The Washington Wizards worked out North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes on June 19 along with Syracuse’s Kris Joseph and Northwestern’s John Shurna. Just when the media was finally given access to the Verizon Center practice court to see Barnes at work — normally for the last 10-15 minutes of a workout — Wizards coach Randy Wittman abruptly ended the session. No Barnes basketball-related activity was witnessed by the press. Wittman had issues with the media, but we’ll get to those later. A person who saw the workout said all three players shot the ball extremely well from long range, and Barnes had a highlight-type reverse jam on a baseline drive. More of that to come in the Verizon Center?
Barnes is turning into a stronger possibility for the Wizards at the third spot if certain trade rumors hold any weight — he’s Washington’s “Plan B,” if you will; Shurna and Joseph are fringe second round picks. The 6-foot-8 small forward starred at North Carolina for two seasons, but was highly criticized for not living up to the hype bestowed upon him coming out of high school. He’s happy to move on to a new chapter in the pros.
“There is not really any pressure now,” Barnes said after his workout. “Obviously, when I went to UNC, there were a lot of expectations put upon our recruiting class.”
His athletic ability turned heads at the Chicago pre-draft combine. Barnes standing, no-step vertical jump measured an impressive 38 inches, the highest mark among participants, which led to teams wanting to verify this outstanding number at individual workouts.
“A lot of teams didn’t believe it, so I had to keep doing them at every place that I have been so far,” Barnes said. “That has been fun to try to validate those numbers.” The Wizards normally assess the measurements of the players they bring in, regardless of what’s done in Chicago.
During his time with the Tar Heels, Barnes’ quiet personality gave some the perception that he didn’t care about basketball. He’s aware that people called him aloof.
“I am a straight shooter,” Barnes told the D.C. press. “Obviously, I don’t sugarcoat things. I just let people know how I feel about everything so hopefully they appreciate that. If not, I’m going to have to drop.”
The Wizards are in need of a talented, young wing to play along side their franchise point guard, John Wall. Barnes thinks he fits the mold.
“I feel like that I would fit right in. Obviously, you got John who is a play-maker, extremely quick, he gets guys open shots. With the addition of Nene, it helped this team mature a lot so I feel like I would fit right in nicely and help with perimeter scoring. … I feel like he (Wall) would be a good running mate. Obviously, John is very quick, explosive, he can get to the rim, so I feel like he can draw people in and I can be the outside threat to keep people honest.”
Barnes said he has not established a personal relationship with Wall just yet.
“We just kind of know each other from the circuit. We are not close friends, but obviously I know that he is working very hard on his game. He is out in L.A. working on his game right now.”
Barnes’ interview demeanor comes across as engaging, funny and thoughtful, all while often showing off his big smile. He’s out to prove that he is more than just a basketball player, and living in a diverse, powerful city such as Washington, D.C. could provide opportunity to fill those ambitions. How many NBA draft prospects would stroll around multiple Smithsonian art museums the night before their workout? Barnes did.
“The Iowa native planting his professional brand in the nation’s capitol has my vote.”
Barnes’ handle is still questionable, he tends to over-rely on his jumper and the jury is still out on his defense. There are also reasons to be concerned about his disappearing act in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Over North Carolina’s victory against Ohio in the Sweet 16 and their loss verus Kansas in the Elite 8, Barnes played 76 minutes, scored 25 points on 8-for-30 shooting (2-for-14 from the 3-point line), and turned the ball over eight times. He often appeared to be coasting.
However, there is a tendency to overrate March Madness success when it comes to the NBA Draft. In the 2009 Tournament, Arizona State’s James Harden — a sophomore and his team’s leading scorer, averaging 20.1 points during the regular season — scored 19 points on 3-for-18 shooting (1-for-8 on 3-pointers) over ASU’s first and second round games: a narrow victory over 11-seed Temple and an 11-point loss to 3-seed Syracuse. While big games cannot be discarded, North Carolina missing out on the Final Foul will have zero bearing on whether Barnes can ball out versus the Philadelphia 76ers on a Monday night in January. Zippo. (Need I also remind you that Barnes was without Tar Heel backcourt mates Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Kendall Marshall?)
