When Matt Barnes was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2010-11 season, it was seen as a smart move by the organization. Barnes would bring his defensive mentality and hustle to the bench and would act as a sufficient reliever for Metta World Peace. However, injuries would sideline this potential in 2011, leaving fans and Barnes himself with disappointment.
During this past off-season and the extended duration of the NBA lockout, Barnes dedicated himself to getting healthy again. He had something to prove to fans, and the fans were eager to watch. Then came the announcement from Mike Brown that he was assigning World Peace to lead the bench. Laker fans naturally assumed Brown saw an improvement in Barnes in training camp and would takeover World Peace’s former position as starting small forward.
Therefore it was a bit of a surprise when Brown had NBA sophomore Devin Ebanks start during the pre-season and the first four games of the regular season. During this stretch Ebanks averaged five points on 50 percent shooting and 3.3 rebounds. The veteran, and healthy, Barnes actually picked up two DNPs in the start of the regular season. The Laker fans had no problem voicing their opinion of Brown opting to sit Barnes by chanting for Barnes to play at Staples Center.
Mike Brown seemed to eventually get the message, and began to give Barnes more minutes before making him the starting small forward. Additionally, Metta World Peace, who started the season hot, has drastically cooled down. Barnes’ increased minutes decreased the struggling World Peace’s minutes to an 11.5 average in the games against Golden State and Memphis.
As a starter Barnes is averaging over eight points and six rebounds per game. On the other side, coming off the bench he is averaging a lower 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. The difference is black and white. However, the mindset of Barnes is different depending on whether he starts or comes off the bench. Barnes feels most comfortable in the starting line-up. He recently said, “I know what my role is on that first unit. It’s to provide energy and a spark, and I try to do that.”*
After two impressive outings against Golden State and Memphis, Mike Brown remarked, “Barnes played a whale of a game. He played a whale of a game on both ends of the floor. He’s playing within the system and it’s exciting to see a guy at his size with his athleticism, with his defensive energy and his quickness and all that other stuff, play the game the right way. … The defensive intensity that he brought to the table (Sunday) was good to see. It was fun to watch.”*
Brown also reported that “[Barnes is] my small forward for the foreseeable future.”* This is the best and right decision for the Lakers’ to beat out the competition. With small forward competitors like Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the NBA, “That three spot defensively is a huge, huge key,”* as Kobe Bryant stated.
Not only is Barnes’ continued performance important against competitors in the NBA, it is important for Kobe Bryant as well. Bryant is having a great season thus far, averaging over 29 points and six assists per game, but there is no question that the torn ligament in his shooting wrist is having an affect on his game.
However, Bryant’s wrist, which he injured during the first pre-season game against the Los Angeles Clippers, hasn’t seemed to affect his shooting as much as his ball control. One of the biggest problems with the Lakers’ performance thus far in the season has been the amount of turnovers they are committing. A reason for that is Bryant’s ball control issues, which Laker fans and Kobe himself aren’t accustomed to.
Prior to Bryant’s latest injury he could be double-teamed, drive the ball and cut through defenders with absolute control and total ease. Now, with the injured wrist, this is more difficult for Bryant. However, Bryant still attracts the most attention from defenders and passing the ball to an open teammates is occurring more in Bryant’s offensive game.
Who is one of those open teammates? Matt Barnes. During the past several games, he has taken advantage of those opportunities as well as creating second chance opportunities off the glass. For the best chance of success this season the Lakers need the continued performance from Matt Barnes on both sides of the court.
*Source: ESPNLA.com | Dave McMenamin