While Andre Iguodala makes the Warriors markedly more dynamic than a season ago, it also creates an overlap.
That overlap wasn’t on display opening night, but it will be when Harrison Barnes’ foot is healthy.
Coming into the season, one of the burning questions for Golden State was the starting lineup. With Barnes, Iguodala and Klay Thompson all worthy of starters’ minutes, Mark Jackson was dealt one too many aces.
It’s a good problem to have, of course. Distributing minutes will come down to match ups and/or the hot hand. But with a number of new players, one of the keys to the early portion of the season will be finding out what lineups work best together.
With all the horses in the stable, who starts, Barnes or Thompson?
The hot hand belonged to Thompson Wednesday night against the Lakers, as he promptly went for a career-high 38 points on 15-19 shooting, including 5-7 from three during the Warriors’ opening-night route of the hapless, Kobe-less, purple and gold.
Challenge accepted, Thompson thought, blowing on his shooting hand.
Meanwhile, observers of this team over the last two seasons have seen Thompson rip the nets apart as often as go for seven points on 2-11 shooting. Thursday night’s showdown against the Clippers could change the story. But vital to Thompson’s development is being able to have these epic shooting nights on a more consistent basis.
What are the differences between with Barnes and Thompson in the starting lineup?
Barnes is more polished. His face-up game is better, he’s a better slasher, he’s more athletic and he’s a better finisher around the rim.
Thompson, arguably, would be the best spot-up shooter on any other team in the league that didn’t have Steph Curry. He has a sneaky ability to drive and a sound mid-range game. Defensively, it’s a wash, although Barnes’ size gives him the edge.
They are different players that provide different things to a starting lineup. But the Iguodala wildcard makes the decision a little more cut-and-dry.
Thompson was third in the NBA in threes made in 2012, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and nearly 44 percent from 2-point range. His prolific season from outside was a product of playing alongside Curry. On opposite sides of the floor, teams have to be aware of the weak side where they will get burned by one of two elite shooters from long range.
Barnes, who shot 35 percent from three his rookie season, wouldn’t pose the sideline-to-sideline threat that Thompson does with Curry on the floor. With Barnes, Curry, Iguodala (32 percent from three last season), Lee and Bogut starting, Curry becomes the only shooter defenders could leave to double-team elsewhere.
Curry and Thompson help each other on the perimeter because they have to be accounted for. Defenses wouldn’t have the same urgency with Barnes on the wing. That’s not an indictment of Barnes, but Thompson and Curry on the floor at the same time make the team what it is.
When re-tooling the bench this summer, it’s clear the Warriors’ focus was on the defensive end. A second unit that features Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights and Draymond Green lacks offensive playmaking. Plugging Barnes into the second unit would give it a polished and versatile scorer apt to isolations, which isn’t Thompson’s forte.
Time and the health of Barnes’ foot will provide clarity to Jackson’s conundrum. But without any doubt, scoring 38 points on 79 percent shooting won’t hurt Thompson’s fight to remain in the starting five.