In the group of players that is generally expected to be drafted between 2nd and 8th or so, you can kind of identify two types of players. The first group is filled with players that are incredibly athletic, entered college as the second coming of some great NBA player, but their production lagged (Beal, Rivers). There's another group of players that didn't generate as much buzz in high school, tend to not be physically dominant, but had outstanding careers in college (Robinson, Lillard). The question with the first group is whether they can fulfill their sky-high potential. The questions with the second group is whether their game will translate to the NBA.
Harrison Barnes falls squarely in the first group. A heralded recruit out of Ames, Iowa, Barnes took his game to UNC, where he was named a Pre-season All-American, an honor never before bestowed upon an incoming freshman. Frankly, however, Barnes has always fallen a bit short. With the near-unattainable expectations set for him, it's hard not to be disappointed.
Barnes was born and raised in Ames, Iowa, just minutes from the Iowa State campus. He was all-everything in high school, playing for the US Juniors Team, leading high school to an undefeated state title, and winning the high school player of the year award. He was the top recruit in the 2010 class, and he chose to play for Roy Williams. He arrived in Chapel Hill with an almost unprecedented amount of fanfare.
To be frank, Harrison Barnes's stats don't scream "top-10 pick". More concerning, his stats don't seem to improve from his freshman to his sophomore season. His effective field goal percentage was 49% both seasons. He increased his points per possession from 1.1 to 1.12 from his first to his second year. His offensive rating increased to 108.1 from 106.5 in his sophomore campaign, and he used 26% of his team's possessions, an increase from 25%. He has acceptable rebound rates for a small forward, but his rebounding stats actually decreased in his second year.
It's astonishing how similar his stats are from his freshman year to his sophomore year - he's almost a carbon copy. In short, his stats aren't indicative of a player that's likely to become an efficient NBA scorer.
The main thing that Harrison Barnes has going for him is offensive polish. He just looks like an elite wing player. He utilizes a variety of shot fakes and dribbling techniques to create shots for himself, which he takes with excellent form. The problems come when you delve in deeper - he doesn't have a particularly quick step, which is likely the reason that he takes a lot of jumpers and shoots less than 50% from inside the arc. Beyond the three-point line, he was able to knock down shots at a serviceable 36%. He shows solid range and likely will be able to contribute in the NBA from beyond the arc. As a passer, he's not stellar. Since he isn't skilled at penetrating off the drive, he rarely distorts defenses so that he can find an open man. When I watch him play, he appears to be a possession sink - when the ball comes to him, he seems to take the shot most of the time.
On the defensive side of the ball, Barnes's athleticism really shows up. While not a stand-out defender, his lateral quickness and abilities as an on-ball defender will make him valuable in the NBA and allow him to contribute early. While we'll have to see whether he can develop his defensive presence in the college game, he certainly has the physical tools to play excellent defense.
To be honest, I don't think Harrison Barnes would be a top-10 pick if he hadn't been the top high school recruit in 2010. His college career wasn't impressive, and he showed almost no improvement from his freshman to sophomore years. It's tough to argue that he'll improve massively when he jumps to the NBA when he wasn't able to improve in college.