November 14, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) dunks the ball against Atlanta Hawks power forward Zaza Pachulia (27) during the third quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors defeated the Hawks 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Why Harrison Barnes Can Save the Golden State Warriors

It’s hard to believe the Golden State Warriors’ season is in need of saving so early in the year, but with an unblinking half-dozen teams gunning for the last couple of playoff spots, every game matters a little more—even in November.

The game last night against the Atlanta Hawks reinforced the facts that the Warriors are a very talented, deeply flawed team. As the season’s first two weeks have gone by, it’s become obvious that neither Stephen Curry nor Klay Thompson are complete offensive players. Specifically, neither can consistently (or, seemingly, ever) beat his man off the dribble. That’s the main reason for the Warriors’ offensive predictability; both guards have to wait at the top of the arc for slow-developing curls from the team’s shooters. From the beginning, teams have been overplaying those curls, forcing the guard at the top to try to create something. Because neither Curry nor Thompson can get past anyone in a one-on-one situation, they always need a screen up top. Then the problem is the consistently awful picks set by David Lee (who just wants to slip or pop out) and Festus Ezeli (who can’t do it without fouling).

But that’s where Harrison Barnes comes in.

Barnes, given a new role last night against the Hawks, had the best game of his career. Mark Jackson, finally recognizing the predictable ineptitude of the team’s offense, isolated Barnes a handful of times on top, where Curry usually waits, pounding the dribble. Barnes is different from the other Warriors guards/wings in that he can beat his man when pressured. He did that more than once last night, which resulted in some pressure (finally) being applied to the defense and fouls drawn.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the Warriors struggled mightily to score again last night, due in large part to the continued shooting woes of Curry and Thompson (combined 1-of-10) from three. But at least this is a new, slightly less predictable weapon in the Warriors’ offensive arsenal.

It feels wrong to be so concerned with the Warriors’ offense, and not their historically poor defense and rebounding, but that’s where we are right now. The offense is broken, mismanaged, easy to defend and too dependent on outside shooting. The defense and rebounding, by contrast, have been fine.

It’s possible that the newly added Barnes dimension will ease some of the pressure on the other Warrior scorers. Something has to, or else the Warriors will struggle to stay anywhere near the playoff picture.

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