Harrison Barnes got his first preseason start against Maccabi Haifa on Thursday, and he made the most of the opportunity. Already being hailed as the most impressive small forward in camp, Barnes earned the start over Brandon Rush in the third contest of the preseason.
Citing a desire to see how Barnes would work in the starting lineup, coach Mark Jackson gave the rookie the starting nod and the team high in minutes played with 36. I’d have to imagine Barnes’ performance answered any lingering questions Jackson might have had.
Barnes was a lethal 8-for-11 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point land. He pulled down four boards and added one assist and one steal to his 20-point night.
Not to be forgotten, Brandon Rush reminded everyone that his performance doesn’t suffer when he’s used as a reserve. Rush scored 12 points on 10 shots while grabbing three rebounds, blocking a shot, dishing an assist and snatching one steal.
It’ll be very interesting to see how Jackson handles the suddenly real small forward controversy going forward. There’s no questioning Barnes’ talent now. The competition will be good for all involved, though, as it’ll continue to allow Jackson to reward not just scoring prowess, but the willingness of each player to hunker down on defense. Rush still has the better defensive chops, but Barnes has enough skill, size and athleticism to eventually eclipse Rush in that area.
Ultimately, it’ll makes sense to start whichever of the two forwards defends best—the first unit will have plenty of scorers.
It’s going to be very interesting to see who gets the start in the Warriors’ next preseason game against the Denver Nuggets on October 15. The fact that Jackson switched things up by giving Barnes a start, even for one game, shows that he still hasn’t made a decision yet. But if Barnes continues to score so efficiently, Jackson may feel like he has no choice but to reward the rookie.