This morning, when talking about the Lakers’ victory over the Warriors from last night, commenter DY made a point that I fully endorse:
I am loving me some Matt “Matt Barnes Will Kill You” Barnes. His passing is superb, his rebounding is borderline maniacal, and he’s hitting his shots for the most part. Also, with Ron having an off-shooting night, (the Lakers) had the luxury of using Barnes. Last year, it would have been Luke or Kobe being forced to play the SF position.
Again, I fully agree. Barnes is getting the job done. While there’s still some concern his ball handling, that’s really my only concern with what we’ve seen from his game so far. As DY mentioned, he’s moving the ball on to the open player and crashing the boards like a madman. His shooting numbers aren’t fantastic as he’s only shooting 40% overall, but that is mitigated by the fact that he’s actually made 4 of his 8 three point attempts in these first three games. Yesterday against the Warriors he got back to back baskets on great cuts off the ball and really showed that he’s starting to grasp the motions of the offense. But as mentioned, it’s not really his offense that I’m excited about.
It’s Barnes’ defense and rebounding that are really sticking out to me. In 19 mintues a game, Barnes is averaging 5 rebounds. His 17.7 defensive rebounding rate ranks him right below Lebron James amongst SF’s and his offensive rebounding rate is 4th in the league amongst that same group. And his commitment to defense is just as noticeable. Barnes is pressuring ball handlers, deflecting passes, and finishing possessions. He’s giving the Lakers everything they could have hoped for when they inked him as a free agent.
But what I’m most appreciative of when it comes to Barnes is probably the most obvious thing – he’s healthy and ready to play. As DY mentioned, last night was not one of Artest’s better games (Ron’s been struggling on offense in these first three games), but instead of having to extend Kobe’s minutes or go small with either Shannon or Sasha playing SF, the Lakers turned to Barnes and he delivered 23 minutes of solid play by giving the Lakers 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. And on top of that he played his typical hard nosed defense.
I understand that we’re only three games into a long season. And it’s much too early to come to any firm conclusions on any player as today’s successes can easily turn into tomorrow’s struggles. But the early signs point to the Lakers having a more than serviceable back up at SF and that’s something they haven’t been able to say since RadMan was starting and Trevor Ariza was his back up (though we all know that didn’t last as those roles reversed and the Lakers were again stuck with an unreliable reserve). So, needless to say, I’m grateful that the Lakers have added Barnes into the mix. On days where Ron struggles – or even on days where Barnes really has it going – it’s great to know that there’s a player in the wings that will bring more to the table than he takes off of it.