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Just The Sports: 2011-04-17

Just The Sports

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UNC's Harrison Barnes Still Has Something To Prove

With Harrison Barnes' decision to return to the University of North Carolina for his sophomore season, he accomplished two tasks. The first was to set up the Tar Heels as one of the top national title contenders for the 2011-12 season and the second was to allow the NBA to find out if Barnes really is as good as he was over the second half of the season.

Although Barnes entered college as a much-heralded player, his Tar Heel career got off to an abysmal start by any measure, especially when it came to his shooting. Over the first 19 games of his 37-game season, Barnes posted a woefully inadequate effective field goal percentage of 42.8 percent and true shooting percentage of 47.0 percent, not what one expects from a supposedly star player.

Barnes also struggled when it came to his handling of the ball as he turned the ball over more than he dished out assists. His 15.2 turnover percentage easily negated his 9.6 assist percentage.

All that changed over the last 18 games of the season, starting with UNC's contest against rival North Carolina State where Barnes netted his first 20-point game as a collegian. From that game onward, Barnes became a statistically significant better player in terms of effective field goal percentage (53.5 percent), true shooting percentage (56.1 percent), and avoiding turnovers (8.4 turnover percentage).

Not only did Barnes shoot better over the second half of the season, but he did so while assuming a larger role in the team's offense. Barnes' usage percentage jumped from 25.0 percent to 28.0 percent and the percentage of the team's shots that he took while on the floor increased from 26.4 percent to 31.7 percent. That combination of shooting well from the floor and taking such a high percentage of UNC's field goal attempts meant Barnes was a legitimate star and go-to player in the second half of the season.

With his expanded role in the offense and his much improved shooting, it should come as no surprise that Barnes' points per game average increased by 66.9 percent from 11.8 points per game to 19.7 points per contest.

The only facet of the game where Barnes did not improve was in his ability to get to the free throw line as he took 4.8 field goal attempts for every free throw attempt over the second half of the season as opposed to 3.3 field goal attempts for every free throw attempt during the first 19 games.

However, that is a minor quibble since he shot so well from the field that a lack of free throw attempts was something with which the Tar Heels could live.

Now all Barnes has to prove is that his exploits over the second half of the season are indicative of how he can really play. If he can accomplish that feat, then he will have earned the high draft pick an NBA team will no doubt use on him.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carmelo Anthony Has Played His Best Basketball For The New York Knicks

There can be no arguing that the blockbuster trade that landed the New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has paid off in the short run. Not only did the Knicks improve as a team after the trade, but Anthony played the best basketball of his career for the franchise.

In the 54 games prior to Anthony's arrival on the Knicks' roster, the Knicks had only outscored their opponents by 0.4 points per 100 possessions, which is the make-up of a team barely above .500. Yet, all that changed after the trade.

Over the next 27 games, the Knicks played a much more efficient style of basketball, outscoring opponents by 2.0 points per 100 possessions; the last game of the season was not counted because Anthony did not appear in it. The Knicks were not playing elite basketball by any means, but they were significantly better than they had been before the trade.

A large part of the reason for the Knicks' improvement was the play of the true target of the blockbuster trade deal, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony easily outpaced what he had done for his previous team, the Denver Nuggets.

For the Nuggets this year in 50 games, he posted a true shooting percentage of 54.7 percent, produced 107 points per 100 possessions, and contributed 0.127 win shares per 48 minutes. Had he continued along that same track for the rest of the season, he would have had the fourth-worst season of his eight-year career.

However, he did not. His true shooting percentage jumped up to 57.5 percent, thanks in large part to him shooting an uncharacteristically high 42.4 percent from the three-point line; for his career, including those 27 games, Anthony has shot 32.0 percent on three-pointers.

Due mostly to his increased shooting efficiency, Anthony produced 114 points per 100 possessions and contributed 0.157 win shares per 48 minutes, which are superior to anything he has ever done over a full season.

Since Anthony's offensive proficiency is unlike anything he has ever accomplished in his career, it will probably be too much to expect for him to continue to play as well in the future as he did over those 27 games for the Knicks, but it has certainly been an extraordinarily good ride for Anthony and the Knicks so far.

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