Harrison Barnes: Starter or Reserve
The acquisition of Andre Iguodala during the 2013 offseason means the Golden State Warriors will have to decide whether Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes will start alongside him.
Barnes’s breakout performance during the 2013 playoffs turned him into a fan favorite and consequently some feel as though he should get the nod in the Dubs’ opening five-man unit.
There is clearly some validity to starting Barnes with Iguodala, mind you using the postseason as evidence is misleading. The former Tar Heel’s role changed during the playoffs because of David Lee’s injury.
Barnes became a small-ball power forward and saw his game take off from there given the multiple favorable matchups at his disposal. The 2012-13 regular season offered a different level of production given that he faced players at his position.
The former UNC player produced 9.2 points per game on 43.9 percent field goal shooting in his first year in Golden State. Barnes struggled with creating high-percentage shots and had a few problems blending his skills with those of his teammates.
According to Synergy Sports, the forward converted 37.6 percent of his shots in post-up situations during his first year as a pro. And yet, he excelled in this setting in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs occasionally assigned Parker to defend Barnes or simply opted to switch in pick-and-rolls involving Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ forward. Barnes ended up torturing Parker with his size and shooting ability.
The Frenchman simply could not stop his bigger opponent. However, Barnes was not as successful during the regular season because he often rushed shots or allowed extra defenders to swarm him during his shot attempts in post-up situations.
Granted, the swingman should be better going forward with added experience. He was an average spot-up shooter and just about the same in isolations. That is a tricky proposition if he is starting with Iguodala because neither are great offensive players or floor spacers.
This is where Thompson has a slight advantage over his counterpart. The Warriors’ 2-guard is not a great offensive player, but he is great at stretching the floor. He has a bad habit of chasing shots and settling for low-percentage jumpers, but he more than makes up for it with the constant pressure he places on defenses.
Thompson is great at moving off the ball and running through screens. Consequently, his defender must always follow him around for fear of allowing him easy spot-up opportunities where he converted 46.4 percent of those of shots in 2012-13 per Synergy Sports.
In addition, Thompson has figured out where his offense comes within the flow of the Warriors’ offense. For instance, the 1-3 pick-and-roll became a staple of the Dubs’ offense late in the 2012-13 campaign because the sharpshooter proved he was a terrific post-up option against a smaller defender.
Have a look at the video below:
Thompson got himself into position in the matchup he desired and got a layup out of it against Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets. For the most part, his scores in the post came via turnaround jumpers against shorter players that failed to bother his shot.
Synergy Sports tells us Thompson converted 50 percent of his shots in the post in 2012-13. Those numbers speak to the shooting guard’s scoring efficiency and it helped the Warriors put up more points than their opponents.
At the conclusion of the 2012-13 regular season, Golden State had five lineups that played at least 50 minutes together and outscored opponents by a minimum of six points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. As a reference point, the Spurs outpaced the opposition by 6.9 points per 100 possessions during the same season. Considering San Antonio participated in the 2013 NBA Finals, it is fair to say that figure is relevant.
Thompson showed up on three of the five units with an impressive differential. He played 204 minutes alongside Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bogut and Lee in a group that outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. That differential is right on par with the Miami Heat from the same year.
The lineup with the top-net differential played 73 minutes and thus we have to take the sample size into account. Nonetheless, the five-man unit outscored teams by 15.5 points per 100 possessions. It featured Draymond Green, Curry, Jack, Lee and Thompson.
The data gets trickier when looking at the 2013 playoffs. Thompson and Barnes are both prominently featured on the best Warriors five-man units. The former Tar Heel appears on four of the five playoff lineups that outscored teams by at least 10 points per 100 possessions (minimum of 20 minutes played).
Thompson on the other hand appeared in all five groupings. The 2-guard still holds a slight edge over Barnes and his defense probably pushes him over the top.
The sharpshooter was often the best perimeter defender on the Warriors not named Draymond Green. Mark Jackson often looked Thompson’s way when he needed to slow down a wing scorer.
Indeed, Thompson matched up with Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant to name a few and did an admirable job of containing them. He is not a great defender, but he made strides on that end during the course of 2012-13. He displayed a good understanding of angles as well as the help areas where to force his assignments.
Thompson showed good discipline and avoided unnecessary fouls for the most part. Barnes’ lack of experience showed up during the course of the season and wing players took advantage of it. It stands to reason he will make strides on this end and thus might be a better defender heading into 2013-14, but the evidence suggests that Thompson will be the fifth starter on opening night…
At least on paper.
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