Why Brandon Rush Must Start

We’ve heard a lot in the press lately about the raging battle for the Warriors’ starting small forward role. It appears to be a two-way battle between last year’s standout reserve guard Brandon Rush, and the promising rookie lottery pick, Harrison Barnes. Aging all-star Richard Jefferson is apparently not in the running, despite the fact that he’s been the starting small forward on some pretty good teams every single year of his career.

Today’s news adds some fuel to the fire, as Barnes is slotted to start tonight’s exhibition against Maccabi Haifa, after Rush started the first two preseason games.

I’m not buying the hype on Barnes starting though. Jackson probably does want to get a look at Barnes playing with the first unit. But it is Maccabi Haifa. And the argument against Harrison Barnes starting for the Warriors this season is simply too strong. But that’s not the right way to put it. Here’s a better way:

If they want to win this season, the Golden State Warriors absolutely must start Brandon Rush.

Why? Jump for a two word answer.                         

Klay Thompson

There’s my two word answer.

What do Dwayne Wade, Jason Terry, Eric Gordon, Marcus Thornton and Monta Ellis all have in common?

They are all starting two guards that Klay Thompson has absolutely no prayer of staying in front of.

No prayer. And these are only the most obvious examples. There are plenty of other guards in the league who will give Klay Thompson fits with their quickness.

What the Warriors aren’t acknowledging right now about the small forward position battle, is that against quite a few opposing teams they will need a defender of two-guards more than they need a defender of small forwards.  With Klay Thompson at starting two-guard, the Warriors starting small forward absolutely must be able to cross-match and pick up Klay’s man when necessary.

Brandon Rush is the only player among the three starting small forward contenders with that ability. He is versatile between the guard and small forward positions (while Jefferson and Barnes are versatile only between the 3 and the 4). For that single reason alone, Brandon Rush must be Klay Thompson’s partner on the wing.

There is no question that Klay Thompson has the size and ability to play small forward. (Klay Thompson 6-7″ 205;  Chris Mullin 6-6″, 200) In fact, I happen to think — and have said so repeatedly from day one — that “point” small forward is hands-down his best position, given his defensive liabilities. The sooner the Warriors front office wakes up and allows Mark Jackson to recognize that, the better the Warriors will be.

Mark Jackson has already stated that Thompson will see some time at the three this season, when the Warriors go with a small backcourt. It needs to be more than just that. The Warriors success this season hinges greatly on Jackson’s ability to recognize that against many opponents, Thompson should slide to the three to start the game.

David Lee and Stephen Curry

Two more reasons why Brandon Rush must start for the Warriors.

I happen to think that Curry and Lee are far better defenders than they are given credit for. Particularly against bigger players, where their quickness isn’t an issue.

But it’s obvious to all that defense isn’t their forte. Lee is not a power forward in the Kevin Garnett mold, and Steph Curry is not Russell Westbrook.

Put together, Curry and Thompson are one of the worst defensive backcourts in the NBA. It’s hard to think of a worse, unless the TWolves start Ridnour and Roy. And Darren Collison/ OJ Mayo certainly won’t strike fear. But you get my point.

Add David Lee to the equation, and you have three-fifths of a lineup that couldn’t deny penetration to a WNBA team.

What this means for the Warriors is that what they need from their remaining starting position is not just good defense. They need great defense.

They have a desperate need for a STOPPER.

Harrison Barnes is not a stopper. Certainly not yet. As Mark Jackson recently mentioned, defense at the NBA level takes time to learn. Not even Kawhi Leonard — whom Greg Popovich recently anointed in print as the next Spurs superstar — was a stopper when he entered the league. Nor was he a starter until Jefferson was traded. And Harrison Barnes is a long way from Kawhi Leonard on the defensive end.

Richard Jefferson is no longer a stopper. That was made clear by Popovich, who spent one first round pick drafting his replacement, and another first round pick getting rid of him.

Brandon Rush is the best wing defender the Warriors have. That’s not just my opinion, but the opinion of the Warriors coaches and players who have been quoted on the subject this season. And he’s the only wing defender who gives Mark Jackson the ability to slow down the other team’s best player, when that player happens to be a guard.


Some commentators have argued that Rush should remain a bench player because he was so good in that role last season. Others feel that Harrison Barnes should start because he’s so promising, and has greater upside.

Neither of those arguments carry weight. The Warriors bench is far deeper this season than in the last two Joe Lacob tank jobs. And Brandon Rush is simply not that important to the Warriors bench. He’s not a sixth man. Never was — he’s neither a ballhandler nor a playmaker. Last year’s sixth man was Nate Robinson. This year’s will be Jarret Jack (in the hopeful event that Curry can play). Jack, Barnes, Jefferson and Landry off the bench is more than enough firepower to carry the second unit.

