Comparing the Development of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson


May 16, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors’ postseason led to the recognition of a couple of things that could be a common theme in the future.

For one, the playoff run put the talent the Warriors have on display, and it also showed that they should be a postseason fixture for the foreseeable future. The ceiling of this talent will be the only question mark for this team and whether it can make a legitimate run at a championship.

Stephen Curry is the shining star of this squad, but the title of Robin appears to be up for grabs. After solid contributions in the playoffs, it is evident that Klay Thompson, in his second year, and Harrison Barnes, in his first, will be forces to reckon with. But, which will develop into that second superstar needed alongside Curry for the Warriors to be contenders?

There are multiple statistics that would lead the casual fan to think Thompson’s development is far and ahead of Barnes, but also consider that Thompson has had about two more years of high level basketball than Barnes has to adjust to the NBA game.Thompson was all of  the offense at Washington State during his three-year college career, where he had no other NBA talent competing for shots.

Meanwhile, Barnes played only two seasons at North Carolina and shared the spotlight with a pretty talented cast that included Tyler Zeller (2012 ACC Player of the Year), Kendall Marshall and John Henson. Although Barnes was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, he was forced to play more of a deferral role in college in an effort to even out the offensive attack that included force feeding their skilled big men in the half court.

May 14, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) takes a shot over San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) in the fourth quarter in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the AT

In the pros, Thompson started out behind one of the most notorious gunners in the league, Monta Ellis. Once Ellis was traded, though, Thompson’s playing time led to increases in every category at relatively high efficiency. However, these numbers are somewhat clouded due to the fact that much of that season was lost due to injuries and an attempt to garner building blocks in the draft (Barnes).

For Barnes, he did not have the same luxury of being allowed to play a free-wheeling style or how his skills could translate to the pro game early in his career. In fact, he had a tougher role than Thompson for the fact that he was given the duty of fitting in with three other proven scorers and finding his game opportunistically. He was forced to become the utility knife, if you will, of the Warriors’ offense, filling in where they were lacking, such as becoming a very good rebounder for his position.

However, as the season progressed, it appeared that Barnes began to acclimate to this role. In fact, during the playoffs, due to David Lee’s injury in Game 1 of Round 1, he was given even more responsibility and arguably became the Warriors’ second-best scoring option.

Thompson had explosions of offense during the playoffs, but appeared to be more inconsistent than his younger counterpart.  Overall, their statistics were almost identical, but, Barnes has the edge in almost every category over Thompson in fewer minutes.  (Playoff comparison can be viewed here.)

The postseason is typically a tougher ground to make your mark due to the preparation time and quality of opponents. In only his third year of high-level basketball, Barnes showed that his game exceeds his experience level, which is not normal. It is obvious that there are a few anomalies to this theory, but they are very few and far between–LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant.

Those are once in a lifetime type players. Players that have elite talent usually take some time to develop or gain the confidence needed to succeed through experience. Thompson gained that ability through his time at Washington State as “the man” but also in the malaise that was the Tank Express.

May 14, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the second half in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the AT

For Barnes, it bodes very well for his future that at the age of 20 (Thompson is 23), that he gained much of his experience in a tougher environment against top level competition during the postseason run. The San Antonio Spurs showed just how important experience is with their dismantling of the younger, quicker and more talented Warriors in six games.

Going forward, the Warriors may have a tough decision to make, much the same way the Oklahoma City Thunder did this season.  With Curry as the superstar, there may only be enough room for one more under the salary cap if other players are still on the roster (Andrew Bogut, Lee).

The question will be which budding star do you part with. For Warriors fans, it will be an ongoing argument if happens. However, for a fan base that is not used to this sort of thing, it is a great argument to have. For what its worth, it would appear that Barnes’ age, physical talents and proficient learning curve may have bumped his value above Thompson. This offseason will be important to see if both players in order to prove who should be allowed to ride in the Batmobile.