Matt Barnes, Small Forward
When I think about Matt Barnes this season, I associate him as the microcosm of the many inconsistencies the Lakers faced this season. What I commend Barnes for is always coming ready to play despite not knowing how much playing time he’s due for on any given night.
Barnes started 16 games for the Lakers this year at the small forward position. On the nights he wouldn’t start he would see his minutes fluctuate, dependent on the play of Metta World Peace and Devin Ebanks. He began the season as the third option at the small forward, before moving into the starting slot before finally settling into his role as the backup to World Peace near the tail-end of the season.
When Barnes was first acquired by the Lakers, he was supposed to bring the defense, toughness and the three-point shooting that made Matt Barnes one of Kobe Bryant’s arch rivals while he was a member of the Magic. Other than the toughness leading to his penchant of getting into early foul trouble, his other strengths have slowly diminished along with his minutes this year.
Despite being the Lakers’ secondary option at his own position, he was oftentimes the Lakers’ most effective (and occasionally only) option off the bench because of his consistent effort. His willingness to fight for 50/50 balls, make cuts to the basket and do other Matt Barnes things made him invaluable.
Sure, his season averages of 7.8 points a game and 5.5 rebounds a game are actually a slight improvement from his first year as a Laker, he took steps backwards in terms of productivity. He didn’t post outstanding numbers under Phil Jackson because the triangle offence is designed to get everyone involved semi-equally; but under Mike Brown, Barnes looked like a player desperate to get involved on the offensive end in any way he could’ve. Barnes’ best game of the regular season came against the Minnesota Timberwolves when he posted 24 points on 7-7 shooting; that was also the only game of the year when he hit the 20-point plateau. Barnes’ offensive output was so scarce this year, his biggest highlight was throwing the lob to Kobe for his reverse slam during the fourth quarter of the Suns’ game.
You can blame Barnes sub-par play in the playoffs to many factors, but it’s impossible not to overlook the fact that he never got in a rhythm during the regular season in order to perform in the playoffs when the games mattered. Even when the playoffs rolled around, Barnes’ minutes were still being experimented with. In the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Barnes logged 21 minutes in Game 1, five minutes in Game 4 and didn’t even see the floor in Game 5.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t feel like Matt Barnes, a solidified NBA veteran, needed to earn his stripes on a team already lacking viable options besides the big three of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. While Barnes is certainly not an elite small forward in the league, he doesn’t deserve to be stocked on the bench as an afterthought.
There are many issues the Lakers need to address heading into this off-season but the logjam at the small forward should be high on the priority list. It became painstakingly clear that World Peace, Barnes and Ebanks are all much too talented to share 48 minutes of playing time with one another.