How in the world is Matt Barnes making the veteran’s minimum?
To put it in perspective, the Clippers are paying Barnes a salary that is about five times less than the one they are paying Ryan Gomes. Yes, Ryan Gomes. You remember him? That three-point specialist who shot 13.8 percent from long range last year, got amnestied after the season, and now finds himself closer to a couch than an NBA court. Barnes is making five times less than him. Yep, him.
From a purely basic standpoint, Barnes has completely outplayed his salary value this season. He is shooting 50.4 percent from the field (a career high in any season in which he has attempted more than 2.5 field goals per game) and 35 percent from three. He was one of the main reasons for the 17-game winning streak, averaging 18.2 points per 36 minutes and 6.2 rebounds per 36, while posting percentages that would be impressive even for LeBron James, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from three.
Meanwhile, Barnes has stepped up on the offensive end when the Clippers have needed him most, scoring a combined 38 points and pulling down 16 total rebounds in the two games that the Clippers have been sans Caron Butler.
It’s not just the numbers with Barnes, though. As cliché as it sounds, he is truly one of those players in which the statistics can’t say everything. His intensity is consistent every night – probably one of the reasons he has earned a reputation around the league as a bit of a bully – and his hard cuts on the offensive end are only enhanced when playing with a point guard of Chris Paul’s caliber.
But let’s talk about those cuts – those gorgeous, deceiving, immediate cuts that are so crafty, we might as well be calling him a lefty.
Barnes is averaging 1.07 points per possession on those exact types of plays, perfectly respectable, but not exactly elite. The reason that number may not be higher is because Barnes doesn’t often find himself going to the free throw line. However, on those plays in the half-court offense when he does cut to the basket, he is shooting remarkably efficiently, sinking 18 of his 36 field goal attempts (that’s 50 percent for you math whizzes out there).
But Barnes’ quick feet and intelligence don’t just show in the half-court offense.
That strange ability to know exactly where he should be on the court is so instinctual with him. And because of that, he has become one of the best transition players in the game. Barnes is shooting 76.9 percent in transition and is averaging 1.4 points per possession, putting him in elite company and ranking 20th in that category in the NBA. But, in a way, this is a facet of Barnes’ game that has come out of nowhere.
Barnes shot only 51.9 percent from the field and averaged 1.05 points per possession in transition last season with the Lakers. This year, the Clippers’ second unit has been dynamic on the defensive end, as Kevin Arnovitz wrote about earlier today, and because of that, they have been loading up on their transition scoring. Add a player like Barnes to an all-bench lineup that consists of the ever-running Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom’s outlet passing, and the bendy, athletic Jamal Crawford, the NBA’s version of a wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tubeman, and his teammates are going to find him in the right spots.
Then there’s the defense.
The Clippers’ overall defense has climbed the ladder from 18th in defensive efficiency a year ago all the way up to third this season. There are plenty of reasons for that: individual improvement from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Bledsoe’s slight increase in minutes, the entire team ball hawking more than any other team in the NBA. But Barnes is surely one of those reasons.
Last year’s Clippers team didn’t have a go-to perimeter defender. It was one of the biggest flaws on the roster. Caron Butler and Randy Foye were forced to guard players who they couldn’t always contain, guys with names like Durant and Kobe. That’s not the most preferable matchup in the world. And while no one enjoys guarding those types of elite wings, Barnes is now the kind of player who the Clippers can glue to a wing scorer.
When guarding players in isolation, he is holding opponents to 34.1 percent shooting. Then there’s guarding the pick-and-roll, an aspect of the game which was one of the Clippers’ biggest weaknesses a season ago. Pick-and-roll ball handlers are averaging a mere 0.47 points per possession when Barnes guards them.
Less than half a point per possession.
So really, don’t try to run a pick-and-roll against Barnes.
Vinny Del Negro has started to play with lineups and on nights when Caron Butler is hot, Barnes has started to see himself play some more shooting guard, something he is fully capable of doing, especially considering how good he has been against players that like to handle the ball. When Grant Hill returns, don’t be surprised to see – at some points against longer, more perimeter-oriented teams – a three-wing lineup of Barnes, Hill, and Butler.
Coming into the season, Hill was supposed to be the glue guy, the perimeter stopper, the smart wing coming off the bench. And if Hill was the glue guy, Barnes was just a guy. He was the last player the Clippers signed in the offseason, someone who caused fans and media alike to speculate in the preseason, “What is going to happen to Matt Barnes when he doesn’t get enough minutes?”
How silly does that seem now? Barnes has become such a luxury that we’ve almost forgotten about Hill. And when he returns, we know Barnes has to continue to get minutes. It’d be impractical for him not to. He’s an immediate contributor, someone who gives a little something different to every win. When he plays well, the Clippers usually come out victorious. No stat says that better than the Clips’ 16-0 record when Barnes scores in double digits off the bench.
Heading into tonight’s intracity matchup, the Lakers must feel like a scorned lover, drinking away their sorrows while squirming in 11th place in the Western Conference. Their biggest problem might be their bench. I wonder who might have been able to help with that on the cheap.
So Barnes has set up camp across the hall, trying to help the team that is now tied for the best record in the conference win a championship. Regardless of how Hill is when he comes back, the Clippers should still feel comfortable with Barnes’ 25 minutes a night. And they should feel even more comfortable with that veteran’s minimum contract.