Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
Debating the pros and cons of Brandon Rush vs. Harrison Barnes as the starting small forward.
It seems pretty clear the battle for the starting SF position is between Harrison Barnes and Brandon Rush. That part alone is good news, because if you had asked me a few months ago, I wouldn't have thought Barnes surpassing Richard Jefferson was a realistic possibility this early in his career. I'll take that as a sign of Barnes' talent, rather than a sign that Richard Jefferson has suddenly gone from a regular starter in the Spurs' rotation to a complete scrub (although you and I know this kind of thing happens occasionally, and I bet some of us could even name some names, but I digress...).
So like any important decision, it's a good idea to list pros and cons for each side of the argument. Since this is my article, I guess I'll have to do the arguing with myself for now, and wait for you guys to read this and chime in with your own opinions toot sweet.
The Case for Rush
While there is definitely debate about who will be the better player in the long-term, I think that few among us would claim that Barnes is the better (i.e. more productive) player right now. As of October 19, 2012, Rush appears to be a better (more efficient) scorer, a stronger defender, and a better rebounder. We also know that he is not only capable of playing within a team concept, but that it seems his natural inclination. There is absolutely no doubt that Rush is a great unselfish teammate and is not looking for his own shot, but rather, takes good shots that are available to him. This is one of his greatest strengths. On the other hand, the concerns some of us have about Barnes is that he might tend toward the selfish end of the spectrum, at least, when it comes to the offensive end of the floor. Admittedly, however, he has looked more restrained in his approach to the game than I was expecting. So I am somewhat less concerned about this point than I was, say, on Draft Night.
Nevertheless, we know what kind of teammate Rush is and how he would fit in with the starting unit. Aside from Bogut, Rush would clearly be the second best defender on the starting unit (although heck, maybe one could make that case for Barnes, which doesn't say much about the other three guys). Aside from the additional defensive toughness that Rush brings, he is arguably one of the few players on the team that can drive to the basket with some regularity. He's clearly a better ball-handler right now than Barnes, and that's important, because from what we've seen in the pre-season, maintaining ball control is an issue of some concern (perhaps, not great concern, but some).
One other point that I would make in Rush's favor, and this is thinking more about psychology, is that making him the starter this season might be the good will necessary to convince him to sign a long-term deal in the off-season. I really do like Rush, and I see him as someone who could stick around for several seasons, and be part of a winning team. In all likelihood, Barnes will eventually become the starter (and let's hope that he does, because that would mean he's pretty good), and I think Rush probably knows that on a really good team, he's probably going to come off the bench anyway, and that he'd be ok with that in the future. But since he made it clear that he wants to compete for the starting job this season (probably because he thinks he's better than Barnes right now, too), it might hurt his ego if he loses this battle. Of course, the right thing to do here is what is best for the team, not what is best for any individual player. But I guess what I'm saying is that, all else being equal, if making Rush the starter helps the team and helps convince him to stay here for the long run, it's something to consider.
The Case for Barnes
The case I would make for Barnes actually has less to do with Barnes strengths than it does thinking about what will work best for the team. As stated above, one of my concerns with Barnes coming off the bench is that he'll feel that he has a responsibility to be "the scorer". That is the last thing I want in terms of his development as a player. Conversely, I feel that Barnes would have to learn how to play the "right way" as a member of the starting unit, because he would be surrounded by several players that are clearly a step or two or three above him right now in terms of offensive production. Of course, one could turn this right around and argue, well, if Barnes isn't in the starting unit because of his offense, and it isn't because of his defense, then maybe he shouldn't be starting, eh? And I can't really disagree with that argument. (I'm a terrible self-debater.)
Ok, but let me make one more point that I think has some legitimacy, but might also be the most controversial one so far. If Rush does start, I think there is a real issue about the substitution patterns. I know people like to talk about how "a wing is a wing is a wing", but Barnes and Richard Jefferson cannot handle the ball, so you have to start thinking about that second unit. I think Jack is going to be the primary backup for Steph, but who comes in for Klay? Somebody else needs to be able to handle the ball, and that somebody is probably not Barnes or Jefferson. Conversely, if Rush comes off the bench, I could see a really cohesive second unit of Jack/Rush/(Jefferson or Green)/Landry/Ezeli being very productive. Most teams don't bring in a whole unit like that off the bench, but it can work (see Chicago for the last couple of seasons). In particular, I think this team with its depth is set up for a rotation like this.
Now maybe the answer is that you start Rush, and he's the first one that comes out, gets a breather, then comes in for Klay at the 2. Maybe it's as simple as that.
So what do you guys think? I've laid out the issues that I've been thinking about, and to be honest, I could still be convinced either way. This really is a toss-up, as far as I'm concerned. It's one of the more interesting positional battles I can remember, but it's also a good thing. It's not like we're debating between a bad player and a really bad player, right? (Which we've done plenty of over the past few decades as Warriors fans.)
Who should be the starting SF?
Harrison Barnes - because he's better (68 votes)
Brandon Rush - because he's better (112 votes)
Harrison Barnes - it's complicated (155 votes)
Brandon Rush - it's complicated (71 votes)
It doesn't really matter which one (46 votes)
452 total votes