He was Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony all rolled into one. Or so they said.
In the summer of 2010, Harrison Barnes was unanimously viewed as college basketball's next great superhero. The prep star was soon to be clad in the time-tested duo of powder blue and white at North Carolina, and was already a man amongst boys on the practice court. His hype, in a word, was insane. The only thing holding back his greatness, the one stumbling block if you will, was the fact that the No. 1 recruit in the country had never actually played in a game at the college level before. Oops.
It didn't matter.
Gary Parrish at CBS dubbed Barnes his Preseason National Player of the Year. Dozens of online publications followed suit. Then the Associated Press one-upped that by adding Barnes' name to their Preseason First Team All-Americans list, the first time a freshman cracked the top five since 1986. And then the mock drafts started to go wild. Atop virtually every last one of them, from Bleacher Report to NBADraft.net, was Barnes' name.
A 'can't miss' prospect, right?
As far as I can tell after 16 games into the season, we're missing something. The elite prospect everyone was talking about only months ago seems to have completely disappeared. The guy in his place wears the same number, looks pretty damn similar and occasionally throws down a YouTube-worthy dunk, but that's really about it. Twenty-point outings were supposed to be a theme, not a career breakthrough. Maybe for some three-star point guard from New Mexico, but not him. A development period for the best high school player in the country isn't supposed to exist. Not for him. Not for Harrison Barnes.
A little over a week ago I was reading a great piece by Draft Express' Jonathan Givony over at SI.com and he was trying to put Barnes' struggles into words. This paragraph perked my interest:
When attempting to create his own shot, Barnes' athleticism has appeared rather pedestrian, as he possesses neither an overwhelmingly quick first step nor great explosiveness around the basket. He gets bumped off his path too easily, allowing himself to be coerced into more difficult, off-balance shots --appearing to have some problems adjusting to the physicality of the NCAA game.
The reason this is important is because it's absolutely 100% spot-on. And above all else, I believe THIS is the main reason why he's struggling so much right now. Freakishly athletic players can crap their way to 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, Barnes' current averages, in virtually any conference in America. The kid isn't out-jumping people and dunking on their heads like we saw Blake Griffin do with Oklahoma. When you are in a different league athletically than your opponents, statistical dominance is not too far off. Just look at Terrence Jones with Kentucky. But because Harrison is only about 210 pounds, he's getting consistently pushed around on the interior and he can't even come close to getting easy shots.
But what does this mean for Barnes' draft stock? Earlier this week ESPN's Chad Ford had one of those live chat things he likes to do, and was asked whether he thinks Barnes will declare for the draft:
Q: Harrison Barnes has not been as advertised so far this year. I say 5% chance he declares for the draft. What do you think?
Probably right. He's struggling to create his own shot in North Carolina ... still have a long ways to go in the season, but so far a pretty big disappointment and a kid who would likely stay in school if he's not a Top 3 pick.
Bare with me for a second while I jam this mechanical pencil in my eye socket. Top three? Those are some awfully high standards for a not-quite-19-year-old kid to adhere to, you know, especially in this current economic climate and all. The notion that Barnes has only recently fallen from the No. 1 pick slot is a fake drama being fueled by ESPN after they foolishly anointed him on the grandest of scales. The truth is that Barnes didn't look like a top draft pick from the moment the season started, and he's been slowly declining ever since. But there's a real limit to how far the most hyped up player of all-time can actually fall. Draft Express, for example, has Barnes going No. 8 in their latest 2011 mock despite the fact that Givony (above link) pretty much agrees that the kid looks terrible out there right now.
By springtime, all of the same people who lauded Barnes for being the next superstar will be wasting paper in an effort to praise him for a strong finish to 2011. Maybe he'll score 25 on somebody in the ACC Tournament. Maybe he'll actually out-rebound one of his teammates. Whatever the case, Barnes' immense long-term potential will get brought up and plopped at our feet yet again whether we want it there or not. And despite a completely inability to impress with anything he's done on a college basketball court, Harrison Barnes will turn pro in 2011. Bank on it.