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’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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6 Responses

  1. devarajaswami

    Klay will continue to be Warrior’s starting shooting guard. No one can shot like him in the team, except for Steph Curry, who needs to rest often because of his ankle and his fragility. Iguodala is not a shooting guard, he can’t shoot well enough. He was mainly brought for his defensive skills, to convert on fast breaks like he did in Denver, and to be a backup ball handler when Steph sits down. Toney Douglas is a sort of backup backup, when both Iggy and Steph need to rest. So that leaves Klay Thompson as shooting guard.

    Barnes is a small forward, he can’t handle power forwards like Z Bo, Dirk Nowitzki, and Blake Griffin, and he can’t defend shooting guards like Kobe, Wade, and Harden. As it is, he can’t defend the bigger small forwards like Carmelo, Paul George, far less LeBron.

    My bet is he will on the bench, and might play more or less depending upon Iggy’s health, and depending upon favorable small ball matchups Coach Jackson sees. There is even a chance that he will get traded by the Feb trade deadline if there is a more seasoned option available.

  2. Alec

    I agree 100% that Klay is better than Barnes right now. He provides better scoring and defense. And he needs much less than Barnes to create a good look at the basket. Barnes is more athletic, but he doesn’t fully realize how to properly utilize it.

    But I think for that reason, Barnes should get the starting role over Klay. Both players have something to gain if Klay comes off the bench. Barnes has a better opportunity to develop playing with 4 other play makers to help him. Klay will have the opportunity to be the super sub off the bench. Be the spark off the bench. Try to become the sixth man of the year. I think giving him a Hardin like role will make him thrive.

    First one off the bench isn’t a demotion for Klay, it is with Barnes.

  3. NYCDubFanAtic

    Why can’t we think of Iggy playing the sixth man role, being the first one in when Bogut (most likely) is the first substitution. (Assuming Bogut was unhampered by injury the first substitution might be Lee or whomever was having a slow start/foul trouble). Assuming either Lee or Bogut coming out and Iggy coming in, HB slides to 4 and you have the effective line-up that worked so well in the playoffs, and Iggy is the versatile player that makes the number of further permutations from this first iteration feel nearly infinite.

    Greater minds – with a great deal more data – will be making these line-up decisions in training camp, but I would only encourage them to consider the “art” of the process instead of simply the numbers. I am not a huge DLee fan and very much because I think he gets too much hype, and is too much ownership’s “boy.” This strikes me as a failure of imagination, revealed only when DLee rips up his hip. Instead of a “hand wringing” moment we end up with a revelation. Given the versatility of players as varied as DGreen, Iggy & HBarnes, I hope the experimentation goes well beyond the question posed in this blog entry, i.e. should Barnes be a starter or a reserve. There are better questions to ask and thereby better answers.

  4. Wil

    Klay’s inefficiency and inconsistencies should put him on the bench, even if he shares the minutes equally with Barnes