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Early Impressions Of Golden State Warriors Rookies Through Two Las Vegas Summer League Games

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As Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus alluded to yesterday, this past weekend's summer league games probably gave us a glimpse of the best and the worst of what forward Harrison Barnes might offer in his rookie year.

After scoring 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in his first game against the Los Angeles Lakers' summer league squad, he scored 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting in his second game against Denver.

Certainly there are those that will look at that output as meaningless summer league inconsistency and rightly point out that he made a lot more hustle plays in his second outing to offset a poor scoring performance (7 rebounds and 4 steals), which is great insofar as it suggests he can do more on the court than just score. But a look at how he made and missed shots in those games probably does provide some insight into Barnes' limitations.

Harrison Barnes

By my count, Barnes is 3-for-19 on contested shots thus far in summer league.

Yes, sample size is obviously an issue here, but let's take a closer look at how he's getting those shots for a second.

One response to that is obviously, well, he should just stop taking contested shots! and I will never disagree with that about a rookie. The problem for Barnes - consistent with a critique from his college career - is that he neither creates a lot of shots for himself unassisted (3 in two games outside of transition situations) nor does he create for others off the dribble when he can't get his shot in half court sets; in other words, taking less contested shots isn't the solution for Barnes. He seems to struggle doing much of anything consistently after 1-2 dribbles, which is primary reason he struggles to get anything other than contested shots with the ball in his hands - he doesn't look confident facing up on his defender and making moves to create space.

But that leads to another significant difference between Barnes' first two summer league games: who was defending him.

Against the Lakers, most of Barnes' shots were defended by a combination of 6'5" (as listed by DraftExpress and on the Lakers' own summer league roster) Christian Eyenga, 6'3" Andrew Goudelock, and 6'3" Darius Johnson-Odom. Against the Nuggets, the majority of his shots were defended by 6'7" Jordan Hamilton with a couple defended by 6'8" 2012 All-Rookie forward Kenneth Faried. In short, we could just reduce the difference between the two games to a matter of how Barnes was defended: Barnes struggled against longer (and based on summer league performance, better) defenders after lighting up a team that struggled to defend the combination of him and Klay Thompson.

The point here is not to condemn Barnes to a career as a role player or suggest that his ceiling is about Dorell Wright; what we saw in the first two games is more likely just what a realistic assessment of Barnes' potential would suggest.

Despite his scoring struggles in the second game, Barnes showed the kind of tenacity in other ways that will make him a productive NBA player, which is somewhat similar to something T.H. of SB Nation's Carolina March told us in a Q&A: "his best defensive games were ones where he struggled offensively." And we can't ignore the fact that he's 6-for-6 from 3-point range.

If nothing else, Barnes has proven that he can be a productive scorer with the Warriors as a spot up shooting threat who is actually very decisive in terms of moving without the ball to get himself open shots on kick outs. Most importantly, the guy has already gained a reputation as a worker as a 20-year-old, which lends credence to the notion that he will improve. And there's little doubt that he will improve.

But it will still be interesting to see how much Barnes improves as a scorer during the remainder of summer league.

Festus Ezeli

In contrast to Barnes, Ezeli started slow against the weaker Lakers squad and really picked it up against a solid set of Nuggets post players, as summarized by Christian D'Andrea of SB Nation's Anchor of Gold. But I particularly liked what he told Connor Huchton of Hardwood Paroxysm in an interview, consistent with the advice he received about succeeding in the NBA prior to the draft.

"Oh, my offense. Well yeah, I mean, I've been working on it a lot, so, it's getting better. But that's not what I'm here for. I'm here for defense, so I think people will get surprised to see that I have a little bit of an offensive game as well, but that's not what I'm here for. I'm here to play defense."

Ezeli has never once tried to do too much on the floor but aggressively capitalized on his strengths, using his size to make himself a presence in the paint.

