On Harrison Barnes As Small-Ball 4
David Lee’s season-ending injury assures at least these two things: a starting spot for Carl Landry and increased playing time for Draymond Green. Both development present major complications to the Warriors first round quest against the Denver Nuggets, obviously, but Landry’s consistently solid play means Golden State may not miss much opening games. Rather, it’s the trickle-down effect presented by Lee’s absence that may loom largest.
Basically, that Green is suddenly thrust from regular season bit player to key playoff cog on both ends of the floor. This is no knock on Green – he was a second-round pick last June, after all, and showed more defensive versatility in his NBA debut than most thought he would his entire career. His acquisition has already been a success, factoring in likely future improvement and whatever he provides the remainder of this season.
The Bay Area’s been no stranger to small-ball historically or even this season, and Lee’s injury means more of it’s coming. Golden State figured to play more non-traditional lineups coming into this series anyway, having to match the all-floor speed and quickness the vast majority of Denver’s lineups present. Using the regular season as a guide, that meant more minutes for Green and it still does.
Whether or not that’s the best option at Mark Jackson’s disposal is another thing altogether.
Warriors World has been beating this drum for awhile, and now it’s time to hope that sound is loud enough for even Jackson to hear – Harrison Barnes is a better option for small-ball power forward than Draymond Green.
Why? It’s all about offense.
The individual merits of Barnes and Green as offensive players are known by now and don’t need to be repeated here; we can all surely agree the former is a more valuable commodity and far bigger threat than the latter. Bearing that in mind, the way Denver defended Steph Curry/David Lee pick-and-rolls early in game 1 suggests major, major opportunity for Golden State’s small-ball power forward, a player that normally exists as a triple-threat to shoot, pass or penetrate. Green, though, doesn’t pose those varied options. Barnes certainly does, on other the hand, even if his passive nature limits the appearance of his offensive tools to mere flashes.
Check out the screen-shots below and video here.
The Warriors love to set this Curry/Lee PNR in secondary transition on the wing extended; in these specific instances it’s not quite a side or high screen, but most of that has to do with how Denver is playing the action. Look at Lee’s defender – Wilson Chandler is disallowing the intended sequence by “icing” the pick and forcing Curry away from the middle. That’s a popular play against pick-and-rolls these days, a strategy made most famous by Tom Thibodeau-coached defenses that’s now wide-spread. Golden State does this on occasion.
The Nuggets are obviously worried with Curry first and foremost, and their efforts to contain him leave the screener with a huge swath of space should he receive the ball. Completing that pass is harder than it looks in the stills above, but it’s one Curry needs to make effectively and consistently to discourage Denver from using this coverage all game long. Which is one of the reasons why the prospect of Barnes setting the pick is such a bright one.
As Barnes comes to set the screen and recognizes the “ice,” he can simply retreat a step or two to the three-point line to make the angle of Curry’s pass easier. And, of course, he has the range necessary to pose as a deep-shooting threat. Lee didn’t and Green doesn’t, in the similar way with which they aren’t as effective with a head of steam off the dribble as Barnes, either. Should the screener get the pass, he’s essentially playing 4-on-3 with only a Denver center between he and the rim. That’s a Warriors win regardless, but one of varying degrees depending on the player. Barnes, obviously, is Golden State’s best option to exploit this mismatch.
Jackson surely understands the many advantages of Barnes as his small-ball 4 over Green; the question now is whether or not he deems them more influential than the supposedly wide gap between his two rookies on the other end. Evidence gleaned from the regular season suggests he doesn’t but it may not matter. The Warriors are low on bodies now, and Jackson’s Barnes-hand may be forced.
If so it may be for the best, and Barnes’ potential proficiency in situations like this one is of the several reasons why.
*Video courtesy of NBA.com.
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