Leandro Barbosa didn’t have much outside of high hopes and hoop dreams growing up in Brazil. The then 21-year-old had it all become a reality when he was drafted in 2003 by the San Antonio Spurs and traded to the Phoenix Suns on Draft Day. A late first round-pick, Barbosa was so thrilled to be playing professional basketball at the highest level in the world that he slept in the Suns locker room after he was drafted.
Despite speaking limited English and not having the highest of confidence, Barbosa was able to have a solid rookie season. Under run and gun coach Mike D’Antoni, Barbosa played in 70 games, averaging 21.4 minutes per contest and 7.9 points per game while shooting an impressive 39 percent from beyond the arc. He didn’t help lead the Suns into the postseason in his first season, but the team went on to make it the next six seasons. They were never able to reach the NBA Finals and ultimately lacked the defense needed to play at a legitimate contender level.
Barbosa went north of the border and was traded to the Toronto Raptors. A diverse city, Barbosa fit right now with the Raptors. He admitted in a SLAM interview that although he loves California, Toronto was his favorite area to be in during his career so far. Unfortunately, Barbosa was traded again, just two years later to the Indiana Pacers. After a mere 22 games in Indiana to end the season, he was a free agent and signed a contract with the Boston Celtics. At the trade deadline, Barbosa was traded to the Washington Wizards but never played for them. The journeyman ended up signing with Phoenix again in 2014.
The Brazilian Blur had anything but a dream return to his former squad. Plagued by injuries and inconsistent play, Barbosa played in just 20 games and shot a horrid 42 percent from the field and a career-worst 28 percent from beyond the arc. The free-agent decided to join the Golden State Warriors for the 2014-15 season. Steve Kerr, who was a General Manager for the Suns when Barbosa was on the team, was just hired to be Golden State’s head coach.
The former 6th Man of the Year winner was signed due to the lack of veteran experience on the young Dubs roster and to help the depth. He was familiar with Kerr and felt comfortable remaining on the West Coast after spending most of his career with Phoenix. Golden State didn’t know what else to expect from the then 32-year-old when they signed him. An uneventful return to the Suns and a few below average seasons in Boston and Toronto made this move questionable.
Although there has been times where Kerr played Barbosa far more than any other coach would have, he has been a very serviceable back-up guard for Golden State. His playing style contrasts what the rest of the wings on the bench bring to the game, which throws defenses off guard. Shaun Livingston is a pure point guard, great defender, capable play-maker, but lacks a scoring game outside post moves near the basket. Andre Iguodala is athletic around the rim, the best perimeter defender on the team, a very good passer for his size, but an extremely inconsistent shooter. Barbosa lacks defense, but can shoot the three-ball with the best of them when he’s hot and is essentially a one man fastbreak with his speed and quickness that seems like it’ll last forever.
Assistant coach and one of the better defensive minds in basketball, Ron Adams, told Barbosa that he is the worst defender on the team. Instead of taking it personal and causing unneeded chemistry issues, Barbosa understood and has put in more effort on that side of the ball. He has never been a capable defender. He was offensive-minded his whole career and has played the bare minimum to get by on the defensive end of the ball. And while Barbosa will never be a great defender, he has the speed and quick hands to continue to play the passing lanes well to energize himself and offense. The team goes to him off the bench when they are struggling to score with the starters. He is their best scorer off the bench.
With the addition of his close friend and fellow Brazilian, Anderson Varejao to the roster, Barbosa gets even more comfort. He knows when the team needs him most. When Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were out due to injuries against the Atlanta Hawks, Barbosa scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting from the field, 2 assists, and a steal in 17 minutes which helped give Golden State just enough to win in overtime.
Barbosa is a crowd favorite. He coined the phrase “we gonna be championship” in a post-game interview with Ros Gold-Onwude last season and fans rolled with it even more once the Dubs ended up actually winning the title. He hasn’t had a catch-phrase moment like that this season. . . yet.
Over 700 games played in more than a decade in the NBA, and Leandro Barbosa has become a part of something special. He is the energizer off the bench for the best team in the NBA that is on the verge of going back-to-back and on pace to end the season with over 72 wins. He’s not the best player on the roster, but he’s an essential part of the best bench in the league and he’s finally found a true home in the Bay Area with the Warriors.