In a recent interview, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr left the door open for forward Harrison Barnes to regain his spot in the starting lineup.
Barnes had a quiet rookie season in 2012-2013, before exploding as a small-ball power forward in the playoffs. The Warriors signed free agent Andre Iguodala in the subsequent offseason, who promptly took the starting position away from Barnes. As the sixth man, Barnes struggled and wasn’t able to build upon his impressive playoff numbers.
However, it looks as though Barnes might just be given a second chance as Kerr looks to give both players a fair shot at the starting job. Now, the countdown is on as both players try to prove themselves of a starting berth.
Until opening night, the question remains: who should Kerr start?
Barnes spent most of his playing time with the second unit. In fact, his playing time with the starters (Curry, Bogut, Lee, Thompson) was only 14% of his total minutes the entire season. Contrasted to his previous season, Barnes’ playing time with the starters constituted 20% of his playing time. To say that his numbers from this season are skewed due to his teammates sharing the floor with him is an understatement.
A closer look at Barnes’ numbers’ will show that he flourished as a small-ball power forward. For much of his rookie regular season, his numbers were quite similar to his 2013-2014 season averages. Once David Lee went down to an injury however, Barnes was pushed to the power forward spot and he averaged 16.1 points per game while shooting 44.4%. Now, there is the risk that these numbers are inflated due to the relative small sample size (12 games), but Barnes was terrorizing slower power forwards with his athleticism and drives to the basket. Barnes refrained from shooting mid-range shots and focused instead on attacking the basket (where he shot 70%) or shooting threes (32% of his shot attempts).
After his playoff run, many were touting Barnes to make the leap as a sophomore. However, he struggled as the primary option on a bench devoid of offensive options. His 2013-2014 shooting chart shows a much more mixed bag, with many more midrange and long-2 shots. His shooting percentages dipped as defenses keyed in on him and prevented him from driving to the basket for easy scores. He also struggled due to his relative inexperience playing with a completely different unit, as Mark Jackson utilized his hockey-style substitutions. All in all, it was a bad situation for the Black Falcon.
In his days as a Sixer, Iguodala was known as a “point forward.” Much of the offense in Philly ran through him, and his usage rate varied from 20% to 26%, with assist percentages never dropping below 20%. Even in his long season with Denver, his assist percentage was 22.4% with a usage rate of 18.8%, but Denver had two capable playmakers in Danilo Galinari and Ty Lawson, and as such didn’t have to rely much on Iguodala. In fact, his 3-point attempts increased while he was in Denver and he seemed to have added an extra dimension to his offensive ability.
Upon arrival in Golden State, many thought Iguodala would function as a secondary ball handler for the Warriors to relieve Curry of offensive duties at certain points in games. However, whether it was by Jackson’s design or Iguodala’s choice, that original plan did not come to fruition. Iguodala stuck to the perimeter more than ever, as 51.1% of his shots originated from 16 feet or further from the basket. His usage rate was at an all-time low since his rookie year, and the Warriors struggled to find extra ball-handling in the starting lineup.
Here is a table of both players’ offensive stats in 2013-2014:
|Andre Iguodala||Harrison Barnes|
|Points Per Game||9.3||9.5|
|FG% / 3pt FG% / FT%||48 / 35.4 / 65.2||39.9 / 34.7 / 71.8|
|Free Throws Per Game||1.4||2.3|
|Effective Field Goal %||54.8%||44.8 %|
|True Shooting||57%||48.6 %|
|Assists Per Game||4.2||1.5|
|Assists Rate %||18.2%||7.3 %|
|Minutes Per Game||32.4||28.3|
A quick comparison of the two players shows that Iguodala was the more effective scorer among the two. Iguodala also racked up more assists than Barnes. While Iguodala benefited from playing with the starters more often, he still scored less than Barnes did, albeit more efficiently. There is no doubt that Barnes is the more offensively talented player of the two, and is able to punish slower power forwards at the perimeter. However, the Warriors need more ball-handling in their starting lineup, and if Iguodala can revert back to his “point-forward” role in Philadelphia, he could ease their troubles.
Not much needs to be said about Iguodala’s contributions on defence. Being voted into the NBA All-Defensive First Team while beating out defensive wing studs like Lebron James, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, speaks volumes about Iguodala’s defensive abilities. Against him, his opponents shot 39.8% from the field, and he would be consistently matched up against the best perimeter player.
Contrastingly, Barnes’ defensive numbers were satisfactory. Opponents were held to 43% shooting against him. However, it is important to note that he was also playing against second-units and was therefore matched up against less potent offensive options. Opponents also scored well when he was matched up on the roll man (57.1%) and on post-up situations (46.8%). This can be attributed to his smaller size and build against bigger power forwards
Putting It All Together
Barnes’ concerns are easy to alleviate. He has shown that he cannot flourish as a primary option, and therefore must be surrounded with other offensive threats. The Warriors have taken that first step by signing Shaun Livingston, who will most presumably be the sixth man for this year. Managing Barnes’ rotations by allowing him playing time with the starters will also go a long way to improving his confidence and production.
Iguodala’s defensive awareness is far too valuable to the Warriors to lose. They already have David Lee (who has the displeasure of having many articles devoted to his inability to play defense) and Curry (who has struggled to keep up with opposing point guards). While Barnes’ defensive ability is nothing to scoff at, it is certainly not All-Defensive First Team material.
Finally, while it was true that Barnes struggled due to his lack of playing time with the starters, coach Kerr should not change the lineup just to suit Barnes. In fact, as mentioned above, his production as a small forward is similar to what he is currently averaging as a sixth man. Barnes plays better as a power forward, a position that Iguodala does not play.
The right question here isn’t whether Barnes or Iguodala should start, but rather: Should Barnes or Lee Start?