Spurs turn to Barry for some outside help

Originally Published: October 22, 2004
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- Go ahead. Throw out any name you want. You can't convince us there's a player out there sporting a bigger bull's-eye than the new deadeye down in South Texas.

Not Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant. Not Tracy McGrady or Carlos Boozer. Not LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, Chris Webber or Vince Carter, Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor.

THE HOT SPOTS
  • ESPN.com takes you to 10 "Hot Spots" during NBA training camp:
    Oct. 11: Los Angeles Lakers
    • Stein: Loss of pressure
    • Inside Lakers camp
    Oct. 12: Charlotte Bobcats
    • Ford: Who are these 'Cats?
    • Inside Bobcats camp
    Oct. 13: Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Stein: Playoffs or bust
    • Inside Cavaliers camp
    Oct. 14: Detroit Pistons
    • Ford: Firing on all cylinders
    • Inside Pistons camp
    Oct. 15: Dallas Mavericks
    • Stein: Nellie's best defense
    • Inside Mavericks camp
    Oct. 18: Utah Jazz
    • Ford: A different tune in Utah
    • Inside Jazz camp
    Oct. 19: Houston Rockets
    • Bucher: Van Gundy's kind of team
    • Inside Rockets camp
    Oct. 20: Orlando Magic
    • Ford: The IceMan Buildeth
    • Inside Magic camp
    Oct. 21: Miami Heat
    • Ford: The Big Copernicus
    • Inside Heat camp
    Oct. 22: San Antonio Spurs
    • Stein: Expecting the best
    • Inside Spurs camp
  • The feeling here is that skinny Brent Barry carries expectations as weighty as anything shouldered by the big names.

    Pressure? The way people are gushing about Barry's perimeter touch, in San Antonio and around the league, it's as if he alone can supply the shooting that brings the championship back to the Spurs.

    Expectations? Barry is seemingly expected to make every open shot he gets, and who else in the league is supposed to do that?

    "Good," Barry replied, upon hearing that Spurs fans are banking on somewhere in the vicinity of 100-percent marksmanship from the new guy.

    "So they're a lot like me."

    That's right. In what should be a comfort to those who care about the Spurs, Barry thinks they're all going in, too. He has always been a confident kid, going back to the days when he proved there's at least one white man out there who can win a dunk contest. With an unshakable self-belief in his ability to hit triples, Barry has had better than 40-percent success from 3-point range every season since 1999-2000. He led the league (.476) in 2000-01, and finished second last season (.452), both while playing for a Seattle team that hasn't had any kind of post presence since last century, when Shawn Kemp was a Sonic.

    Imagine what he's capable of now, approaching 33 but suddenly playing with Tim Duncan. One of Barry's former Clippers teammates, Eric Piatkowski, once said he'd be ashamed to make fewer than seven or eight out of every 10 threes with the open looks Duncan provides by drawing double and triple teams.

    "Brent's not used to getting open shots," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. "Here with Tim or with (Tony Parker's) penetrations or my penetrations, he's going to get a lot of open shots."

    Brent Barry
    Gregg Popovich calls Brent Barry a "coach-on-the-court type."
    The Spurs, though, are trying to ease Barry in as opposed to adding volume to the missing-piece talk. New Spurs, remember, usually need time to establish a comfort level in Gregg Popovich's demanding system, and Barry knows he's going to have to play the best team defense of his life to get the most meaningful minutes from Pop. Barry's exhibition numbers, incidentally, haven't been the best introduction: 2-for-14 on threes, 5-for-27 overall from the floor. That's 14.3 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively.

    No one's fretting yet, of course. Least of all Popovich, since he sees shooting as only one of the areas where Barry will have a significant impact.

    "I know he's a heck of a shooter, but it's not like Hedo Turkoglu didn't make any 3-pointers for us last season," Popovich said. "You can't put that all on one guy. As a group, we didn't shoot well in the playoffs. We had three or four perimeter guys that shot very poorly against the Lakers, and one guy is not going to fix that. Everybody that was here last year has to improve in that regard.

    "But I think where Brent's going to help us more is with his basketball IQ. I think he makes everyone on our team better because of his decision-making, his passing, his ability to understand the game and read situations. He's a coach-on-the-court type."

    Said Barry: "It might work in reverse, and nobody's really spoken about that too much. We might be able to clear more room for Tim inside. Maybe teams will be less likely to double-team Tim. There could be some other side benefits to having more perimeter shooting on the team."

    Two more side benefits: San Antonio thinks it'll be able to run more, and more efficiently, with Barry helping Parker and Ginobili push the ball ... and Barry certainly can't hurt the Spurs' woeful free-throw shooting.

    Brent Barry
    Guard
    San Antonio Spurs
    Profile
    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG APG FG% FT% 3pt. FG%
    59 10.8 5.8 .504 .827 .452

    The incumbent guards, meanwhile, say they hear the coach about the team-wide need for more belief from outside. Parker especially.

    Asked how much he worked on his jumper over the summer, Parker said: "It's more mental for me. It's just a question of confidence. I think I've proved I can play big games at a high level. I just have to try to be consistent. I can't be down on myself if I miss five, six in a row."

    Said Popovich: "I think the general feeling is that we gave one away. We performed pretty poorly after the first two games (of the LA series). It was a heck of a run -- we won 17 games in a row down the stretch. You knew you were going to lose sometime, but when we lost we didn't bounce back from that very well. That was disappointing for our group when the Lakers packed it in and dared us to shoot, and we shot and it didn't go in. That hurt a lot, because we thought we gave one away, and that still sticks there. We want to get back to that."

    As ugly as the ending was, with San Antonio missing 21 of its 24 attempts from long distance in the Game 6 eliminator at Staples Center, Barry insists that it still looked as though the Spurs were "probably 0.4 seconds away" from repeating as champs. Honored that the Spurs wanted him so badly, Barry forfeited a few extra million from Portland or Golden State -- he was closer to signing for his pal Chris Mullin than anyone knows -- for the opportunity to take and make a shot as big as Derek Fisher's.

    Barry is that rare perimeter specialist who can routinely make half of his shots -- twice in the past three seasons he has finished above 50 percent overall from the floor -- but playoff glory would be something totally new. In nine seasons, he has been to the postseason only three times, for three first-round exits totaling 13 games.

    "I'm looking forward to it, because I know how guys in the past have benefited from playing with Tim and also David Robinson," Barry said. "I'm not the only one who's going to get something done in San Antonio, but I think it's nice. It's complimentary."

    It being the missing-piece talk that will link Bones Barry to Shaq and T-Mac and everyone else who'll be subjected to serious scrutiny this season.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics