Coming out of college, teams knew what they were getting with Harrison Barnes. He was a big-bodied small forward who had a good outside shot and good athleticism. He wasn’t a flashy player at the University of North Carolina, but he was a player you could rely on offensively and defensively. And that is exactly what he gave you all season for the Golden State Warriors; he averaged 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. But on the big stage of the playoffs he amplified his game, averaging 16.1 points. The Warriors were a surprise team this season, upsetting the Denver Nuggets in the first round and taking the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to six games in the second round.
During his team’s elimination game, Barnes was victim to a hard fall after contesting a layup attempt by the Spurs’ Boris Diaw. Barnes wasn’t able to brace his fall and smacked his head on the court. He departed from the game with a minute left in the first half after he was bleeding from the right side of his head. He returned to start the third quarter but did not return in the fourth quarter after headache-like symptoms. It was an unfortunate ending to a great rookie postseason he put together.
With Barnes’ post-season success, it has left Cavs fans upset with what we passed on in the draft. Almost a year ago – after the NBA Draft Lottery was complete – it was almost a sure thing Barnes was going to be on the board for the Cavs, and they were going to select him. Well, only half of that is correct. He was on the board, but the Cavs passed on him for Syracuse guard Dion Waiters. It was a little bit of a shock at first when general manager Chris Grant passed on Barnes and selected Waiters, but when Waiters laced up for his NBA game to play against the Washington Wizards and Bradley Beal – who was selected one pick before Waiters – Cleveland fans were excited about the player they got and saw a bright future for this new dynamic backcourt the Cavaliers have. Waiters finished the regular season averaging 14.2 points – second among rookies – only behind Portland’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard (19.0 PPG).
But with Waiters’ offseason starting a month sooner than Barnes’, Barnes had been playing on a bigger stage with more eyes on him. When the playoffs begin, each teams’ bench shortens up and starters carry additional minutes. In the regular season Barnes averaged 25.4 minutes. In the postseason he averaged 38.4 minutes, contributing to his rise in points.
While Waiters has been idle, Cleveland fans have been salivating over Barnes in the post season and second guessing Grant’s decision to pass on the UNC product. These two will forever be compared to each other – as well as Beal – and they have the 2012 draft to thank for that. Waiters finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting with 21 total votes, followed by Barnes who finished sixth with eight votes. Beal, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond – who all averaged fewer points than Waiters – finished above him in ROY voting.
Barnes has been playing like a crafty veteran throughout his teams’ playoffs run and was a key contributor to Golden State’s success behind the lights out shooting from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. However, if you are ready to determine if Barnes was a better pick than Waiters, well then you must be the smartest person in the world. But that wouldn’t be fair to Waiters. It’s similar to comparing Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose. Rose is injured and hasn’t played in a year, so you can’t determine who’s better now. You can compare the stats and see if anything sticks out, but it’s impossible to know if one is better than the other – right now.
And if you compare the Barnes’ playoff numbers with Waiters’ regular season numbers, there isn’t a significant difference. Barnes played an additional 10 minutes a game than Waiters did in the regular season and only scored 1.4 points more per game. With that said, don’t you think with Barnes playing over 38 minutes, he should probably average more than 16.1 points? Because Waiters would, his stats prove it. These two were drafted in two different situations. Waiters is relied on to produce on offense and take more shots – which is what he did at Syracuse. Barnes is more of a role player to Curry and Thompson – a role that has made him fit in immediately.
This is only the first season of many that these two – who came out in a stacked draft class – will be compared to each other, and leaving Cavs fans saying “what if”. Unlike Waiters, Barnes was drafted to a team that was ready for the playoffs. His skills were on display in the playoffs, while Waiters watched the games at home. Waiters will get his chance, eventually, and when his opportunity does come, Waiters will perform just as good, if not better, than Barnes.