HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Only the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard has started as many games in his first season as Golden State Warriors rookie forward Harrison Barnes.
The No. 7 overall pick out of North Carolina has proved invaluable to the Warriors’ surge this season considering they’ve been without injured swingman Brandon Rush and until just a few nights ago, Andrew Bogut.
“Coach has done a great job of setting a standard of what we need to come in and do every single day, playing hard and we have a lot of guys that want to win,” Barnes said last week during a phone interview with NBA.com. “Guys like David Lee, Steph Curry, veteran guys that really want to win and that filters down to everybody else.”
After Barnes put up 12 points, four rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes during Thursday’s 100-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State improved to 29-17, just one-half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the coveted No. 4 spot in the West standings. Two nights earlier, Barnes threw down a massive, right-hand jam on Raptors center Aaron Gray as part of a 14-point, five-rebound night.
So why does it seem like the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Barnes has been buried under the rookie hype machine during the first half of the season?
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” Barnes said. “I’m starting on a team that is fifth in the West, so there’s really no complaints.”
In two weeks, the nation will get a better look at the incredibly athletic, intrinsically low-key Barnes as he’ll participate in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that kicks off All-Star Weekend in Houston.
The 2012 rookie crop is turning out to be pretty stout. While Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick, is having an absolutely mammoth season as Portland’s starting point guard and is a major reason why the Blazers remain in playoff contention this late into the season, Barnes is showing to have been a deft pick by the Warriors.
Barnes, 20, has provided athleticism and tough, physical play on both ends while instantly being inserted into the starting lineup with Curry, Klay Thompson and Lee. Barnes ranks in the top 10 among the rookie class in most key statistical categories. Against Dallas on Thursday, he posted up O.J. Mayo, spun around him and got to the rim and buried a pretty turnaround jumper over Vince Carter.
(Of course, Carter taught Harrison a rookie lesson at the end of the first half when Carter faked an injury in the corner. Barnes left him alone and Carter broke to the basket wide open and got the pass for a dunk. Lesson learned.)
Barnes is averaging 9.0 ppg (seventh among rookies), 4.3 rpg (eighth) and 25.5 mpg (ninth). His 3-point percentage (35.9) ranks fifth, his overall shooting percentage (43.1) is 11th and he ranks eighth in made free throws (71).
The Warriors look to keep getting better when Phoenix visits Saturday night. Then it’s a tough, four-game road trip through Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas.
“We’re going to continue to stay humble and continue to play with that edge,” Barnes said. “We never want to get complacent, never want to just be happy with where are. We’re going to continue to work every single day continue to get better.”