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NBA Stats Notebook: The quiet importance of Harrison Barnes, Trey Lyles

NBA Stats Notebook: The quiet importance of Harrison Barnes, Trey Lyles

On Saturday night, the Sacramento Kings have a chance to hit 40 wins for the first time since 2005-06 — also the last time they made the playoffs — and fulfill the prophecy from the superfans in this summer's viral video:

The Kings are the feel-good team of the NBA season. De'Aaron Fox deserves the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year award. Domantas Sabonis has silenced doubts about last year's blockbuster trade. Sacramento has the top scoring offense in the league, and the best team True Shooting percentage in league history.

Fox and Sabonis seem to finally be receiving appropriate national recognition. Impact rookie Keegan Murray and Sixth-Man-of-the-Year dark horse Malik Monk still deserve more praise. But I'd like to spotlight two low-usage wings who have flown particularly under the radar in the Kings' 39-26 season. Harrison Barnes and Trey Lyles might not create highlights at the same rate as Sacramento's stars, but they have each enjoyed a career-year and been critical to the franchise's 7-1 surge since the All-Star break.

Barnes is registering the lowest three-point percentage (37.1%) of his five seasons in Sacramento, yet he's still a key cog in the offense. Since the break, he's slumped to 34.4% from distance but is making an impressive 59.1% of his twos. His 55.9% two-point clip this season is the second-best of his NBA career.

With guys like Fox, Sabonis, Monk and Kevin Huerter doing most of the table-setting, Barnes' buckets are getting a bit easier. Approximately 71.7% of his made shots are coming via an assist, which is the highest since his 2015-16 season as a role-player on the Golden State Warriors. 

According to PBP Stats, Barnes in on pace to approach his career-high of 206 paint touches in a season (he's at 170 right now). This year, he's crushing it with those touches, averaging over one point per paint touch for the first time in his career.

Plays like this catch-and-drive highlight Barnes' syngergy with Sabonis, who can draw in defenses and make the right kick-out plays. It's important that Barnes can use his length, long strides and touch to then attack space instead of settling because it often leads to higher-quality shots or extra-pass opportunities.

This cutting score is largely a lapse by the Los Angeles Clippers' defense, but it still shows how Barnes has the freedom and wherewithal to attack space without the ball. He knows Sabonis can see the court and make these high-low feeds to cutters, so it gives Barnes confidence to move with purpose.

Barnes has also picked up a sneaky skill in the last two seasons: getting calls. He's been fouled on over 19% of his shot attempts in back-to-back seaons, placing him among the top 3% of all forwards, per Cleaning the Glass. Those additional free throws are a nice boost since, historically, Barnes has been reliable at the charity stripe.

Eventually, the 6-foot-8 wing will return to the upper echelon of perimeter threats too. He's making just 36.7% of his catch-and-shoot threes this year after shooting over 42% in the prior two seasons. With Sacramento's arsenal of creators and playmakers, Barnes will keep getting open looks to cash.

The 30-year-old has long been the rock amidst some shaky wing depth in Sacramento. But Barnes finally has some reinforcements, including a comeback season from Trey Lyles.

Once the No. 12 overall draft pick in 2015, Lyles never found a groove with the Utah Jazz and bounced around to the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons before landing with the Kings at last year's trade deadline. Few expected much from the 6-foot-9 wing, a stretch forward who had lost the "stretch" aspect of his shooting game.

This year, the jumper is back. Lyles has reached a respectable 37.2% from distance on a career-high 3.1 attempts per game, and he is a deadeye in the corners (42%). As he's found life from long range, he's also spiked his two-point clip up to 64.7% — the first time he's ever cleared the 60% bar.

Lyles doesn't drive the ball a ton, but when he does attack closeouts and continues to apply pressure, he's effective. He's made 60.7% of his driving field goals; that ranks 12th among 232 players to attempt at least 50 driving field goals (admittedly a small sample size) this season. 

Another small sample, yet impressive note: Lyles has made 18-of-20 cutting field goal attempts (90%!!) this season, per Synergy.

A sweet-shooting Lyles opens up more options for Sacramento, including a pick-and-pop game that can open up the floor even more for driving players. Then he can also fake and drive for some tough finishes, including this dunk:

Lyles is averaging 16.5 minutes per game on the season, but his playing time has increased in each of the last four months, and he's received 20.1 minutes per game since the All-Star break. Add in some solid work on the glass for a Kings team that needs its rebounders, and it makes sense why he's earning a larger role.

To maximize Fox and Sabonis, the Kings need their supporting cast of spacers and slashers to keep the offensive barrage up. With help from Barnes and Lyles, plus a host of other contributors, they're doing so while still trying to find their way on defense. Regardless of how far Sacramento goes in the postseason, this is new, exciting territory for the players and fan base.

THE OUTLIERS (a.k.a. other random interesting numbers I found in the void):

  • Love this infographic from SIS Hoops, laying out how ball movement into shots changes over the course of a game for different teams:
  • It's March Madness time! Here's a neat look at the makeup of top men's teams:
  • Hi. Caitlin Clark is very good at basketball.
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