Harrison Barnes is the steadying force or the Sacramento Kings, the veteran soothing element.
Every team expecting a playoff run needs a guy like this, or at least to cling to .500 in the choppy NBA waters.
The Kings have pieces in place to make that playoff push. De’Aaron Fox is the rising star with the good handles and burst to the bucket. Buddy Hield is the elite 3-point shooter with no fear. Marvin Bagley III is the promising prospect, still just 21 years old.
Tyrese Haliburton is in the Rookie of the Year conversation for his versatility. and production. Richaun Holmes is the interior grinder with the push shot, the irritant you’re glad to have on your side. He is second in the league in field-goal percentage and has blocked six shots in three games this season.
And there’s Barnes. He does a lot of the little things with a penchant to play big, with scoring burst or the key assist or vital stop. He is playing perhaps the best ball of his nine-year career. His coach thinks so. His teammates would agree.
Barnes isn’t so sure. When asked about it last week, the forward averaging 16.9 points and career-bests in rebounding (6.3) and assists (3.5) explained that statistics are window dressing to the real goal: victories. The Kings sit at 9-11 prior to Wednesday’s tilt with the Boston Celtics, and despite winning four of their last five games they remain last in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference.
“A lot of how I judge personal performance is how the team is doing: where we are in the standings,” Barnes said. “It’s not good enough. It’s still not good enough. I want to see us in the playoff mix. We have the potential. We can get better and we will be better.”
A close shave with the playoffs
A year ago, with the Kings at 12-14, Barnes vowed to not shave until his club at least reached .500. It didn’t happen, and then the motto became a playoff-push beard, one last dash to inspire.
That didn’t happen, either. He trimmed after the season, the 14th year in a row the Kings did not qualify for the postseason. Barnes said he is not considering a facial or head-hair deal anytime soon. He’ll remain firm with a goatee and a trimmed head.
“Absolutely not,” he said with a laugh. “No playoff-push beard yet.”
As for less beard and hair on top, Barnes rolled with it. He feels more sleek, quicker, better. Or something like that. Imagine a swimmer without that extra drag, or a sprinter on the back stretch. Barnes said he looks the part of an athlete in the best shape of his career, in a good frame of mind, respected by his teammates and coaches.
“You’d be surprised, all that hair and a beard weigh a lot,” Barnes said. “Coming into this season, a big emphasis was being in great shape, being ready to play faster, being ready to play a lot of minutes. That was something I definitely tried to work extremely hard on, step in and fill whatever need the team has defensively, offensively at the time that will help us go.”
Barnes has the attention of his runningmates. He’s a reliable go to in the post, a deft passer, a capable shooter, and he hardly looks winded at 28. When’s the last time the guy even looked irritated, flustered or worse?
“He’s always composed,” Holmes, the center, said.
Said Hield, “it looked like (Barnes) took great care of his body in the offseason. He’s playing at a high level. I saw there’s a different feel about Harrison. He’s one of the most special guys on this team, and he’s always ready. He’s just more aggressive on the offensive end and taking shots that we want him to take, and he’s making them for us.”
Said Kings coach Luke Walton, “He’s huge for us. He gives us a post-up threat we can get to. We’ve got to continue to do a better job of looking to get him the ball and get him more active throughout the game, but he is as steady as they come and mostly makes the correct play. For us to have any success, we need that out of him. He’s having a heck of a year so far. He’s been great, absolutely great.”
Bagley said he appreciates having a wise veteran to turn to in a game or off the court.
“It’s great having HB,” he said. “He’s won a championship (with Golden State), been in the playoffs. It’s good to have him, a veteran that knows the league. It’s great to see what he’s doing for us. I’m happy for him. He’s doing anything to help us win.”
Barnes gives back, cares for community
Barnes is also a giver, big on stressing education to young children. That’s been his nature since he was the top-rated prospect in the 2010 high school class, leading his Iowa team to state-championship seasons of 26-0 and 27-0.
Barnes played two seasons at storied North Carolina, averaging 16.3 points, and was picked seventh in the 2012 draft by the Warriors. He signed with Dallas before the 2016 season, a four-year, $94 million deal, and was traded to the Kings in the middle of the 2019-2020 season.
For Black History Month, Barnes partnered with Goalsetter, a Black-owned finance app, to “draft” 500 “Black and Brown kids to become the next generation of savers and giving them the tools they need for better financial literacy,” according to a news release.
Barnes’ aim is to draft 250 kids from The Build.Black.Coalition in Sacramento, and he will do the same in Dallas.
Said Barnes on his Twitter account to announce the plan, “Kids who have savings accounts are six times more likely to go to college. (I’m) on a mission to start 1 million savings accounts for Black and Brown kids.”
Added Barnes, “Just want to do my part to help.”