No matter how well the Warriors have started the season, there has still got to be some controversy concerning the team, something for fans to get a little riled up about. Until David Lee fully recovers and we find out where his spot in the rotation will be, it's natural that the point of controversy involves Harrison Barnes. He showed so much promise as a rookie in the playoffs, but last season, Mark Jackson's hockey-style substitutions and neglect of the bench unit rendered Barnes' potential unfulfilled.
Warriors fans have questioned whether he deserves more playing time than Draymond Green, or if he earned it solely by virtue of having a lower draft number. Some scoffed at the idea of his starting over Andre Iguodala; why promote Barnes based on his failing in his bench role? How can Iguodala and Lee come off the bench when they were on that killer starting unit last year?
Iguodala has struggled a bit in the reserve role, but some of his issues seem to be due to lingering injuries hampering his speed and his confidence. And don't look now, but the gamble on starting Barnes is starting to pay off. He's put up double figures in each of the last five games and he's starting to show up on top-10 lists for offensive stats like effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
Why is Barnes starting to explode offensively when he seemed so troubled last season? Is he just benefiting from the good looks generated by the starting unit? Does the new offensive system put him in better places to score? Is he simply better at basketball than he was last year? If you guessed all of the above, you see where I'm going.
The Starters Are Really Good, so Barnes Is Open All The Time
While Barnes' true shooting percentage of 67% is impressive, it's not the same as Stephen Curry's 63% true shooting. Curry has a much higher usage rate and is shooting tough, contested shots, often off the dribble. However, Curry's ability to do so, along with the rest of the starters' skill sets, attracts the defense's attention, leaving Barnes wide open on many occasions.
Barnes' true shooting and effective field goal percentages are so elite because he is taking uncontested threes with his feet set. 12 out of his 13 made threes have been assisted, and he's shooting 8-of-12 from the closer corner spots. As it just so happens, the one unassisted three he hit was a necessary shot with time running out in the shot clock.
Barnes is also shooting 10-of-19 from the midrange, and it seems like all of the open looks from deep are allowing him to get into a better shooting rhythm inside the arc. Just look at the play against the Spurs where he pump fakes and takes one dribble past a flying Kawhi Leonard before stroking the jumper.
The Offense is Really Good, So Barnes Doesn't Dribble In Place Anymore
Last season, Barnes had one job on offense: make something happen for the bench unit. Make anything happen for the bench unit. Make me not want to cover my head in shame watching the bench unit. It's safe to say he failed at this very difficult job.
This season, Barnes has many jobs, and he's better suited for all of them. He is scoring in transition, as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, and off dribble handoffs. Involving Barnes in a two-man game and allowing him to catch the ball on the move greatly increases his chances at getting to the rim, where he's not a bad finisher.
Barnes is Really Good, Or At Least Better Than Before
He will regress to the mean some, but Barnes is shooting 48% from three this season after shooting 35% last season. His increased comfort in the starting role and with the new coaching staff is starting to become more evident, and there's no reason to think he will stop getting easy shots, as he is still the fourth or fifth option offensively for the dynamite starting unit.
Perhaps most importantly, he fits well with the Warriors' versatility. He can line up at the high post in horns or sit in the weak-side corner ready to launch a three. He can realistically defend three positions and we've all seen what happens when a team decides to hide a smaller, weaker defender on him.
It seems as if one part of the Harrison Barnes starting equation is working: Barnes is excelling in the starting unit. However, is it worth having Iguodala come off the bench? It makes more sense now that Kerr is staggering the starters' minutes. The starting lineup with Iguodala in Barnes' place has already played 44 minutes together. However, that may not be enough considering that lineup is putting up an offensive rating of 133.2 and a defensive rating of 85.4, both stratospherically better than the rest of the league.
The starters with Barnes and the starters with Iggy are both putting up huge numbers, so it's just a question of fit at this point, as well as getting the most out of both players. We can't know the answer when it comes to fit, though. I teased this in the opening paragraph -- until Lee is back in his full capacity, it's uncertain what the Warriors are and what they can be.