Nor is it important that Barnes has so much potential. This is a Thabo Sefalosha — James Harden situation. A Danny Green — Manu Ginobili situation. An Adrien Griffin — Nick Van Exel situation. The examples are legion in league history, all pointing to the same inescapable conclusions:

Barnes can still get all the minutes he needs, as he earns them, off the bench. (And if the Warriors want to win, he should get many of them at the spread-four position. But that’s the subject of another post.)

It is of paramount importance to hound the opposing team’s best player with your best wing stopper right from the opening tip.

And as the Warriors are currently constructed, they simply have no choice but to do so with Brandon Rush.

45 Responses to Why Brandon Rush Must Start

  1. Hard not to see a difference between “better than they’re given credit for” and “couldn’t stop a WNBA team,” but you’re right. Both Curry and Lee work hard and do as well as they can by playing smart D, but neither has the speed or hops to stop real scorers. And Thompson isn’t yet even at their level defensively.

    Totally agree with the need to start Rush. His only weaknesses – ball handling and passing – aren’t critical for his role in the Warriors’ 1st team offense (primarily a catch-and-shoot threat), and his contribution on D is going to be essential. Having K Thompson try to defend Kobe, Wade, Ellis et. al. could be enough to keep the Ws out of the playoffs.

    Besides, right now Rush is a better all-around player than Barnes or Jefferson, not just the team’s best one-on-one defender.

    Let’s hope the Ws coaching staff sees it the same way.

  2. I have never been a believer in the Lance Armstrong story. Not since I read many years ago that he admitted to the doctors who treated his cancer that he took steroids. I have despised his lying, cheating and monumental hypocrisy ever since.

    But even I am shocked at the scope of the revelations released against him today. Folks, this is a sociopath.

    Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News: Lance Armstrong stands unmasked as the worst kind of cheat and liar — Reign as the king of bicycle racing was built on drugs and intimidation

    “He is a fraud to the jazzed-up marrow of his bones. He is a bald-faced liar to the public and under oath to investigators. And he is a thug who attempted to conceal his systemic cheating with threats and intimidation.”


    NYTimes: Details of Doping Scheme Paint Armstrong as Leader


    • As I’ve said many times, you’re probably right.

      Now prove it in court. Until then, the SOB is innocent. That’s the law. Or at least that’s the law every sane American should want.

      • If only Lance Armstrong himself wanted his day in court as badly as you do….

        And I would like to see George Bush and Dick Cheney in court on war crimes charges, but I’m not going to wait for that to happen to form my opinion of them.

        • Lance wasn’t offered a real trial in a real court. The mere fact that he could decline to participate is proof enough of that. We’ve been over this.

          Agree on Bush/Cheney. Here’s the UN Convention against torture that Pres. Ronald Reagan was proud to sign into US law:


  3. Stan Van Gundy, ESPN and David Stern…..not good:

    Stan Van Gundy had a handshake agreement to join ESPN’s NBA Countdown, but sources tell The Big Lead that David Stern allegedly prevented the hire.

    “We had discussions with Stan Van Gundy and were interested in a role for him at ESPN,” said a spokesman from the network. “Ultimately, we differed on potential assignments and we moved in another direction.”

    Van Gundy talked about the issue on Wednesday with Dan LeBatard on Miami radio.

    “No one at ESPN will tell us what happened,” said Van Gundy. “Certainly the NBA office isn’t going to tell us what happened. One of the quotes from ESPN in there – we had discussions, but couldn’t agree on a role … as is usual, that’s a bunch of BS from ESPN.

    “We actually did agree on a role, but then they came back and pulled that. That’s when we knew something was up.

    “Nobody is going to give a straight answer because … that’s just the way a lot of people operate … nobody there has the guts to say anything, so that’s what you deal with.

    “What I find fascinating … you have to give David Stern and the NBA a lot of credit … ESPN pays the league, and then the league tells them what to do. It’s more ESPN’s problem. You gotta have no balls whatsoever to pay someone hundreds of millions of dollars and let them run your business.

    “Just say what happened. Who cares? Who cares if I’m on there or not. Just come out and say this is what we decided and why … [ESPN’s quote] that’s just a flat out lie. Why would you do that? I don’t understand. We agreed on something, you changed your mind and pulled the offer. Don’t say we couldn’t come to an agreement. We did.”

    Van Gundy and Stern have long been at odds, most notably for criticism of the way officials were treating Dwight Howard.

