October 23, 2014

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NBA Draft: Harrison Barnes could be Cavaliers’ pick, join friend Kyrie Irving

They are great friends. They are articulate, businesslike and professional. They share the same agent in Jeff Wechsler.
By the time the NBA Draft ends Thursday night, they could also be Cavaliers teammates.
That Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving played at Duke before being chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and possible 2012 selection Harrison Barnes played at archrival North Carolina isn’t an issue.
At least it’s not in the eyes of Barnes, a small forward who points out his friend’s blood wasn’t tainted too badly because he played just 11 games for the dreaded Blue Devils.
Of much bigger concern to NBA types is the 6-foot-8,
228-pound Barnes’ ability to put the ball on the floor and generate his own offense.
If the Cavs think the 20-year-old can do that — or learn how to do that — he might be their guy with the No. 4 pick, especially if Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who teamed with Irving to lead St. Patrick’s High to a New Jersey state title, and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal are off the board.
“Here’s a guy who came back (to North Carolina) after his freshman year and should have wowed us off the court,” NBA scouting director Ryan Blake said. “He was supposed to be the No. 1 pick and so forth. The guy can play on the wing, shoot it and has athleticism. We really thought he was the complete package, but he didn’t show it.”
Barnes was so highly regarded last year that some draft experts thought he would have been gone before Cleveland took power forward Tristan Thompson with the No. 4 pick.
His value didn’t plummet after he returned to North Carolina and averaged 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists as a sophomore, but it looks like No. 4 is the highest he can hope to go.
“What he is, and what he’s proven he is, is a guy who shoots it well from downtown,” Blake said. “He can get to the line and he can score from all spots, but the main concern is he needs a better handle to show that explosiveness and rid himself of that defender. He tested incredibly well, he’s got a great vertical leap (38 inches) and speed, but he needs that handle.”
Barnes shot .440 from the field last season, including .358 on 3-pointers, but those numbers dipped to .328 and .260 in the NCAA Tournament, when his scoring average fell to 14.0 points.
With 9.6 percent body fat and a 6-11¼ wingspan, Barnes impressed scouts with his athleticism at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. He’s also a very intelligent player and comes off as extremely mature and professional after two years at North Carolina, but there are still questions about his long-term NBA potential.
“There are legitimate concerns about his athleticism,” Pro Basketball Draft’s Joe Kotoch said. “He did himself some favors by showing up at the combine, because he was a little more explosive than people thought, but laterally he’s not as quick as you would want from a defensive standpoint.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to handle LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), those type of guys. At the same time, he struggles with his ballhandling. He might be able to work on it, but game tape doesn’t lie.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, who could possibly slide to the Cavs now that Washington has acquired veteran Trevor Ariza, also has question marks. He isn’t a great shooter, but he’s a tremendous athlete and, at 18, the youngest player in the draft, which will make him hard for the Wizards to pass up with the third pick.
Kidd-Gilchrist is also great friends with Irving, having played high school ball with him at St. Patrick’s. He’s represented by Rich Paul, who is part of James’ LRMR marketing firm. Paul also represented Thompson when the Cavs chose him at No. 4 last year.
Like Kidd-Gilchrist, who spent a month working out in the Cleveland area after the college season ended and went through a personal workout for the Cavs on Wednesday, almost all scouts expect Barnes to be a solid NBA player. The disagreement comes in regards to his ceiling.
“There is a flag of concern,” Blake said. “We have questions because he’s had a couple years and he hasn’t developed those things we thought he would. They’re not major red flags, but a player should continue developing.
“At the very worst, he can be a Marvin Williams, which is not bad. It’s just not your franchise player. Can he turn into a Tracy McGrady? That’s a pretty good selection of where he could fall.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.