In his two seasons at North Carolina, Harrison Barnes was able to impress NBA scouts and talent evaluators with a ready-made pro game built around a consistent mid-range jumper and steady scoring. Barnes didn’t dominate the college game in the way he was expected to coming out of high school and his slow first step and inability to get to the basket through dribble penetration were often attributed to a perceived lack of elite athleticism.
But while in Chicago for the NBA combine, Barnes disputed the notion that he was limited athletically.
“I feel like I’m very athletic, compared to everybody else,” Barnes said, before proving his claims during the athletic testing results released by DraftExpress.com.
Measurements for the 6-foot-8 Barnes were off the charts, as he registered the highest no-step vertical jump (38 inches), the fourth-highest maximum vertical (39.5), the fastest three-quarter court sprint (3.16) and bench pressed 185 pounds 15 times. For some perspective, his no-step vertical ranks fourth all-time, his sprint is only two seconds slower than John Wall’s time from two years ago and he matched Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson in upper body strength. Is that elite enough for you?
The athletic tests are only part of the evaluation process and good marks don’t necessarily correlate to being a good NBA player. But his limitations in college in college may have had more to do with being slightly overweight and poor ball-handling – two areas that he has worked hard to improve in advance of the draft.
A Western Conference front office executive recently said Barnes would probably be a better pro player than college player because he played in a system at North Carolina that didn’t complement his talents. The executive noted that Paul Pierce was the only quality small forward to play for Roy Williams “and that wasn’t because of Roy. His system is more for point guards and bigs.”
Barnes admitted that he had to adjust his game to fit a talented team that featured three other potential lottery picks in Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall. “Not a lot of teams in the country have two skilled 6-10 guys and a great point guard. I had to work more on my midrange game and two dribble pull-up,” Barnes said.
North Carolina relied on Barnes for scoring, and he averaged 17.7 points. But he rarely took over games and never scored more than 27 points in a game as a sophomore. He also went out meekly in the NCAA tournament, as he averaged just 14 points on 32.8 percent shooting.
Despite demands for him to do more, Barnes always maintained a calm demeanor, a quality he attributed to his mother, Shirley, who works as a secretary in the Iowa State University music department. “She’s always been there for me and she had to work hard to provide for my sister [Jourdan-Ashle] and [me] and that hard work, the ability to persevere, I definitely got that from her,” he said. “Keeping and even keel and calm. She tried to instill those habits in me, and that’s how I carry myself on the court and that’s how I carry myself.”
The Wizards are looking to possibly add more perimeter help and will work out Barnes on Tuesday. They have already seen Bradley Beal and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and are high on both players. Barnes, though, just turned 20 and is perhaps more prepared to contribute after playing under intense pressure in two years of college. He expects to play small forward at the next level, and the Wizards certainly needed help at that position last season, when Chris Singleton was forced to start 51 games before he was ready.
“Great city, good organization,” Barnes said about the Wizards. “Obviously, they’ve been down the last couple of years and they have young players like John Wall that you can build around and really can do things.”
Barnes could go anywhere from second to seventh in the NBA draft and he isn’t too picky about where he lands. “I just want to go to whatever situation that has guys around me that want to win. Obviously all these teams in the lottery want to get better and want to improve. Whatever environment where people want to get better is right for me,” Barnes said. “Ultimately, it’s not like recruiting. Whatever team drafts you, regardless of what you think the best fit is, or how high you want to go, it’s solely on them. I’ll just try to be a chameleon. No matter where you go, just try to make the best of the situation.”
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