After the Golden State Warriors mustered a comeback win Sunday most of the talk was about Harrison Barnes for breakout game, and Andrew Bogut for his continued dominance in the paint.
So, one has to wonder, which player is more important to the success of the Warriors going forward, both the short-term and long-term. Either way, this is not a simple question.
For the short-term, both have strengths which cannot be replicated by others on the roster. Long-term, there are varying issues that will shape the Warriors for seasons to come. However, they are for the most part undetermined. (health, contracts and other personnel development play heavily into this outlook) So, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s stay a bit more short sighted and focus on the task at hand–the current playoff run.
There is no question that when Bogut is healthy, he is one of the leading defensive forces in the game. Conversely, when Barnes has it going, he is the most well-rounded overall player on the roster (yeah, I said it). In terms of player efficiency, Bogut ranks ahead of Barnes, which is likely due to the fact that he is grabbing every rebound in limited minutes. But on the same note, Barnes ranks ahead of Klay Thompson thanks to a fewer amount turnovers despite the increased level of responsibility
So, if Bogut plays fewer minutes, and is more efficient, his minutes have more value than Barnes. However, what about those minutes that Bogut is not on the floor. This is where the conversation gets interesting.
The Barnes and Bogut combination have averaged about 25 minutes a game, which is about 86 percent of Bogut’s total time on the floor. That combination is third in overall plus-minus of all the possible two-player combinations for the Warriors.
But, who is a party to three of the top 5 combinations? Barnes (first, third and fifth). Bogut obviously ranked high as well, finishing third and fifth. Reflecting on the statistics, it is interesting that Barnes and not Thompson is in the first group despite the fact that Thompson is paired up with scoring, making it the unequivocal higher-scoring duo. But Barnes is more versatile than Thompson, and that is why he is having what appears to be more success.
Barnes, although a rookie, is getting all the opportunities he wants in this postseason, as evident in the 26 shot attempts in Game 4. Moreover, his time on the floor is typically with a vast array of other Warriors, such as Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who don’t demand the ball, whereas Bogut is on the floor with the starters.
It is crucial for Barnes to keep the ship afloat because he is out there longer, and he has not disappointed. His ability to guard every position except the center position is a huge benefit to the Warriors, and it also allows him to stay on the floor longer.
In addition, his offensive game, I would argue, is the most varied on the team. When Barnes is punishing smaller defenders down low, that typically bodes the entire Warriors offense well. He can create space and shoot over the top of smaller defenders, or penetrate past bigger guys, creating opportunities for shooters as the San Antonio Spurs collapse.
Bogut,on the other hand, is a two trick pony, dominating the lane by blocking shots and rebounding. He has, however, mastered the two tricks, so it’s not like it is a bad thing. Any points you get from are gravy, but that is not why he is in there. He is there to change shots, limit the Spurs to one possession and get additional ones for the Warriors’ offense.
Of the remaining teams, he is the league leader in the rebounding department even despite playing the fewer minutes. But can a portion of what he does be replicated? Perhaps. Ezeli has shown some ability to cause havoc and gain extra possessions for Golden State. And, in more recent instances, even Andris Biedrins has given (brief) minutes of providing some energy on the boards. Obviously, neither are the dominating presence of Bogut, and neither has the overall feels of the Aussie; but, it could be argued that if Bogut were to miss significant time due to injury or foul trouble, all may not be lost due to the similar skill set of Ezeli and Biedrins.
Regardless, the Warriors need both Barnes and Bogut to continue to produce to extend the team’s unbelievable run. But it becomes a choice of preference in terms of who is more important. Jack of all trades or master of two. In terms of recent successes, you have to look no further than the most recent NBA champs for which model may work better. A “positionless” lineup seems to create the most problems in terms of matching up. Bogut’s contributions are significant nonetheless, but, due to less minutes, may not have as much overall impact on the outcome of the game as much as Barne’s minutes do.
So, for what is worth, in my opinion, Barnes is the key going forward for Warriors’ success due to overall swiss army knife-ness of his game.