Nicknames are as much a part of sports as winning and losing.
Shaq becomes “Superman”, “The Big Conductor”, “Diesel”, and now I’m pretty sure he’s added “The Larger Barkley”. Then Dwight Howard becomes “Superman”. And guess what? Shaq cares. He really cares. Really, a man whose first name and last name rhyme shouldn’t be searching for a nickname. He is a walking nickname. But Shaq loves his monikers. He brands himself and that is all in the nickname.
Sometimes, though, a nickname has nothing to do with branding. Sometimes, it couldn’t have less to do with how the media dubs a player. Heck, sometimes, a nickname is just stupid.
That leads me to Doug Cervelli. If that name looks familiar to you, it might be because Doug shares a last name with Yankee fringe-Major-League-catcher Francisco Cervelli.
My 19-year-old brother truly does watch sports. He knows the players. He knows the games. He knows the general strategies. He couldn’t tell you what Eric Piatkowski shot from three in 1999, but I don’t even think the Polish Rifle could tell you that himself (39.4 percent, by the by).
Even my brother has his own nickname – Brother. I know, highly original. About three years ago, Brother and I were watching a Yankee game together in our kitchen. Jorge Posada wasn’t playing that day so that meant catching duties were turned over to Cervelli for the afternoon. It was a hot summer’s day, which might have justified Cervelli’s inability to throw anyone out at second base, but it probably doesn't excuse one particular sentence that passed through Brother’s lips.
As Cervelli stepped to the plate, Brother turned to me and started to make a comment about the Yankee backup’s surprisingly respectable offensive performance at the Major League level. But I could tell he forgot something.
“You know who’s been hitting pretty well?”
He squinted as if he had just confused himself without even realizing it. His eyes wandered up into his head.
I started to giggle at the fact that he seemed to have absolutely no clue what in the world he was talking about.
Brother then tilted his head slightly to the right and said with an inquisitive inflection, “Doug ... Cervelli?”
At that moment, he turned into a seemingly senile, 87-year-old man who ranted about the better days of Mantle and Dimaggio, but couldn’t really relate to anything that happened after 1982. I started laughing hysterically. The jump from Francisco to Doug might actually be farther than the one Felix Baumgartner made when he left his airplane and broke the sound barrier Sunday afternoon.
This started a chain of senile comments from Brother over the past few years, all of them displaying a horrible job remembering simple names.
In a phone conversation the day after the 2010 NBA Draft, John Wall became “John Hall”, which is funniest when you imagine the former Jets' and Redskins' kicker running the pick-and-pop with Nene.
The other day, Brother got NBA 2K13 and called me from his college dorm room to ask which team might be a fun videogame team with which to start a franchise. You know, a team that shoots a ton of threes and has athletic players. Naturally, I told him to take a look at the Warriors. As he read through the names, he started to talk himself into the team.
“Ohh…Steph Curry is amazing! Brandon Rush is an amazing shooter! This guy Klay Thompson is pretty good! OH AND FESTUS!!!”
(That irrational Ezeli love would stem from a late-night - or early morning depending on your perspective - two-on-two game that mostly featured the 6-foot-11 Ezeli dunking on Brother and his friend.)
The enthusiasm was infectious. He was giving me Warrior fever. He continued.
“Oh and…(another hesitation)…Heath Barnes? He’s pretty good.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have another one. I imagine this one happened because the wires in his brain were reminding him of Heath Bars. Either way, Heath Barnes now exists.
Now that I’ve made my glaring lack of knowledge of how the human brain works, let’s look at this guy Heath Barnes for a second, because this is someone whose real name Brother should learn.
The Warriors selected the former UNC Tar Heel with the seventh overall pick in this past summer’s NBA Draft and he could immediately slot into the small forward spot for the upcoming season. Barnes is the sort of anomaly that drives scouts through the roof. He was the ESPNU No. 1 overall recruit when he left Ames High School in Iowa and many expected him to dominate upon his arrival to Chapel Hill. That didn’t happen.
If all went according to plan, Barnes would show up at North Carolina, carry the team through the season and leave after an inevitable Final Four appearance to become a top-three pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. But it didn’t go according to plan.
Barnes struggled early, mainly because he settled for too many jump shots, a problem that still plagues him today. Scouts anticipated his vaunted athleticism would help him take over games at the Division-I level. Those scouts weren’t exactly wrong, but they were hardly right. Barnes had the athleticism to take over games whenever he wanted. The problem was that it almost seemed like that wasn’t how he wanted to play.
Towards the end of his freshman year, he started to improve. He became more aggressive, attacked the hoop slightly more, created for others a little better, and even had a 40-point performance in the ACC Tournament. But he wasn’t ready for the big time and he knew that, returning for a sophomore season.
After a clutch postseason performance in 2011, the expectations for Barnes’ sophomore season were similar to that of his freshman year. We always hear about “The Leap”, that time when it all clicks for a player and he takes his game to the next level. Is this the year Barnes finally makes the Leap? When you shoot as well as him and get to play with Kendall Marshall, you’re just about guaranteed to be one of the best players in the country, but still the Leap eluded him. He was all about passivity, almost like the basketball equivalent of someone trying to peal a tangerine, while desperately trying not to squirt any juice in his eye – wait, that doesn’t happen to anyone else?
People legitimately started to wonder if Barnes had that athleticism we saw on such display in his high school years. But then the NBA Combine hit and so did Barnes.
39.5-inch max vertical.
38-inch no-step vertical.
10.93-second lane agility.
3.16-second three-quarter court sprint.
The numbers made scouts narrow their eyes and peer at him differently. What the hell was up with this guy? A spot-up jump shooter with one of the best verticals in the draft? Lane agility better than almost every guard? The fastest three-quarter court sprint of any player that would wait to hear his name called on draft day? What in the world had Heath – I mean, Harrison – been doing at North Carolina for the past two years? And why was he simply neglecting to use any of his athleticism?
Fast forward to the preseason, when Barnes spent the first two games coming off the bench and posting respectable numbers (shooting 9-for-20 from the field total and averaging 11.0 points per game in 22 minutes per contest). But again, he was shooting. He could jump out of the gym, but for some reason he doesn’t seem to want to. In fact, after looking back at game tape, some scouts actually noted that Barnes only jumped as high as his measured combine vertical twice ALL LAST SEASON. Twice. But on Thursday night, something seemed to click.
Yes, it’s the preseason. And no, the Warriors were not playing an NBA team, but Barnes’ improvement is not necessarily based on production as much as it is based on style and mentality. That is why Barnes’ 8-for-11 shooting performance was not necessarily the story following a 108-100 win over Maccabi Haifa. It was the way he played during his 20-point, 36-minute performance.
Barnes did take jumpers, five of them three pointers, but he was aggressive, seemingly for the first time in his post-high school career. Now, the former Tar Heel is surely one of those players that looks really good when things are going well and not so good when his shots aren’t falling. That is usually the case for jump shooters. But Thursday night was different. His first pro start almost seemed like his coming out party. It was his way of saying, “My name is Harrison and not Heath, damnit!”
That game was just another reminder that Barnes’ pro prospects have nothing to do with talent. That’s because we know that talent is there. In baseball, they’d call him a five-tool player. He can do it all - except for the mental part. If he hones that, there’s a pretty good shot that Brother won’t be calling him Heath for much longer and that Harrison will actually be able to dominate outside of a video game.
The Rookie Prospect Report will run every Monday on RotoWire.com. You can contact Fred Katz on Twitter (@FredKatz) or you can email him at FKatz26@gmail.com.