The unluckiest player in the NBA

Photo Credit: Mavs Moneyball

In the offseason between the 2015-2016 NBA season and this past NBA season, small forward Kevin Durant jumping ship from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 73-win Golden State Warriors dominated NBA news. What made far fewer news stories was what happened to Warriors’ small forward Harrison Barnes, who needed to leave to make the Durant move possible. What happened next makes him perhaps the most unfortunate player…star, really…in the NBA.

Yes,  he’s still making $95 million over four years, which is not exactly unlucky. But what makes him the unluckiest player in the league is rather subtle compared to what some players have gone through. Take recent #1 overall draft picks like Anthony Bennett or Greg Oden. Not only were they atrocious on the basketball court in the NBA, but they were under the microscope created by the hype surrounding them as #1 overall picks coming into the league.

Barnes isn’t a bad player. But embarrassing and unlucky things don’t only happen to bad players. Take former Shaqtin’ a Fool Lifetime Achievement Award winners Dwight Howard and Brandon Knight. They have both been solid throughout their NBA careers. But Knight has been embarrassed quite frequently for a player who has only been in the NBA for six seasons, and Howard has been embarrassed far more than an eight-time NBA All-Star should be.  And perhaps no player in NBA history has committed more stupid actions during games than 2015 Shaqtin’ a Fool Lifetime Achievement Award winner JaVale McGee, who is now a Warrior.

But it was JaVale McGee ultimately getting the last laugh and winning the 2017 NBA championship to give him more rings than Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Steven Nash and Allen Iverson combined. Who’s unlucky now?

Harrison Barnes is.

Now that we have a number of other situations to compare to, let’s get into why Barnes’ situation is, in fact, worse. In the his final season with Golden State,  he averaged 11.7 points per game with a 46.6% FG% and a 38.3% 3-PT%. Those are all  respectable statistics for a starter who played alongside three NBA All-Stars and did not get the ball as much as he would have on a weaker team such as the Dallas Mavericks, the team he plays for now. In the 2015-2016 season with Oklahoma City, Durant had much better stats than Barnes did with the Warriors, in part because he played with only one other All-Star in Oklahoma City, point guard Russell Westbrook. He averaged 28.2 points per game with a 50.5% FG% and a 38.3% 3-PT.

Durant only played a little bit less than five minutes more than Barnes each game in the 2015-2016 season. However, he averaged twice as many shots than Barnes, putting up an average of 19.2 shots per game as opposed to 9.6. By taking the same number of two-point FG, three-point FG and FT as Barnes took during his final season with Golden State, Durant would have averaged roughly 12.8 points per game, a total that is only slightly higher than what Barnes’ total  (11.7) was! And Durant is one of the best scorers in NBA history.

How does this make Barnes unlucky? Based on these numbers, he was certainly pulling his weight for the Golden State team that won a record a record 73 games in his final season despite not putting up superstar-like numbers that Durant has been known for throughout his career. Yet because Durant was available for the Warriors to sign, Barnes had to move on. Well, he moved on, and his statistical improvement in Dallas shows that he is a great player that was unfortunate enough to get the boot from a great team.

With Dallas, Barnes has had his chance to shine, as he went from being the Warriors’ fourth option to being the Mavericks’ star, and he did just that. He wasn’t on Durant’s level, but he did average a team-high and a career-high 19.2 points with a 46.8% FG% and a 35.1% 3-PT%. Yet the Mavericks this past season with Barnes could not win half the amount of games the Warriors won in their final season with him, as they won just 33 games.

Imagine how Barnes must feel.He pulled his weight for one of the greatest teams in NBA history and was signed by a team that has no chance at being relevant in the near future despite the fact that he has taken on a much larger role and excelled in it. Sure, other players such as Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights left the Warriors last summer as well to make room for Durant. But none of those players are as good as Barnes is, and none were directly replaced by the future Hall of Famer Durant.


-Asher Fair