Matt Barnes. For the last two years, that's been by far the most familiar name at the small forward spot for the Clippers, and for good reason. Last off-season, Coach/General Manager/El Presidente/Boss Man Doc Rivers traded away Caron Butler and brought in Jared Dudley to start, which kept Barnes in his familiar position as the first forward off the bench. But over the course of the season, Matt Barnes showed that his rough-around-the-edges brand of basketball was ultimately more productive than Dudley's, and took over the starting gig.
But wait, if we really want to evaluate the Clippers' small forward, shouldn't we ask one of the most well-known Clipper small forwards of all time? Or at least his Cardboard Counterpart? I'm going to pass this along to Cardboard Corey and just let things develop naturally.
Oh, come on now. I just got a little distracted this summer with work and everything. You're still my number one Cardboard Cutout of a Former NBA Player. We cool?
Good. Now, I have a question to ask you. As the greatest cardboard small forward in the history of the Clippers franchise, can you give us your thoughts on Matt Barnes, now that you've had a couple of years to form an opinion?
Very true. Matt is also a pretty efficient scorer, for the most part. Despite a field goal percentage of only 43.8% last year, he had a true shooting percentage (which accounts for efficiency on three pointers and free throws as well) of 55.2%, which is solid. And he managed that while only shooting 34.3% from deep and 73.3% from the line, neither of which are exactly elite. So how did he do it? Well, he limited himself to almost entirely smart shots. 92% of his shots were either from within 10 feet of the hoop or from the three point line (where he can shoot 34.3% and his true percentage will be 51.5%, because it's worth 3 points instead of 2). Smart basketball leads to good shots, and Matt Barnes has turned himself into a pretty smart basketball player.
Okay, okay. Maybe he has some work to do on that end. But maybe we, as fans, just have to live with that part of his game. Hear me out. Matt Barnes has commented that he loves playing for the Clippers because, unlike some other teams he's played for, he's always had the green light to shoot the long ball with the Clips. Is it a coincidence that in the 11 years before he came to the Clippers, he'd only shot above 34% from deep twice? And is it also a coincidence that those were the only two other years where he shot at a rate of more than 5.7 per 36 minutes? Whenever he's told not to shoot, he doesn't shoot well. And while his 34.3% isn't great, it's not like he's Pero Antic (6.6 3PA per 36 at 32.7%), JJ Barea (5.7 3PA per 36 at 31.6%), or some guy named Russell Westbrook (5.5 3PA per 36 at 31.8%). To put things in perspective even more, Matt Barnes had a higher TS% than Westbrook last year (55.2% vs 54.5%). Barnes, and his penchant for what looks like "chucking," is fine on the offensive end. He could probably try to shoot a higher percentage of his threes from the corners (39% of total threes) instead of from above the break (61% of total threes), but the wings allow him to slash much more effectively than the corners. Like I said, I think we should just learn to live with it and let him play his game.
Easy there Barnes. Corey, you really thought you were the only one?
Yes, let's talk about Matt Barnes' defense. Barnes is a pretty aggressive defender, as we've all learned from watching him. His lateral quickness isn't on the level of a defensive stopper's, but he does so many little things that annoy some of the best scorers in the league, he makes his impact — and he does it without fouling too much. I mean, he gets plenty of fouls (3.8 fouls per 36 minutes), but at least one or two of those are intentional ones he commits to stop the easy bucket. The rest of the time he's on the court, he's giving little hip bumps while guys try to run their routes. He's swiping for the ball any chance he gets. He's crowding weak ball handlers. He's doing all of the things that help you win games, and he rarely has those Harden-moments, where he just completely loses track of his man.
That reminds me. I was listening to the NBA Today Sirius XM radio show yesterday, and it was being hosted by Justin Termine* and a familiar face, former Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. They were discussing the recent scuffle Blake Griffin got into with Trevor Booker, and they were commenting that either Blake needs to eventually do something and fight back, to show players that he's not just going to keep taking these hits, OR someone less valuable on the team needs to be the enforcer and protect the Clipper stars, taking the ejection if necessary. Now, I'm not saying Matt Barnes needs to be that guy, or that he's not valuable (or that an enforcer is even necessary on this team), but he certainly has the ability and reputation to scare away potential flagrant-foulers. The Clippers just can't afford for travesties like the infamous [INSERT ONE OF THE MANY TIMES SOME SCRUB PLAYER BODY-CHECKED BLAKE ON A FAST BREAK] incident to occur again.
No, Corrugated CDR. Heck no. I already made the BOLD prediction that you'd end up starting at SF for the Clippers, and then you immediately decided to play like crap in the preseason. Now go back to your corner and think about what you've done.
But back to the man of the hour, Matt Barnes. If he's proven anything in his time with the Clippers, he's shown that he's consistently solid. He's not going to ever lead the team in scoring (although I seem to recall he did it once last season), and he's not going to completely shut down a superstar player. But he is going to help you win games, and he'll do it any way he can, using hustle, veteran smarts, and his great chemistry with Chris, Blake, and DJ. The Clippers are still a Nicolas Batum-level small forward away from being title favorites, but they are still easily a top 5 team in the NBA with Matt Barnes at the position. And I think we can all be pretty happy with that.
*Justin Termine is a absolute moron who knows nothing about the Clippers. Dunleavy was talking about the Clippers' new 7 footer who can space the floor and play alongside either Blake or DJ, and Termine decided to steer the conversation towards new Clipper addition Spencer Hawes... only for Dunleavy to pause awkwardly and inform him that Spencer Hawes is the only 7 footer on the Clippers who can shoot threes and play alongside either Blake or DJ. Termine didn't know how to react, so he made Dunleavy repeat his entire analysis of Hawes. It was terrible and hilarious. As a side note, Dunleavy was pretty great to listen to, especially when he was talking about Sterling.