For many, the NBA Playoffs, commonly referred to as the league’s “second season,” is an exercise in attrition. Players who reach the NBA Finals will play in excess of 100 games, racking up as many miles on their bodies’ personal odometers as a road trip from New York to California. When basketball finally whisks away into the night in mid-June, it’s not hard to understand why many pro players erase any thought of hoops for a few months to decompress.
Not Harrison Barnes. He can’t get enough. That orange basketball bounces through his head all day and night like the proverbial sugarplums from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
“He breathes basketball,” says Golden State Warriors training consultant Travelle Gaines, who worked extensively with Barnes this season. “When he’s not playing basketball, he’s watching film. When he’s not watching film, he’s playing NBA 2K.”
Barnes even went so far as to pop in old game tape of Michael Jordan to watch his footwork, and watched how the Seattle Supersonics defender Jordan with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in the 1996 NBA Finals to observe Jordan’s adjustments. Barnes did all of this during the playoffs. The man just can’t quit basketball.
It paid off. Barnes was a key cog in the Warriors offensive and defensive machine that ran through a stacked Western Conference Playoffs before dispatching the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in six games to win the team’s first NBA championship in 40 years. He was especially fantastic in the Western Conference Semifinals and Finals, averaging over 11 points per game while helping shut down Zach Randolph (who had 40 pounds on him) and James Harden (the NBA MVP runner-up). He then shot 42 percent from deep in the NBA Finals.
Before Barnes could add a new piece of jewelry to his finger, he needed to make some serious changes before the 2014-2015 dream season began. Once considered to be the next LeBron James, Barnes had experienced a relatively pedestrian NBA career in comparison to the hype that surrounded him during his time at North Carolina.
“It’s tough because he’s been the number 1 player since he was in the ninth grade,” Gaines said. “He’s always had these crazy comparisons. The LeBron comparisons, the Michael Jordan comparisons, the Kobe [Bryant] comparisons. He hasn’t had a bad NBA career, but it hasn’t been what everyone has thought.”
When Steve Kerr was hired by Golden State at the beginning of the season, replacing Mark Jackson as head coach, his renewed focus on fitness empowered Gaines to completely revamp Barnes’s body, diet and gameday routine, all of which needed total makeovers.
So Gaines went about revamping everything about the way Barnes prepared. They set two goals before the 2014-2015 NBA season began. The first was for Barnes to win back his starting job. After starting 81 games as a rookie, Barnes took a back seat to Andre Iguodala the following season. The second was to start and play in every single regular season game.
To meet these goals, Gaines needed Barnes to drop about 15 pounds from his previous playing weight of 235. The most obvious place to start was changing Barnes’s less-than-ideal diet.
“He used to eat a lot of sugars, a lot of cheese, a lot of dairy,” Gaines said. “He would eat a breakfast burrito, and on game days he was eating this hoagie-like chicken parmesan sandwich. And he was wondering why he was so sluggish.”
His gameday routine was no better. Barnes would arrive at Oakland’s Oracle Arena at 3:00 p.m. to get up shots, then get in a quick lift session before settling for a nap. When it was time to play, Barnes felt tired and groggy, having woken up just a few hours prior.
Gaines changed everything.
Now, when Barnes sits down for breakfast, he’s eating chicken sausage and egg whites, washed down with a cup of orange juice or a glass of water. He naps much earlier in the day instead of so close to tipoff, usually waking up between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. He arrives at Oracle at 4:30 for his 5 o’clock shoot-around. Following that, he eats a snack consisting of a cup of raw almonds and some Greek yogurt. At 6:45, another cup of Greek yogurt. Finally, at halftime, Barnes wolfs down a few orange slices.
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In between, Gaines had Barnes focused on strength training. Barnes spent his time in the weight room doing Olympic lifts, like the Hang Clean and the Front Squat, and plyometric exercises, like jumping over five plyo boxes of increasing size before landing on top of the fifth one to increase his explosiveness and jumping ability on the court.
Barnes also used mini-bands around his knees and ankles to improve his lower-body strength and med ball exercises to build his rotational strength. When the NBA Finals rolled around and Barnes knew he’d be guarding LeBron James for stretches, he told Gaines he wanted to “feel strong, because LeBron is the most physically imposing player in the league.”
Barnes played the 2014-2015 NBA season between 218 and 222 pounds. He cut his body fat percentage in half, from 12 to 6 percent. And not only did he start all 82 regular-season games, but 21 playoff games as well, bringing his total of consecutive games played to 103. Goals shattered.
“That’s a huge accomplishment, especially the way [the Warriors] run,” Gaines said. “They have the fastest pace in the NBA. [Barnes] runs, on average, 4 miles a game.”
Everything—the work, the diet change, the routine overhaul—culminated in a championship. While some players resist disrupting the path they take every day, Gaines said Barnes was more than willing to change.
“He’s a coach’s dream. He’ll do anything you tell him to do. He’s a student of the game,” Gaines said. ” After every game he’s foam rolling, cold tub, massage, stretch, everything. To see him play well, I’m just happy for Harrison.”
So are the Golden State Warriors.