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NBA Free Agency 2012: Brandon Rush Finalizes Deal With Golden State Warriors, But Can He Start?

In a piece about the Golden State Warriors agreeing to terms with Brandon Rush yesterday, CBS Sports blogger Matt Moore described the veteran shooter out of Kansas as a "crack shooter" who, "...has proven to be a nice salvage job for the Warriors, who got him for very little in trade and now get him for at least one more season at below-average price."

However, based on Rush's latest comments as reported by CSN Bay Area's Matt Steinmetz and others, Rush might describe himself a bit differently: starter-caliber small forward.

"I'm coming in trying to get that starting job at the three spot," Rush said. "I've been working hard the whole, entire summer to build up on that."

When it comes to the discussion about who will start at small forward for the Warriors, the talk pretty much stops after Harrison Barnes and Richard Jefferson.

My first response to this - and previous talk about the Warriors' projected starting lineup - was why has the talk stopped at Barnes and Jefferson, aside from the fact that Rush's status with the team was unclear until the last few days?

No matter what any of us believes Barnes will become, the consensus about him at summer league was that he'll be a great fit for a Warriors team full of scorers, but he's still a ways away from being considered more than a solid role player. That's not to say that he couldn't start, but that there's very little to suggest he's a lock to start - as suggested by Steinmetz, it seems more likely that he step into a starting role later in the season.

And as Steinmetz also described, Jefferson is a playoff-tested veteran who can certainly contribute to a playoff team. But he's also a guy who the San Antonio Spurs traded to the Warriors - along with a draft pick - in exchange for Stephen Jackson prior to making their playoff run. And statistically, it's difficult to argue that he was better than Rush on the surface.

2011-12 31 TOT 63 1748 11.1 .550 1.7 12.4 7.2 7.3 1.1 0.8 8.7 15.1
2011-12 31 SAS 41 1168 10.9 .556 1.8 12.0 7.0 6.7 1.1 0.7 8.6 14.6
2011-12 31 GSW 22 580 11.6 .540 1.6 13.3 7.4 8.6 1.1 0.9 8.9 16.1
Career 796 27165 15.5 .566 3.5 13.2 8.3 13.2 1.2 0.8 11.9 21.3
Richard Jefferson statistics provided by View Original Table

2011-12 26 GSW 65 1717 15.2 .628 2.2 14.4 8.3 7.9 1.1 2.6 11.9 15.4
Career 289 7765 10.9 .544 2.0 12.9 7.5 6.5 1.1 1.9 11.2 15.5
Brandon Rush statistics provided by View Original Table

There is a statistical argument in favor of Jefferson: RAPM, where Jefferson is a +0.2 while Rush is a -3.9, not to mention that Jefferson is a plus defensively as well whereas Rush is not.

Nevertheless, despite putting up similar stats with both the Spurs and Warriors and starting all 41 games for the Spurs, Jefferson has been on a steady decline since the 2008-09 season. In contrast, as Moore described, last season was a career year for Rush by almost any standard and it was also a contract year. And as EvanZ described after the Warriors' season ended, Rush was also the team's most efficient player in isolation and a top 20 spot up shooter, making him a more versatile threat offensively.

But the biggest question is what exactly the Warriors will get from Rush this season. And if he sees this year as yet another contract year, he might be even more motivated to come into camp ready to prove to the Warriors' staff that he deserves the starting spot.

Last season the Warriors' staff seemed to like going to Monta Ellis in the post (without the services of Andrew Bogut, of course) and they ran similar plays to Klay Thompson in summer league. If indeed Rush comes into camp with an improved post game, he'd be an even more versatile offensive threat at the beginning of the season than either Barnes or Jefferson.

Even if Rush doesn't ultimately secure the starting spot, there isn't a whole lot of reason right now to say that either Barnes or Jefferson are significantly better options - there are certainly arguments in favor of any of the three starting, but there's two much uncertainty about what each might offer to say that Rush shouldn't be in that discussion.

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