I managed to catch the Kings game at Oracle last night. Here are some of my impressions from the first two preseason games, beginning with the burning question of whether Harrison Barnes should start over Klay Thompson:
The Barnes Supremacy: I don’t suppose it’s fair to put the blame entirely on Barnes for his first two wretched pre-season performances. It appears he’s been playing through painful foot inflammation, and now will be shut down for a few days.
On the other hand, no matter how much Barnes was suffering, I think it’s fair to draw some conclusions from these performances, particularly for those who’ve forgotten how Barnes played at small forward during the regular season last year.
The first conclusion is this: Barnes blew up in the playoffs last season playing power forward, and being guarded by the worst defender on each team he was facing. It is completely unreasonable to expect him to be capable of duplicating those performances while back playing at small forward, and being guarded by small forwards.
The second conclusion is this: Playing Barnes at SF in the first unit doesn’t just hurt his performance, but the performance of the team as a whole. Do you remember what happened to the Warriors first unit last season when Bogut was returned to the lineup? The offense virtually collapsed, because neither Bogut nor Barnes needed to be guarded honestly. Curry got blitzed unmercifully and the rest of the defense packed the lane. Klay Thompson was the sole floor spreader.
And now Mark Jackson is toying with replacing Klay Thompson with Andre Iguodala, who shoots less than 40% from every single spot on the floor? It won’t work on the offensive end, even when Barnes is completely healthy. We’ve seen that already, in the disastrous first quarters of the first two games. This Warriors team has the ability to be absolutely unguardable if they get their lineups right. But any lineup including Bogut, Lee, Iggy and Barnes on the floor together makes it EASY to guard the Warriors. Blitz the hell out of Curry, and pack the lane. That’s it.
I’m hoping putting Barnes in the starting lineup was simply an experiment, done for political reasons, and now that Jackson has something to show the Warriors brass and Barnes’ agent, common sense will prevail.
I’m not so sure it will, though, given the way Klay Thompson is speaking in the media about competing for the Sixth Man of the Year.
And at the game last night, as I was discussing Barnes’ play with my friend, a guy eavesdropping in the row ahead of us turned around and solemly informed us that “Harrison Barnes is a future Hall of Famer.” That’s what we’re dealing with here. I suppose Joe Lacob’s PR department is to be congratulated. So long as it doesn’t wind up screwing the team.
Barnes: As a first order of business, I will note that I am dropping “The Brand” nickname that I bestowed on Barnes last season, because he has informed the press that he no longer wishes to go by his self-created nickname “The Black Falcon.” I take this as belated recognition on his part that he should place working on his basketball game ahead of building his brand. At least I’m going to give him credit for that.
And his game needs a whole lot of work. Let’s start with the defensive end. One reason to make a wing player a starter over a more talented player is if he’s a stopper. Coaches like to make starters out of their wing stoppers, because why waste their talents on second unit players? Put them in the first unit, and see if you can get the other team’s best player off to a confidence-destroying rocky start. Thabo Sefalosha and Tony Allen are obvious examples of this thinking.
But this thinking simply doesn’t apply in Barnes’ case. Not only is he not a stopper, but he is quite clearly in the bottom 50% of the league’s small forwards defensively. And that’s being kind. It’s increasingly obvious that he’s not even as good as Klay Thompson defensively. Defense is not just about athleticism, it’s about brains and anticipation. And it’s about WILL. For some reason, even though his vertical leap is nowhere close to Barnes’, Klay Thompson blocks twice as many shots. We saw a beautiful one last night. And unlike Barnes, Klay virtually never gets wrong-footed.
Barnes also needs a lot of work on his offensive game. In the Laker game, I heard Stu Lantz denigrate his poor footwork trying to post-up Steve Blake. That makes two savvy commentators I’ve heard tell us that Barnes lacks footwork fundamentals: the first was Jerry West. Barnes’ midrange game remains horribly inefficient — his misses in the last two games were not even close, and stand in stark contrast to Klay Thompson’s efficiency.
Other holes in Barnes’ game: Poor court vision, poor passing, wretched handle. He sees nothing but the basket when he puts the ball on the floor, and he gets stripped with ease. When his way to the basket is impeded, a turnover is the most likely outcome.
The thing is, many of these problems simply go away when Barnes is played at power forward. The multiple threats posed by Curry and the Warriors’s wings virtually guarantee that Barnes will be picked up by the opposing team’s worst defender. He can destroy opposing power forwards with his drive and floor-spreading. And his speed in the open court becomes a major factor.
Why in the world would the Warriors want to give him the bulk of his minutes at his worst position? He needs, and the Warriors need, for him to play at stretch-four.
And 6-7″ 225 lb. stretch-fours come off the bench.
Klay Thompson: I’ve spoken of the Warriors needing his shooting in the starting lineup. Here’s another reason to start him: I’m convinced that Thompson is an all-star in the making, perhaps as soon as this season. The growth in his game has been evident in the first two games. He’s much more willing to take the ball to the basket, and he’s finishing with dunks whenever possible. It’s clear that “Klayups” were a point of emphasis with him in the offseason. And his off-the-ball defense has improved, which will be important now that Iggy is here.
