Of all the veterans the Orlando Magic acquired this summer, Matt Barnes might be the least recognizable. Vince Carter and Jason Williams are former living highlight reels whose names do more than merely resonate with hoops junkies. Brandon Bass averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game in each of the last two seasons with Dallas, yet had popped up on Magic fan wishlists as early as 2007, when the idea of playing Rashard Lewis at power forward full-time had yet to really gain traction, and pairing Dwight Howard with a power forward who rebounds reasonably well and hits the mid-range jumper reliably had more appeal; as we've discussed, the Magic work better with a floor-stretching power forward like Lewis or Ryan Anderson, who've conspired to make Bass an afterthought in the Magic's rotation. But Bass' apparent burial a subject for another time.
In some fans' minds, Barnes is the real afterthought: he received the fewest votes in an OPP poll conducted last month asking readers whom their favorite newcomer is. My theory is that he lacks on single, defining skill as a player, and he's bounced around the league for years. He's not a specialist, in other words, in the way starting small forward Mickael Pietrus (defense and corner three-pointers) is. Partially influenced by this Brian Schmitz-penned piece in yesterday's Orlando Sentinel, in which Schmitz pointed out that Barnes is the Magic's third-leading rebounder, I decided to take a closer look at Orlando's eighth man and lowest-profile player.
One of my favorite tricks to use in this sort of post is to compare Barnes' play with the comments team officials--like GM Otis Smith--made in the wake of his signing. Is he living up to the standard team decision-makers set for him? Here's Smith in the press release announcing Barnes' signing:
"Matt (Barnes) is a versatile player that fits very well with our style of play," said Smith. "He is a good defender, can knock down the open shot and is coming off his best season as a pro. We’re happy to welcome Matt to the Magic family."
"Versatile" is certainly one way to put it. Barnes, a natural small forward, can shift seamlessly to power forward thanks to spending significant time there over each of the last 3 seasons: last year in Phoenix filling in for Amar'e Stoudemire as well as two prior years in Golden State in Don Nelson's unconventional, um, "system." Though not exceptionally quick, he's still able to defend shooting guards with mixed results. His height and length are assets in that regard.
Perhaps the one stat of Barnes' that's stuck with most Magic fans is his three-point percentage: he's connecting on 20% of his treys this year while averaging 2.5 attempts per game. Puzzlingly, he'd been an average three-point shooter (33.2%) in his career prior to this season, and shot 36.6% on 4.4 attempts for the WE BELIEVE Golden State Warriors in 2007. As a result of his poor shooting this year, he sports the worst True Shooting mark on the team (note: Carter, who leads the team in shot attempts per game, is next-to-last) as well as the worst Offensive Rating, per basketball-reference.com. Once regarded as a viable secondary or tertiary playmaker, he also coughs the ball up on 18.5% of his possessions. The Magic play him for nearly half a game on average, yet rank in the top 10 in Offensive Efficiency. Clearly, he's doing something right, on both ends, or coach Stan Van Gundy wouldn't leave him out there.
My belief is that Barnes' value lies in his status as the Magic's closest approximation of a "glue guy." Take a look at his rebounding, for instance. As noted before, he's the Magic's third-leading rebounder on a per-game basis. He's also third on the team in rebound rate, and grabs an impressive 19.9% of all available defensive rebounds, which is exceptional for a player of his height.
He's also of some value on offense, despite his woeful three-point shooting. His good hands and body control--skills honed as a wide-receiver prospect in high school, no doubt--make him an excellent finisher, as he's converted 64% of his shots at the rim this year, and never worse than 62% in any of the three years prior to this one. At times during my recaps I feel like programming my word processor to add "a cutting" to Barnes' name, since he always seems to be diving to the rim at opportune times. As an aside, I find it curious that Barnes has struggled so mightily from three-point range, but has shot a respectable 47.0% on long two-pointers. Click that 64% link for more on that.
He also appears to make his teammates better, in some way. The lineup with Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick in the backcourt with Barnes, Anderson, and Dwight Howard up front has crushed opponents this season, with a +61 differential in only 52.9 minutes. The team manages to improve offensively when he's on the floor, while slightly regressing on defense, which runs counter to expectation, given Barnes' defensive reputation. Nonetheless, he has a positive impact, as he improves the Magic's efficiency differential by 6.6 each time he's on the floor.
Finally, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Barnes tallied 6 deflections in just 18 minutes against Golden State earlier this season, as Jon Nichols wrote here. Between the cuts on offense and awareness on defense, he's does the "little things" that aren't easily accounted for in a traditional stat-sheet. Yet I don't believe Barnes is a No-Stats All-Star in the Shane Battier mold, as he's a few notches below elite defensively and unremarkable offensively. Nonetheless, he's proven to be a valuable addition to this year's Magic, a veritable Swiss Army Knife in Van Gundy's well-stocked arsenal.