Just in case you think you misread the headline, I'll repeat it again:
Earl Barron is a better NBA player than he is an NBA Development League player.
For some background on why I'm telling you this, let me quote the magnificent recap from Posting and Toasting, succinctly titled Knicks 104, Celtics 101: "Earl Barron is giving me a boner.":
I think KnickWiz summed up the game thread mood pretty succinctly. In his Knicks MSG debut, Earl Barron was nothing short of arousing, defying expectations and the Boston frontcourt to spark a victory over the Celtics. Thrust into the starting lineup and suddenly saddled with 44 minutes of burn, Barron flourished and posted a career-high 18 rebounds to go with his 17 points (8-13). Just 2 games into his Knick career, it's safe to say that P&T has a new pet.
- Barron's bonerific performance was truly one for the ages. "The Aristocrat" has flaws- he hasn't shown anything in the post and isn't especially athletic- but played brilliantly to his strengths. Barron's got a luscious mid-range stroke (which I don't really recall from his days in Miami) and a nose for the ball, and he made good use of those skills in his extended minutes. He repeatedly rolled off screens for confident jumpers, and spent the rest of his time hustling for scrappy rebounds. And I'm not talking cute Scrappy like Scrappy Doo. This was scrappiness to the tune of 8 offensive rebounds and some splendid loose-ball saves. Earl is a monarch among men.
This, his second game in the NBA since an all-but-failed three-year stint with the Miami Heat, was almost better than every one of the 47 games he played in the D-League this season. Actually, if it weren't for a 35 point, 24 rebound effort on March 5th against the Erie BayHawks, it would have been the best.
Okay, so that should actually be enough to explain my "he's better in the NBA than he is in the D-League" argument, but I'll attempt to explain myself anyway.
Here, from what I gathered from the replay, is how he scored his points while starting as the center for the Knicks:
Reverse lay-up for the and-one (3), baseline jumper (5), catch-and-shoot from the free-throw line (7), jumper from the extended left elbow (9), jumper from the left elbow (11), pick-and-roll into an awkward lefty hook (13), baseline jumper (15) and capped it all off with 17-footer from left of the free-throw line for his 17th points of the night.
Do you realize what's missing from that? The starting center didn't score once with his back to the basket - and he only attempted to do so once in his 13 shot attempts (we'll get to that in a second) - because that's not what his games relies upon. He's a mid-range shooter, almost a stretch-four without the range all the way to 3-point land. I'm not sure if the Knicks are just the perfect team for him or they simply let Earl Barron do what Earl Barron do, but it worked.
Now, let's make it clear that he didn't just miss all of his post attempts because in his five misses, only one came with his back to the basket. Don't worry, I've got the complete rundown! His misses included:
a baseline jumper he will typically hit, a terrible turnaround jumper for the free-throw line that he created for himself (and failed), a putback attempt off of an offensive rebound, a post move that was altered by Kevin Garnett and the last was a dribble-drive from the left elbow that turned into a lay-up attempt that simply missed.
As a bonus, four of his offensive rebounds were what I'd refer to as "hustle rebounds" - essentially long rebounds that saved the Knicks from turning the ball over as well as getting them an extra possession. This is exciting simply because it's not that hard to find a sweet-shooting, mediocre defending big man that won't blow anybody away in the post. It is difficult to find a player that's able to do all of that and will go the extra mile to create extra possessions for his team, however.
Let's wrap it all up, shall we?
In the D-League - seemingly to appeal to a wider amount of teams as well as help his own D-League team - he wasn't allowed to simply float just inside the perimeter and wait for one of the four scoring options in front of him pass him the ball in spots where he's open. Instead, he had to play the role of a true center: posting up and running the pick-and-roll while ever so seldomly getting the easy jump shot.
This is probably partially why he, and I assume many other players, don't astound me in the D-League - even though they could excel in the NBA. Not every player is meant to be the first or second option, but plenty of players are good enough to play the role as the fourth or fifth scoring option on an NBA team.
And, good for Barron, he epitomized that thought by leading his struggling Knicks team to a victory on one of the biggest stages in the NBA.