Would it be nice to see more from him offensively in the way of post moves? Maybe. But earning 7 free throw attempts against a Nuggets frontcourt with NBA experience is no insignificant accomplishment and he's already shown the ability to become more of a shot blocking presence as he gets more comfortable with the NBA game.

The Warriors might not have found a star in Ezeli, but they've potentially gotten themselves a productive role player in the post who add some defensive energy that has been lacking on this team for years.

Draymond Green

I think Green has already nicely summed up his performance in an article by Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I’m not fooling myself into thinking my role is going to be as a scorer for this team, but I can get on the floor and impact a game in so many other ways," Green said. "I can see things before they happen on the court. I think that is what is going to allow me to play at this level. I may not be the most athletic, but I understand the game.

"I’ve never seen the best defender not play. I’ve never seen the best rebounder not play. If I take care of my business, the rest will take care of itself."

That's it. When he's on the floor good things seem to happen.

For those concerned about his seven fouls in the second game, here's a breakdown of how he got them:

Time Type Description
6:28, 2nd qtr
Dead ball - inbounds Struggling with Izzet Turkyilmaz for position on an inbounds
3:05, 2nd qtr
Shooting foul Blocked a Faried layup attempt in transition
5.3, 2nd qtr
Block Rotated, attempted to draw a charge as Faried drove to the basket
2:10, 3rd qtr Loose ball foul? Whistled for a foul on a Faried rebound
8:10, 4th qtr Hand check Extended both arms while trying to defend Evan Fournier on a drive
6:51, 4th qtr Shooting foul Rotated over to block a layup in transition
2:30, 4th qtr Reach Rotated over to help on a Jorge Gutierrez drive, made contact?

Draymond Green's fouls against the Denver Nuggets on 7/14/12.

Three of those fouls were legit fouls, but on two of them he was preventing a layup after a teammate got beat. The dead ball foul was a struggle for position on an inbounds play where he might have used his hands a bit too much. The blocking foul he got whistled for could've gone either way. The last one was questionable as it was hard to see much contact. The loose ball foul was a phantom foul.

He's going to struggle guarding small forwards and that was to be expected, but otherwise all we can say about Green defensively is that he's active and aware. He might use his hands a bit too much instead of moving his feet on occasion, but he was almost never out of position - in most cases, he was making up for teammates' lapses.

Overall, all Green has shown thus far is that he has a high basketball IQ and is willing to throw his body around to make things happen. Even if all that amounts to is a "hustle player", his tenacity on the floor is something the Warriors can use.

Justin Burrell

The Warriors probably won't be able to find space for Burrell on the roster regardless of how much they like him, but he's worthy of mention here because of how he compares to Jeremy Tyler.

One "former NBA scout" has been quoted as saying of Justin Burrell's first game that, "Jeremy Tyler started, but Justin Burrell came in and played most of the second and fourth quarters. Justin looked timid at first, and seemed to be trying to stay out of the way as they called plays for first-round draft pick Harrison Barnes. But he gradually found his rhythm and made some nice plays."

The nice plays included a couple of jumpers and a strong move around the basket against the Lakers. But the interesting thing that the second game followed pretty much the same pattern: Tyler got himself in foul trouble after only five minutes in the first quarter and Burrell came in and made some nice plays.

At this point, he's still more comfortable facing up than he is with his back to the basket, which means he probably won't become much of an offensive presence if he makes a NBA roster. But it's hard to dispute that he has outplayed Tyler through two summer league games and he also fits the mold of what stands out as a common thread of all the other Warriors' rookies: he's got a great motor and brings an energy level as a reserve that the Warriors could conceivably use.

Summer league production on its own doesn't necessarily tell you much about a player, but as Poor Man's Commish has said it can give you a glimpse of a player's potential in terms of how they play and it is in fact a reasonable barometer for who simply can't play.

One thing that we can take from these early games is that all three of the Warriors rookies can play. How much they can contribute remains to be seen, but the early returns are promising in that they all offer talents that the Warriors could use right away.