Rare is it anymore that you see a guy who is projected as a top-10 draft pick decide to return to school. But that was the case after last season for North Carolina's Harrison Barnes. Barnes was a mega recruit out of high school and was going as high as number one in a lot of mock drafts throughout his freshman year.
The 6-foot-8 Barnes deserves credit for realizing his game needed further development. It is possible that he looked at the career of fellow Tar Heel Marvin Williams as reason to go back. Williams, while a steady contributor for the Atlanta Hawks, has yet to fulfill the expectations that come with being the second overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. But now Barnes, after averaging 17.1 points-per-game as a sophomore, has declared himself eligible for this year's draft.
Barnes is still projected as a top-10 pick with the potential to crack the top five. He is 6-foot-8 and, depending where you look, is listed at around 220 pounds. His strengths are his length and his ability to score. He can fill it up from just about anywhere and has good range. His height and length enable him to get off his shot with ease. His midrange game, now a strength, has improved a lot while at North Carolina. Barnes is smooth and fundamentally sound on the court and just has the look of a basketball player.
He is capable of being a terrific defender. He is solid athletically and has a 7-foot wingspan, which more than makes up for a lack of quickness on defense. Most importantly, he has a very high basketball IQ and is generally known as a smart kid. It isn't surprising that Barnes was self-aware enough to recognize his game needed more pre-NBA polish after his freshman season.
Barnes toes the line of being "too nice." For someone as offensively gifted as he is, he disapears too often and defers to teammates. While that is easy to do in a star-filled program like North Carolina, at some point he needs to show the killer instinct that is needed to dominate at the NBA level. Originally a big man in high school, Barnes has not always played on the wing and some aspects of his game, like ball handling and passing, are still developing.
Because of this there is a fear out there that Barnes may end up being one dimensional (scoring only) on offense. While it's not a huge knock on his draft stock, it may be enough to keep him out of the top five. Also, Barnes is undoubtably thin for 6-foot-8, but his frame looks like it can support some extra size.
Overall, Barnes is a stellar prospect. He is already a very good scorer and most see him as a potential lock-down defender. But he also has considerable room to improve, which can be seen as a good thing for lottery teams willing to be patient. If Barnes fails to develop a more well-rounded game, his best case scenario is probably Danny Granger. However, he will have to be a little more aggressive on offense to reach that ceiling. There is certainly no shame in "only" becoming an All-Star like Granger, but Barnes could be more is everything comes together.