    “I would render a guess … that we won’t be hearing from him for the rest of the season,” said Stern in response on the Colin Cowherd show.



    “Did David Stern Put the Kibosh on Stan Van Gundy Joining ESPN’s NBA Countdown?”


    • Ball Don’t Lie had an article on the same interview. While they were supportive of Van Gundy in general, they mentioned that the kinds of comments he made could be seen as unprofessional and would probably prevent him from ever working again with anyone closely affiliated with the NBA. That’s probably true.

      • Does this mean he’ll never get another NBA coaching job? He’s a damn good coach.

        • In the last 2 years, SVG has trashed David Stern, spilled uncomfortable front office secrets in Orlando, and has now trashed ESPN, the NBA’s $billlion TV partner.

          Yeah, in all likelihood, SVG is through in the NBA. He’s a good coach, but tact trumps talent. Fact o’ life.

  4. Found a video feed for tonight’s game and watched most of the second half. Curry played maybe the first half of the 3rd qtr and looked very good, ankles-wise. He was running all over the court and making sharp cuts with and without the ball. I’d say none the worse for wear from the other night.

  5. Woo. Just looked over the box score for the game against Maccabee Haifa:


    First team all hugely positive, 2nd team all negative +/-. What happened there? Is the 2nd team worse than last year’s? Was Coach Flow trying out some experimental offensive concepts? Does Jeremy Tyler blow so bad he dragged down the whole team?

    Jarrett Jack was -13!

  6. The world of Kobe…….

    “Take this from before Wednesday night’s game as Bryant reflected on the lean seasons from 2005 to 2007: “I told Steve [Nash], ‘You may have won an MVP, but I was playing with Smush Parker. He played with Barbosa and all those guys. I played with Smush and Kwame [Brown]. My goodness.

    “Smush was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard so we let him walk on and had Tierre Brown back him up.”



    Smush Parker: “Kobe was a bad teammate, and I stopped passing to him”

    Though Parker termed playing with Kobe “overrated,” he respects the five-time champion’s game. He just doesn’t like his personality.

    “You can’t knock the man’s legacy, you can’t knock what he’s done in basketball. His work ethic is tremendous. There’s not an ounce of hate in my blood whatsoever. The guy can play basketball — you’ve seen that throughout his career.

    “What I don’t like about him is the man that he is. His personality. How he treats people. I don’t like that side of Kobe Bryant.

    “Basketball is a team sport. It is team-oriented. It is not an individual sport. It’s not tennis or golf, it is a team sport. When you are the star of the team, you have to make your teammates feel comfortable. You have to make them feel welcome. And he did not do that at all.”

    Though Kobe said Parker didn’t deserve to be in the NBA, Parker says he earned a spot on the Lakers. That didn’t matter to Kobe, who he says completely disrespected him.

    “I had a workout with the Lakers, beat all the guards out for the starting position, earned a spot on the team. Midway through the first season, I tried to at least have a conversation with Kobe Bryant — he is my teammate, he is a co-worker of mine, I see his face every day I go in to work — and I tried to talk with him about football. He tells me I can’t talk to him. He tells me I need more accolades under my belt before I come talk to him. He was dead serious.”


  7. From Grantland:

    Last night in Oakland, the Golden State Warriors played Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli League in a meaningless game between mediocre teams. Two thousand miles away, I sat in a hotel room and ignored other events of much larger importance, instead clicking refresh every 30 seconds to see the meaningless box score updated over and over again.

    I’ll explain. My fascination with Jeremy Tyler, the current Warriors big man and former Haifa benchwarmer, began on August 15, 2009. Three days before, Tyler, then an 18-year-old rising high school senior and a major college basketball prospect, had signed for one year and $140,000 with Haifa. He would not finish high school, at least not yet. He would not attend college, at least not to play basketball. He would fly halfway across the world and make money to play a game, and he would stay overseas until the NBA deemed him old enough to make even more money playing that game, and along the way he would give people who are paid to shout about sports plenty of material to shout about.”


  8. Just discovered your blog — in reference to your twitter exchange with Ballard. Couldn’t agree with you more on that needed point you make. And you make a very persuasive argument for starting Rush, which almost, but not quite, convinces me. It’s true that being so good off the bench last year shouldn’t disqualify Rush from starting this year. It’s also true that the W’s need more than Bogut/Ezeli as an above average defender in their starting lineup.

    So what am I not persuaded by?

