Earlier in the day, Jon Rothstein over at CBS Sports labeled Cat Barber as one of five potential breakout stars for the upcoming season. It’s one of those columns that’s based in some fact, a lot of projection and a need to fill column inches.
For Pack fans, it’s an inclusion that makes sense. For outside observers, it could be a bit confusing – the same player that got benched in February is now going to be a breakout player as a sophomore? To understand how that seems possible, or even likely, requires us to dig into the job that Mark Gottfried and the coaching staff did converting Anthony Barber from ‘AAU point guard’ into ‘college point guard’.
Now, as a warning here, small sample size caveats abound when we break up Barber’s freshman season into sections and try to get a read on his progression over the year. Some of this is just a few bad shooting nights, for example. But it also traces some real progress by Barber through the year and shows why Pack fans are so high on his potential going into his sophomore season.
The Fast Start
|Average||29.75||--||13.50||14-26 (53%)||3-6 (50%)||2.75||1.50|
Barber began his career living up to every bit of expectation that accompanied him to NC State – he was a quick, deadly guard who could seemingly score at will. It was easy to forgive a middling (though hardly bad) assist-to-turnover ratio when the freshman was hitting 50 percent of his shots from the floor.
He played starter's minutes from the opening tip, despite technically coming off the bench the first four games, and it seemed clear that he was going to wrestle the starting job away from incumbent Tyler Lewis in short order. And he did.
The Ascent and the Decline
|Florida Gulf Coast||27||100||12||5-8||0-0||6||5|
|Long Beach St.||35||119||19||5-10||2-5||4||2|
|Average||28.67||--||10.22||63-157 (40%)||5-32 (15%)||4.33||2.11|
This is every start that Barber made his freshman year, which spans around two months of real time from his first start in late November to his last start in early February. It’s clear why Gottfried promoted him to the starting role, and through most of the non-conference season this looked like the right move for the team.
But there were cracks showing, in the sense that Barber was not only prone to take a lot of shots, but prone to take a lot of bad shots – specifically long 2-pointers early in the shot clock. What made matters worse is that his solution to his shooting woes was to shoot more, almost certainly due to his high school career as being the guy who had to score.
Barber posted just two offensive ratings over 100 in his first nine ACC games, almost entirely thanks to his poor shooting. He actually remained a competent distributor and took care of the ball, things that likely kept him in the starting role for a while longer even as his shot selection showed no signs of improving. After losing at North Carolina, and falling to 4-5 in league play, Gottfried made the move to bring Lewis back as a starter.
|Average||13.8||--||3||3-11 (27%)||3-9 (33%)||2||1.8|
The immediate aftermath of Barber’s benching wasn't exactly hope inspiring, as Barber continued to struggle shooting the ball and also turned it over at a much higher clip than he had all season. He had the ultimate humbling when he played just four minutes against Virginia Tech while watching Lewis turn in an eleven assist, zero turnover game. It’s impossible to know if that was a true turning point in the mindset of Barber, but after that game things finally started to click back into place for the freshman point.
|Average||18.44||--||5.89||16-29 (55%)||1-1 (100%)||3.00||1.00|
Four times over the final nine-game stretch, Barber had more assists than he had shot attempts – a feat he never accomplished once prior to being benched. Some of this improvement is that he shot better, but most of it is simply that he took better shots. There were maybe two or three shots he attempted in the last month that could be considered "poor shot selection." For the most part it appeared that he had not only taken the lessons from the rest of the season to heart, but that he was already applying them on the court even as he was no longer "the guy." That’s the growth that a casual observer isn't going to notice, and it’s the growth that has so many Pack fans rightfully excited going forward.
It's growth earned the hard way, through demotion and mistakes, which points to the idea that Anthony Barber isn't just a guy who knows how to score the ball but a guy who is beginning to understand how to lead a team as a point guard.