This is the final part of the 2010-11 Key Players profile.
Why Matt Barnes?
Matt Barnes is the latest result of Kobe Bryant's adaptation of the old saying, "Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer." Well okay, Bryant didn't actually sought after Barnes personally over the summer, but he didn't disapprove of his signing either because Kobe doesn't have tunnel vision when it comes to getting the kind of help to win another title.
Much like Ron Artest, Barnes is known for his defense. He isn't a regular shutdown defender like Ron, but Matt can hold his own when called upon. Most of the time, he enjoys getting under the skin of the player he's guarding by invading their personal space and trying to pry the ball away whenever he gets a chance. Kind of like how Sasha Vujacic does but without too much of the over-dramatic protest to the refs when called for a foul. I don't have to bring up his tiff with Kobe last season in the game in Orlando to explain how brash of a defender Barnes could get. In fact, Bryant loves seeing that from his opponent but especially from his teammates. Barnes is also athletic enough to intercept certain passes or make a secondary-defender rejections whenever he sees an opportunity.
On offense, Matt's game is basically spot-up shooting from behind the arc combined with the occasional slash to the basket. He also likes to get involved in alley-oop plays and doesn't shy away from fast-break opportunities. Barnes isn't a very effective 3-point shooter and some would even say that he's a streaky shooter. That may be the case. But in this system with the quality of post players the Lakers have at their disposal, Matt should see more open look at the basket this season than at any time in his 7-year career. He doesn't have to hit every single open shot he takes, but if he makes the defense worry about him enough then he's done his job.
Chasing after loose balls and rebounding are also part of Matt's game. That's quite impressive when you consider he only stands at 6-feet and 7-inches and doesn't possess Shannon Brown-like pogo legs or guard-like quickness. What he does have is a rebounder's mentality of treating every single shot as a miss.
With the second unit, he'll be mainly relied upon to bring toughness and defense behind Ron. His rebounding and spot-up shooting will also help out tremendously as it will relieve some pressure off of the backcourt to shoot the ball and Lamar Odom should Lamar need to sacrifice his own boards to keep the player he's guarding from getting one. Besides, the more rebounder, defender and scorer the Lakers have on the floor the more dangerous they become.
What to Expect From Barnes This Season
He's talked about his hunger for his first ring, but name me one free-agent who doesn't say all the right things right after getting a new contract. He may be on the same team as Artest, but that doesn't mean that he'll learn to play his role in this team to the fullest while keeping the ego at bay like Ron did. So, proclaiming that Matt will be here until the very end is still premature when you also take into account his pending court appearances for his domestic abuse case later on in the season.
That said, I never underestimate Phil Jackson's ability to make guys like Matt and Ron buy into the team's philosophy and ultimate goal nor what this team's chemistry and camaraderie do to new teammates that make them want to give it all for this team. In other words, I fully expect Matt to keep his word about helping the Lakers to get his first ring.
Questions and Outlook
There are 3 possible factors that could affect the way Barnes performs this season: 1. His minutes. Matt's career minutes per game is no less than 19. He won't get that with the Lakers. Will that cause him to care less about playing this season? 2. His court schedule. Will the emotional baggage of his court commitments keep him for focusing? If Matt is as tough as they say he is, then it shouldn' be a problem. If he isn't, then he could be a distraction to this team. But will he? I don't think so. 3. His contract. Matt is eligible to become a free-agent next summer if he choose to. He signed a 1-year contract with a Player Option on the second. Remember, the Lakers wasn't his first choice and wouldn't even be in purple and gold hadn't his deal to go to Toronto negated by the salary cap. Will the demands of winning a title make Matt go through the motions until he can freely sign a bigger contract somewhere else? Right now, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's another wait-and-see scenario.
They say winning cures all. So, my best guess is Barnes will be happy here in Los Angeles and will play his heart out to win what everybody wants but not many people want to work for in June. We certainly have seen him enjoy playing with lesser team. Imagine what he'd do for a 2-time defending champions.