    Mainly it’s because both Rush and Barnes are so good and necessary (they looked terrific last night together) that they should be doing much more than dividing one position. Jack hasn’t yet shown more than he should be competing with Jenkins for backup PG mins. On the other hand, both Rush and Barnes have been so good that there should be a 3-man rotation at SG/SF with the two of them and Thompson all getting 30+ minutes. And like you say, Barnes at stretch 4 is something that also needs to be explored.

    There’s real merit, too, in the Sefolosha-argument that you want to start the game with your best wing defender on your opponent’s best wing scorer. But that’s outweighed, I think we’ll see, by the fact that Barnes and Rush as starter/6th man respectively (I don’t buy your argument that Rush can’t be a 6th man) are both better in those roles than they’d be in tandem with those roles reversed. That, of course, is subject to observation and debate.

    I like very much the prospect of Rush coming in and shaking up things in multiple potential ways: coming in for Thompson, for Barnes, for Lee while moving Barnes sometimes to stretch-4 (though that’s something much less likely for Jackson to do right now because of (a) Landry; and then (b) when he’s healthy, Green.

    • Welcome to the blog Chris. I think the Warriors second unit will be in trouble if Jack doesnt step into the sixth man role. And I think Thompson will have to greatly exceed expectations on D for the opinions expressed in this post to be wrong.

    • Yes, Chris, welcome. Hope you find my calendar skills useful.

      Eighteen days, people!

      • Chris L, by all means, welcome, AND, some free advice to go along with the welcome mat…….Don’t pay attention to what anyone other than Brytex says about GSW. He’s the only one who knows squat about the Dubs.

        • That’s right, Steve. My W’s knowledge is unsurpassed. For instance, here are a couple of insider tidbits I’ll share with you guys:

          Look for Anthony Morrow to be a 3-point scoring machine. And, based on reliable sources, I hear Cohan is looking to sell the team.

          You heard it here first, people!

  9. “If not for Jan. 31, it could have been worse.

    That’s when Golden State Warriors center Andris Biedrins caught a pass on the right block, turned and dropped in a baby hook against the Sacramento Kings, getting fouled in the process. Biedrins then stepped to the line, jerked the ball above his head as if it were a helium balloon escaping his grasp and, with an awkward push, sent it hurtling toward the basket. To the surprise of both Biedrins and the crowd at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., it went in.

    Warriors play-by-play announcer Bob Fitzgerald reacted with a mixture of shock and elation, shouting, “AND HE MAKES THE FREE THROW!” Meanwhile, a raucous cheer arose from the stands, and understandably so. It was the first free throw Biedrins had made all season. It would also be the last.”


    (You can talk all night and half of the next day about Biedrins and his “osteitis pubis” but please explain how that effects free throw shooting? Accordingly, why do I get this feeling that if Biedrins was a, say, 60% free throw shooter, the rest of his game would be totally different from what we unfortunately see today?)

  10. Felty: I think you should heed your own advice and wait until pre-season is over before determining whether Barnes should start at SF or whether Rush should start at SG, and Thompson at SF.

    Stats from last year don’t back up your position of Thompson moving to SF, as opponents shot 52% from the field against Rush playing SF, and 54% against Thompson when he played SF. This may indicate that opponent SF’s just blow by Thompson taking it to the hoop.

    And Thompson as a SG, performed slightly better defensively playing against opponent SG’s. As SGs opponents shot 46% from the field against Thompson, and 48% against Rush.82 games.

    Given Barnes quickness, it should not take much for Barnes to outperform both Rush and Thompson on defense. Offensively, not so.

  11. OT:

    From Steve: I have a question concerning your “speed” and how you’re getting to the latest posts. After you get to Felt’s homepage do you then click “continue reading”, or where the numerical number of posts on the current thread is displayed, or do you go to the small area (right side of page) that says “recent comments” and click on the top post listed there?

    Your answer should be option 3, “recent comments”.


    I click on where the numerical number of posts on the current thread is displayed. It’s not that getting to the comments is slow, it’s that once I’m here, everything is sluggish, including typing any reply.

    But funny you should ask. I’ve always used Internet Explorer. But just a few days ago I thought I’d try the other browser that’s on this computer, Google Chrome. I did and everything is really fast now, including Felt’s blog. So no more speed issues…woo-hoo!

  12. From a few threads ago:

    Stephen Curry: Let’s start with the bad news: I’m pretty sure Curry’s ankle came up sore in this game. I didn’t see him actually tweak it, but I did see this:

    Late 2nd quarter, dead ball, Curry bends over and grabs his shorts, looking at his ankle. David Lee walks over and appears to console him with a few pats on the back. Mark Jackson then subs Charles Jenkins for Curry.

