior scoring as to balance his perimeter game.
Make no mistake. Without Barnes, the Kings wouldn't be where they are. His frankly undervalued play is a big key to their success.
Finally Barnes has a team that can get him his revenge on those damned Warriors. How dare they move on him from him and win three more NBA championships?! They think they can get away with tossing him like yesterday’s newspaper in order to get superior players??? Prepare to see the best of Harrison Barnes.
But Harrison, as your longtime supporter and someone who is tired of seeing you suffer from Warriors-related humiliations, I’ve got one question for you.
WHATCHA GONNA DO WHEN ANDREW WIGGINS RUNS WILD ON YOU?!
Okay Dub Nation, how do YOU feel about HB’s return against the champs?