Barnes has rocketed from a late-lottery projection to a likely top five pick during the pre-draft process. His canceled workout with Sacramento Kings fueled speculation of a promise from Charlotte, Washington or Cleveland. Even Chicago was rumored to be making Luol Deng available for the chance to select Barnes.
In the aftermath of Washington acquiring Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, the debate over third pick has focused on Florida’s Bradley Beal and Barnes. Many online Wizards supporters have formed a consensus around Beal. The St. Louis, MO product has a sweet stroke, decent size for a guard and is a solid rebounder. Beal came across as a bright kid during his post-workout interview and drew comparisons to Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade — that should make Wizards fans tingle with excitement.
Washington’s roster has been devoid of adequate shooting, leaving them unable to truly take advantage of John Wall’s talents during his first two seasons. Beal would definitely be that long-range bomber option, but Barnes put up better shooting percentage numbers last season in college from three (36%) than Beal (34%). Barnes is also stronger, quicker, faster, and can jump higher than Beal, and he’s capable of playing either wing position.
Hopefully, the Wizards won’t be drafting this high in the lottery for a while — it damn well better be. Thus, this pick becomes the most important draft decision of the Monumental Sports ownership era. After filling their salary cap space up in acquiring numerous heavy contracts and eliminating themselves as big free agency players over the next two seasons, the Wizards simply cannot afford to miss.
The Wizards need a superstar, and Barnes’ attributes give him more potential to be one than Beal. The Iowa native planting his professional brand in the nation’s capitol has my vote.
Harrison Barnes Interview Video, Post-Wizards Workout
(Stick around after the jump to find out what drove Wittman berserk)
Notebook: A Coach’s Wrath
When the media was finally allowed into the gym to see Harrison Barnes workout, Randy Wittman cut the session short and started to yell his displeasure about their mere presence.
“Where is that blog who is charting shots?” screamed Wittman.
A member of the Wizards communications team relayed to the coach that the unknown media member, who had visibly raised Wittman’s ire, was not present. Immediately after wrapping up with the players at half court, Wittman continued his verbal assault by barking harsh complaints toward the media as they gathered to interview the draft prospects in the hallway outside of the gym. It turned out that Wittman was upset over an Austin Rivers shooting drill video from his June 15 workout in Washington. Bullets Forever had a video up on Rivers’ “7″ Drill that evening. The Washington Post’s Wizards Insider relayed Rivers’ shooting percentage before reporting that Wittman cut his “7″ Drill short. And the next day, TAI had its own video and post about Rivers’ shooting woes. Other videos from other outlets also surfaced.
Wittman stormed past confused reporters and video camera operators, muttering more about Rivers and complaining angrily that he had to cut his workout short due to the media.
The sudden behavior was slightly alarming, considering most on the Wizards beat have been positive about Wittman’s interim coaching performance last season, and many gave glowing reviews regarding Wittman receiving the head gig full-time. His frankness in post game press conferences has also been lauded as refreshing. The day of Rivers’ workout, the media was following normal rules set forth by the team, and there was nothing unusual going on to trigger Wittman’s reaction then. Maybe Rivers’ people voiced their displeasure about the video, but why it caused such a public display by the Wizards head coach remains a mystery. The out-of-nowhere tantrum immediately reminded me of the infamous ones we’ve seen from Bobby Knight, Wittman’s head coach at Indiana.
I guess every coach has his moments.
Harrison Barnes Links:
- Twitter Page
- Draft Express Profile
- Lengthy feature article on his family background
- Piece on the making of the Harrison Barnes Brand
- Grantland post argues Harrison Barnes Brand Project went bust
- North Carolina Stats
- Harrison Barnes Pre-Draft combine numbers compared to other top prospects
- Barnes is represented by Agent Jeffrey Wechslerof 24-7 Sports Management