By: Sam Sorkin
How David Lee and Harrison Barnes embrace their projected new roles in Golden State’s lineup will go a long way in how far the Warriors advance this season.
Chemistry played a huge role in the development of the Warriors last season. There were wily veterans who led the team when the going got tough in Jarrett Jack and David Lee, young players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who realized their roles as time progressed during the year, and rookies who played like seasoned pros in Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. When the playoffs came around, everyone knew their role and was proud of it, all the players got along with head coach Mark Jackson, and the locker room was full of guys who loved playing with each other.
However, going into this past offseason, it seemed that the Warriors would lose two of their vital bench players in sixth man Jack and backup power forward Carl Landry, with nothing to show for it. Yet Bob Myers maneuvered out of a surefire luxury tax bill with a three-team trade that netted one of the league’s best all-around perimeter players, Andre Iguodala, for $24 million in the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. With newfound cap space, Golden State also procured G Toney Douglas, F Mariesse Spieghts, and C Jermaine O’Neal, three players who will be essential in replacing Jack and Landry’s production. How new acquisitions Douglas, Spieghts, and O’Neal buy into Mark Jackson’s system will be crucial to the accomplishments of Golden State this season.
Harrison Barnes will also be vital to the Warriors’ season. If he can buy into his likely role coming off the bench after the acquisition of almost definite starting small forward Iguodala, Golden State will have a set starting rotation and sixth man. The second-year product of North Carolina said he had no issue if he was a sixth man rather than starting, when asked by The Sporting News about coming off the bench. Barnes explained that he “has to remain the same, do whatever it takes to win…whether it’s starting [or] coming off the bench.” While Barnes remarked that he would not have an issue with the move, it remains to see how the Iowa native would actually play as a sixth man. How the talented small forward will translate to a role off the bench will be critical to the team’s success, as Golden State’s 2012 first-rounder started 81 out of a possible 82 games in the regular season and all 12 playoff contests as well during his rookie year.
While Barnes will probably move to the bench, it is likely his minutes will not decline as much as a typical player relegated to the pine due to the success of small-ball in the playoffs. In the playoffs, Golden State often went with four three-point threats and Andrew Bogut at center, and the results were aesthetically pleasing. The Warriors bombed away from long range on seemingly every possession, and in the playoffs their effective field goal percentage (where the value of three-point shots are worth more than two-pointers) at 51.3% ranked only behind the champion Miami Heat, per NBA.com. It is expected that Mark Jackson will use small-ball extensively in the coming season due to these advanced statistics that back up the utilization of the system and the acquisition of the uber-athletic Andre Iguodala.
Because of Golden State’s success with small-ball in the playoffs without big man David Lee, many fans and writers clamored for a trade of the Warriors’ lone 2013 All-Star, the first for the team since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. Lee has long been known by casual fans as an elite offensive player, however his defense is known by basketball aficionados as a model of ineptitude. Lee’s defensive abilities, analyzed in this piece by Kirk Goldsberry, might be the part of his game that keeps the Warriors from being concrete title contenders. Conceivably, Lee could face outstanding power forwards Zach Randolph, Blake Griffin, and Tim Duncan in succession in the upcoming playoffs, and that would not be a positive thing at all for Golden State. Another issue with David Lee is his extreme contract; his deal at three years and $44 million seems to be massively overpaying for a player who is only great at one side of the floor. This is especially important with Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes set up for contract augmentations not too far away. Golden State was reportedly interested in trading David Lee away during the offseason due to these frustrations, so much so that Lee had to respond to trade rumors during Summer League. The David Lee trade question remains unresolved as we approach the season, and Lee must focus on basketball even as the issue looms over his head.
The front office of Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, and the aforementioned Bob Myers have built a strong and talented Warriors team that is considered by a good deal of experts possibly capable of contending for the title. For Golden State to build on their triumphs from last year, their four new acquisitions, Lee, and Barnes must realize that chemistry is most important to the team and put aside the fact that their roles may be smaller than last season. Chemistry is critical for success in team sports, and especially for the Warriors. Their team dynamic and focus on winning is will help in establishing whether their quest for a title is achieved this season.