Name: Matt Barnes
2013-2014 Key Stats: 9.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg
Years in NBA: 11
Years With Clippers: 2
2013-2014 Salary: $3,250,000
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons, $3,396,250 in 14-15 and $3,542,500 (partially guaranteed) in 15-16
In A Nutshell:
It seems strange to think about now, but for the first half of the regular season, Jared Dudley was the starting small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers. It wasn't necessarily supposed to be that way. Yes Dudley was supposed to be a key off-season addition, a floor stretching wing who would fit nicely in the starting lineup next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. But the re-signing of Matt Barnes, who returned to the Clippers for a portion of the mid-level exception after having a career year for the team on a minimum contract in 2012-2013, was also a major development. Barnes had backed up Caron Butler last season, but had also played more minutes than Butler and was the closer on the wing for Vinny Del Negro's Clippers. During the off-season, the starting job was theoretically up for grabs.
However, the decision was more or less made for Doc Rivers when Barnes was injured in training camp. He spent the seven weeks of the season either in street clothes or limping through an injury. He played the first four games -- then sat out three. He played the next four -- then went out for a month. It didn't help matters that he got tossed out of one of those early games, and then complicated matters by sending a controversial tweet from the locker room.
It came as a surprise when Rivers inserted Barnes into the starting lineup on January 20 -- but it shouldn't have. Dudley had struggled all season, his always questionable athleticism had seemingly abandoned him completely, and he wasn't even making his threes, the one thing everyone assumed he'd do well on this team. So Barnes came into the starting lineup and remained there for the final 40 games and the playoffs.
Whether it was his health, his role, or the psychological impact of trade rumors that dogged him until the trade deadline, Barnes was two different players before and after the all star break this season. In 869 minutes played before the break his true shooting percentage .490 and his plus/minus was +3.1. In 866 minutes after, his TSP shot up to .607 and his plus/minus was an impressive +15.9. Sure, you would expect his plus/minus to be better as a starter, playing alongside the likes of Paul and Griffin more -- but that post ASB plus/minus was actually better than that of either Paul or Griffin, so Barnes must have been doing something right.
There's little mystery to the production Matt Barnes provides on an NBA court. He runs his way into points and he works his way into defensive stops. He may not be the most talented guy out there, but he works harder than anyone.
Barnes gets his points in essentially three ways: (a) spotting up for open three pointers -- he's not a great three point shooter, but at .343 ( .373 as a starter!) he was more than adequate; (b) finishing on the break -- the Clippers ran much more this season, and Barnes was invariably filling a lane; (c) cutting to the basket -- few players in the NBA are as good at making off the ball cuts, and the rest of the Clippers, especially Paul and Griffin, were good at finding him on those cuts.
None of this is rocket science. Barnes rarely has to take more than a dribble or two to get points. He just runs to the right spot, catches and finishes. Of course it's harder than it sounds. Barnes is an uncommonly good finisher around the basket, with good body control and the ability to use either hand. In fact, he's equally comfortable dunking with either hand, which is not something you frequently see in a wing.
On the defensive end, the Clippers used Barnes as their wing stopper almost by default, as they really didn't have a better option. At 34, Barnes isn't the quickest guy in the world, but compared to Dudley he's friggin' Usain Bolt. In the conference semi-finals, Kevin Durant averaged 33 points against the Clippers and went to the free throw line 11 times per game. Barnes was far and away the best option the Clippers had for defending Durant -- it's better than nothing, but is it good enough?
If Barnes is the .373 three point shooter he was as a starter this year, or even the .343 guy he's been for two seasons now as a Clipper, then that's acceptable. However, on his career he's made just one in three from deep, and he's certainly not a guy who makes you feel super-confident when he's open behind the arc. He's clearly worked on his range and he knows full well that he has to be effective from there to remain a productive player in the league -- but there's definitely a feeling that the deep ball could leave him at any time.
He's not much of a creator on offense -- he works his way into good spots where he can finish plays, but he's not the kind of guy you can give the ball to with a short clock and ask him to make something happen. Teams like to cross-match against the Clippers in order to put longer defenders on Paul. That will leave Barnes defended, for instance, by the likes of Steph Curry. Barnes can be effective in the post in those situations -- but again, it's less than ideal.
At 34, there's a question as to how much longer he can be effective, especially when you consider that much of his effectiveness comes directly from his work rate. Hustling your way to points is easier for a guy in his mid-20s that for a guy in his mid-30s. Surprisingly, he's had two of his most productive seasons these past two seasons with the Clippers. He's in fantastic physical shape and takes great care of his body, but age is going to catch up with him at some point.
His confrontational attitude on the court can be a blessing and a curse. He will always protect his teammates and that can help create team unity. He will not be intimidated on the court. However, technical fouls and flagrant fouls cost points; points that seem more costly when it's a role player who is giving them away.
Future with the Clippers:
After a decade in the NBA, Barnes signed his first multi-year, multi-million dollar contract last summer. But even at $3.5M per season, he's a relative bargain at his current level of production. His remaining contract -- $3.4M next season and a partially guaranteed $3.6M the season after that -- is very friendly for the team, which is one of the reasons that Matt was so concerned about possibly being traded last February. He's actually someone that other teams would want under his current contract. Barring injuries or an age-related drop off, Barnes should be a major part of the rotation again next season.
But the reality of the current NBA is that if you don't have a defender to at least trouble Durant and/or LeBron James then you're going to struggle when you run into those teams in the post-season. The Clippers were better than the Thunder at a majority of starting positions, off the bench, and in the coach's chair. But they still lost. No one can stop Durant and not many can slow him -- but the dude is 25, and the reality for every other Western Conference team is that they need a Durant-stopper (or a Durant-slower). Matt Barnes can be a decent plan B -- but for the Clippers this season, he was plan A (without a plan B).
So while the Clippers would be thrilled to have Barnes next season, they are almost certainly going to try to upgrade at the small forward during the off-season. Barnes is cheaper and much better than Dudley -- which paradoxically could mean that Barnes has to go and Dudley will stay. The Clippers would love to move Dudley for something useful, but that's highly unlikely given Dudley's current market value. The reality is that if they move Dudley, it will be for little more than salary relief (which might be the smart move regardless). But with Reggie Bullock hopefully ready for a bigger role and an upgrade needed on the wing, there's simply not room on the roster for both Barnes and Dudley.
All of which makes it difficult to predict what Barnes' role with the Clippers will be next season. He could be the starter at small forward. He could be an energy guy coming off the bench, backing up a new acquisition (probably the role that suits him best at this point). Or he could be gone, packaged in a trade for his replacement. Stay tuned.