In fact, I think the presence of Iggy is going to make Klay a much better player. Removed of the responsibility of chasing point guards and much quicker players, I expect his legs to be a lot fresher, and his shooting percentage to soar.
There will be plenty of games this season, and particularly in the playoffs, when Klay should be on the court 40 minutes or more. You can’t get that bringing him off the bench.
The Sixth Man: The Warriors have a lot of question marks in their backcourt off the bench. There is no one remotely capable of running the offense like Jarrett Jack. It is perhaps in recognition of this that Jackson has been contemplating moving Klay into the sixth man role.
It’s not a natural fit. Klay is at his best off the ball. And the Warriors need him desperately in the starting lineup.
It appears to me that Toney Douglas is the Warriors most likely sixth man. Nedovich won’t be ready for some time. And Bazemore is NOT a point guard. His handle is not good enough. And he can’t make plays off the dribble.
Curry: He’s obviously spent a lot of time in the weight room. His baby face is almost completely gone. And his biceps are HUGE. Let’s hope it doesn’t affect his shooting.
I’m also a lot less enamored than the Warriors brass of the idea that this phenomenal basketball player needs to start throwing himself into the chests of the behemoths, ala Rose and Lin. How’d that work out for them?
Lee: I hope the haters got a good look at the man-to-man defense he put on DeMarcus Cousins in the second half last night. Lee is an extraordinarily underrated post-defender. He does his work early, and virtually never lets even much bigger men go through him.
Was that ability reflected in that wretched Goldsberry “study”?
It was not.
Iggy: His defense has been extraordinary in the first couple of games, and his impact will be extraordinary if and when Jackson gets the lineups right. Shooting aside, the perfect player for this team.
Jackson used Iggy to run the back-up point quite a bit in the Lakers game. But we didn’t see it all last night. Read into that what you will, I think he’ll get significant minutes at point guard this season.
It seems like the entire Warriors team is intent on setting him up for alley-oops. With Thompson and Curry drawing the best defenders, that will be quite a weapon.
And boy, does Oracle like it.
Bogut: It’s extraordinary how much weight he’s taken off. He looks absolutely ripped. Is this a contract year?
The Warriors have been talking about his improvement in the low post. It hasn’t been evident in the first two games, and I don’t place much stock in this. His jump hooks are nothing but prayers, that are likely to bounce several times on the rim before they get their answer. And his low post stats were wretched even pre-injury.
To paraphrase Mark Jackson himself: “Every time the Warriors post up [Bogut] they are doing the defense a favor.” For as long as he’s healthy, I’d like to see Bogut used offensively the way Biedrins was in his brief prime. Get him the ball on the move.
O’Neal: The Warriors haven’t used him much on the offensive end, preferring to get Speights going instead. But I am very impressed by how well he moves on the defensive end.
O’Neal is still a very valuable player.
Speights: Given how well he played last night, I’m going to put aside the “Spatula” nickname I cooked up for him. But Speights is clearly out of shape. His gut hangs over his shorts, and he’s wearing a towel around his neck during warmups, like a wrestler in the sauna late at night before a match, desperately trying to make weight. Unfortunately, I know a bit about that.
When he’s not struggling to change ends, Speights is a pretty decent ball player. He showed some active defense and rebounding last night, but on offense is where he’s really intriguing. He can really stretch the floor. Last night, he launched a top of the key three, while playing center. I hope Mark Jackson is serious about letting him shoot from behind the arc. He can hit it with regularity — and did, during warmups.
Douglas: Ran the team quite a bit last night, and did a decent job. Not looking for his own shot at all right now, but that should change in the regular season. Like Jarrett Jack, Douglas should be unleashed.
Great defensive player, created several steals.
Had a lot of problems finishing layups.
Dedmon: A much better player than Jeremy Tyler. He knows what’s up on the defensive end, and makes his presence felt. Good shotblocker and rebounder. Runs like the wind. Hits the 15 footer.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an NBA body. Gets pushed around when he catches the ball inside, and can’t keep his balance.
Mark Jackson says he’s an NBA player right now. I’m not sure. I don’t know too many NBA big men that skinny who have stuck in the league. I’m talking Carlos Rogers skinny. Remember him?
Bazemore: As mentioned above, not a point guard. I do like him at the two though. His shot looked much improved during warmups. And he drained a three in the game.
Douglas at point, Bazemore at the two could put some crazy pressure on second unit backcourts. A couple of Berzerkers. Looking forward to seeing that.
Seth Curry: Given that Mark Jackson is playing him off-the-ball, when playing him at all, I think it’s obvious Seth won’t make the roster. He’s too small to play professionally at any position other than point guard.
I forsee a long tough road ahead for him, working on developing his point guard skills in the D-league.