LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20: Matt Barnes #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the first quarter while taking on the New Orleans Hornets in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
[Apologies for the messed up order that brings Matt Barnes to the table so late. I tried to dictate this piece to my assistant while on my private plane headed to Dubai for the annual bloggers Celebrity Golf Tournament and peasant hunt...er, I mean pheasant, but the connection was bad. Hers, of course.]
Matt Barnes has a reputation in this league. He's the type of guy you love when he's on your team, and hate when he's not. You love him on your team because every second he's on the court, he's going a million miles an hour (in a mostly controlled way, mind you), pursuing the basketball, making hustle plays and doing everything he can to give his team an edge. You hate him as an opponent because that doing everything part includes shit-talking, antagonizing, and just kind of generally being a jerk. That's Matt Barnes, and unless I've gotten the wrong cut of his jib, I think that's exactly who he wants to be.
Well, I can't speak for what other team's fans think of Matt Barnes' Lakers tenure, but on the home team side of things, Barnes was thiiis close to being exactly as advertised. After Shannon Brown's psychedelic shooting disappeared (complete with painful withdrawals from coming down off that high), Matt Barnes became the only thing to get excited about when the Lakers bench unit entered the game en masse (Lamar Odom not included). Barnes brought the hustle that is his trademark, his energy on the boards gave the Lakers much needed second opportunities (which become important when, you know, the unit you are a part of can't score worth a damn), and most importantly, his aggressive, energetic defense was contagious. The Lakers bench had many, many failings this year, and just about the only time they were successful, it was because they caused turnovers which led to easy baskets, and causing turnovers is something Barnes does so well, he inspires others to get in on the fun.
So what went wrong for Matt Barnes? Just about the only thing that could go wrong. See, Matt isn’t what you would call a very skilled player. He can’t really shoot that well to begin with, so its not like that can ebb and flow too badly. He’s not expected to score a bunch of points or play a large role in the offense. He’s not young enough to have spectacular athleticism, nor old enough to be losing what athleticism he has all that fast. And he doesn’t play enough minutes to ever be worried about getting tired, despite the manic style that permeates his time on the court. So there is literally only one way for Matt Barnes to have his effectiveness dramatically weakened. He can get hurt.
He got hurt.
Barnes lost nine weeks to a knee injury, and he was never the same. And by that, I mean any time post injury that Barnes was on the court actively hurt his own team. He had no rhythm. His shot, already a bit of a crap shoot, turned into betting on snake eyes over and over again. And, whether because movement hurt, or because he didn’t trust his legs, he didn’t have quite the same level of energy that is required for Barnes to be effective.
In the playoffs, Barnes was just one part of a bench that was almost constantly outplayed. He shot a hideous 39.5% overall, and an even more ghastly 16.7% from three point range, and he was part of a unit that played worse on both offense and defense as compared to the regular season. When the time came to raise the proverbial game, he joined his bench brethren in doing the exact opposite.
Is it his fault that Matt Barnes fell off a cliff when the Lakers needed him most? Not in the slightest. You can’t control injuries, and Barnes’, though not important enough to blame for any serious part of the Lakers’ overall failure, certainly deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Barnes’ individual performance. We have to grade with what we’re given, which means that he’s docked for overall numbers which are poor and a playoff performance which was putrid, but let’s just say that, despite the relatively poor grade, I know few Lakers fans who are upset that there will be a year two of the Matt Barnes experience.
Final Grade: C+