Forward Harrison Barnes has now missed 10 games for the 26-1 Golden State Warriors this season and after two difficult games against the Milwaukee Bucks last week, the cost of his absence is becoming more clear.
While fatigue might have explained the loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on December 12, the more difficult win on Friday night made some of the little things that Barnes does more prominent: an extra shooter to space the floor with the small lineup, defending multiple positions and a player whose athleticism just makes the Warriors defensive rotations a bit more crisp.
Without the help of the Small Ball Death Star — as Jonah Gardner of Sports-Reference labeled it, piggybacking off the Star Wars hype — the Warriors have lacked their trump card and have been playing their big three more in order to cover up the absence of Barnes, as The Bay Area Sports Guy broke down last Thursday after the Warriors' dominant win over the Phoenix Suns.
...the Warriors still need Barnes. Curry is playing 35.5 minutes per game in December; he averaged 34.7 mpg last year. Green is playing 36.7 mpg in December, almost three more minutes per contest than he played in the previous 19, and his shooting numbers are down across the board this month...once they get Barnes back at full strength and can allow Curry and Green to rest a little more, the Warriors should be even better than they were over the first 17 games when Barnes was healthy — partly because the "Small Ball Death Squad" will be back in full, but also because Thompson’s October/November mini-slump is a thing of the past.
Even though Barnes is clearly not the top player on this team — and Brandon Rush has really done a solid job stepping in — replacing his 30 minutes hasn't been easy and has stressed the team's rotation.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Warriors won't be getting Barnes back any time soon: ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss tweeted on Saturday night that he's not likely to return by Christmas.
So Kyrie will be back for the XMas game. From what I'm hearing, Harrison Barnes likely will not be— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 19, 2015
It's become quite evident that Klay and HBarnes had very different kinds of ankle sprains— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 19, 2015
Barnes' ankle sprain is a longer rehab because it's a high sprain + a bone bruise. The Warriors are being conservative with it— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) December 19, 2015
Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chronicle reported on Saturday night that Barnes has, "...advanced to shooting, running and trying to get comfortable with cutting, stopping and starting" and will be re-evaluated today — it would be nice to get an early Christmas gift in the form of some positive news with the Cleveland Cavs coming into town.
Andrew Bogut may also take a holiday break
- Simmons also reported yesterday that Andrew Bogut might need to take a break due to a back sprain that caused him to leave Friday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks early: "The Warriors on Monday are expected to announce a more thorough diagnosis on Bogut’s injury, which is being called a back sprain...Bogut said he "cherished" the Warriors’ 24-game win streak and probably played through a little more pain than necessary during the run. But with the streak having been snapped and the team spending another week at home, it might be time to give Bogut’s back some much-needed rest."
- With Bogut's back being a consistent problem, might it affect how the Warriors look at his value after his contract expires in 2017? Dan Feldman of NBC Sports broke down that situation last night and concluded, "...it's a little less than $44 million over three years or bust. There's little doubt Bogut is worth that to the Warriors. However, might they try for an even better value player instead?" Oh — you thought the Kevin Durant talk had died down due to the streak?
- Bogut's absence would of course put Festus Ezeli in the spotlight on Christmas Day against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ezeli is coming off of a solid performance against the Bucks, as described by CSN's Monte Poole: "...Ezeli answered the call, outscoring Bucks center Greg Monroe 14-10 - more than neutralizing Milwaukee's best offensive player."
Have the Warriors' weaknesses been exposed?
- Speaking of Ezeli's emergence, Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group identified Ezeli's emergence as having a ripple effect in the rotation that has hurt the bench's efficiency: "The emergence of Festus Ezeli has had a negative effect on the other backup big men. Marreese Speights is now the backup power forward instead of the backup center, which he played mostly last year. But his minutes have been lessened as the backup power forward, and he is less effective in that role. He doesn't have a mobility advantage and doesn't get as many open looks as when he was defended by a center wary of leaving the rim. Ezeli's improved play caused the same problem for free-agent pickup Jason Thompson, who probably would be better served as the center in a faster lineup but has to get crumbs at power forward."
- Tom Piccolo of The Sports Quotient also examined the Warriors' weaknesses, as evidenced by their struggles against the Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets, and identified post scoring as the antidote to the league's early-season juggernaut. That has implications for the upcoming matchup against the Cavs: "So, the answer to beating the Warriors’ small-ball is not a matter of "going big" or "going small;" it means "going post-up." And, that only works if you have one of the five or six players in the league capable of having post-up success against an all-pro defender like Green...One thing is for certain, come Christmas Day, all eyes should be on how the Cavaliers respond when the Warriors trot out their small-ball lineup, and if Cleveland is smart, we should see Love posting up."
- In addition to having Love to post-up, the Cavs will also have the services of point guard Kyrie Irving, who returned to action this past weekend for the first time since Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals. Our frienemies at SB Nation's Fear the Sword have summarized the impact of Irving's return as well as his modest performance in this 2015-16 debut against the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday.
How 'bout that Klay Thompson?
- The Bay Area Sports Guy noted that Klay Thompson has interestingly been better since Barnes has been out and Kenny Ducey of SI.com did a brief breakdown of Thompson's 27-point performance against the Phoenix Suns last Wednesday.
- But Thompson has also made headlines in the last week by declaring himself the best shooting guard in the league in a recent interview with Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group (h/t GSoM user pomeroycoug for posting a FanPost about this first). We can probably expect others to weigh in on this, especially as the hype for Christmas picks up over the next few days, but Dan Feldman of NBC Sports has already weighed in by writing that he'd take James Harden and Jimmy Butler over Thompson.
Odds & Ends
- Diamond Leung summarized what happened between Draymond Green and O.J. Mayo after the win on Friday night.
- Further reinforcing Draymond Green's status as one of the best playmaking forwards the league has seen in some time, Mika Honkasalo of Vantage Sports reports that Green not only leads all big men in their Assist+ per 100 chances metric but also leads the entire NBA in alley oops.
- Jonah Gardner of Sports-Reference notes that the Warriors "Small Ball Death Star" is the best low-usage lineup this millennium.
- Adam Yudelman of Nylon Calculus took a look at breakout players so far this season and not only is Festus Ezeli high on that list of breakout players, but also listed is former Warriors superfan Kent Bazemore. Unfortunately, the Warriors were also represented on his list of "breakdown" players by Marreese Speights.
- The San Antonio Spurs have been really good in December. How good? Better than the Warriors by a significant margin, according to Tom Haberstroh (via Pounding the Rock).
- Andrew Bogut, with the help of Tim Kawakami, has joined the movement to publicly call out the San Francisco 49ers for not giving fellow Australian Jarryd Hayne a chance. Amen.
Great work, Jed York.
As there are likely other links from around the web that caught your attention over the last week, feel free to drop them in the comments or create a FanPost/FanShot if you have more to say.