    Curry walks to the bench with his head down. I see a subtle head shake. During the ensuing timeout, I see Curry talking to the trainers. They glance down at his ankle as he talks. Another head shake.

    At the start of the third quarter, Curry remains in the lockerroom. Marcus Thompson reports via Twitter that he’s icing his ankle. Curry returns to the bench mid-third quarter, and sits out the rest of the game.

    According to the Warriors post-game, the icing was routine and precautionary. Mark Jackson stated that he took Curry out “because he was tired.”

    Does that make sense to anyone? Sits out the first preseason game, and gets 12 minutes in the second? I can see taking him out if he’s tired, but was he still too tired to start the third quarter? I’m not buying it.

    Felty, I actually agree with you. From what you described seeing with your own eyes just supports what’s been on the back of my mind since last season: there is something permanently wrong with Steph’s ankle.

    Stephen Curry is my favorite player in the league, the biggest reason I enjoy tuning in to Warriors basketball. If his ankle problem proves chronic it would be an unspeakable tragedy

    A tragedy indeed, but one I’m preparing for. I’m thinking he plays only a fourth of the season. A terrible thought, I know. But I’m just trying to save myself from feeling disappointment.

    On a brighter note, I’m confident Bogut will be fine and play most of the year.

    If his ankle problem proves chronic it would be an unspeakable tragedy— for him, for Warriors fans, and, I believe, for the league.
    I was convinced by his rookie season that we were watching a future hall of fame basketball player.

    I sure hope I’m dead wrong about this.

    I don’t think you are. :(

    • Brytex, wait a minute, are you sleeping with the enemy? Boooooooo! LOL

      Curry looked good the other night, and considering that was the next game following his early exit, I’d say false alarm on his impending physically-induced demise. He also hasn’t missed any practice time, another good sign.

      I’d guess his soreness in the Utah game was simply a case of playing all out in a competitive game for the first time in many months. His ankle got a real vigorous workout, something that can’t be simulated in any practice or rehab session. The real test came the next day, and with no apparent swelling or “red flag” soreness, the fact he could bounce right back and participate in a normal practice session was definitely a big positive.

      Does that mean the all clear horn has sounded in regards the coming season? No way. The odds of Curry having “weak ankles” that roll over and sprain easily is pretty strong. His dad evidently had ankle issues throughout his career so unfortunately Steph probably has inherited more than just a sweet shot from pops.

      So what happens the next time he tweaks/sprains an ankle, probably an inevitability given the game of basketball? Does he once again freak out and need to carried back to the lockerroom, or will he (and the team) be able to deal with his “weakness” better as he gets older?

      Again, I would NOT extend (contract) Curry until I watch how everything unfolds over 82 games.

      • LinkMaster,

        Gotta give credit to feltbot for his eyewitness account. He reports that ALL eyes were on Steph’s ankle.

        Curry looked good the other night, and considering that was the next game following his early exit, I’d say false alarm on his impending physically-induced demise. He also hasn’t missed any practice time, another good sign.

        That’s great news. However…

        The odds of Curry having “weak ankles” that roll over and sprain easily is pretty strong. His dad evidently had ankle issues throughout his career so unfortunately Steph probably has inherited more than just a sweet shot from pops.

        Ugh. That’s what I’m worried about. Something like this happens in like game 3 of the season and he’s out for a month or so…at least.
        Just preparing for the worst.

        So, which link/site will you be using for Monday’s game?

        • “So, which link/site will you be using for Monday’s game?”

          Brytex, check back here around game time Monday night and I’ll have a link for you.

  13. BTW, I watched a little of the second half of tonight’s Lakers/Jazz game and once again the Lakers fell out of the game the longer their bench played. Now, some of these guys won’t even be in the league once the season starts but there’s little doubt that whomever makes up the entirety of their bench is going to be the “sucky” part of their 2012-13 team. The real question is how sucky?

    The Lakers’ starters are getting up there in number of birthdays per player and an 82 game NBA regular season schedule has a way of aging your starters really fast without help from the bench. There are going to be some fascinating storylines to follow this season, and the Lakers are right at the top of that list.

  14. From Rusty Simmons:

    Center Andrew Bogut, who is rehabbing from ankle surgery, was cleared for one-on-one contact drills, and Jackson hopes the big man’s recovery allows him to play one or two exhibition games. “His presence alone makes a difference,” Jackson said. “He’s doing all of the things he’s supposed to do with rehab and treatment. He looks better and better every day. We’re very happy with where he is right now, and we hope he’ll be in a position to get some work prior to this thing starting.”


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