The Golden State Warriors announced yesterday that Harrison Barnes will be out at least another week due to his ankle injury after already missing the previous four games, as reported by Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.
With three games left in this dreaded seven-game road trip, Barnes will end up missing the entirety of the road trip. And as wary as we all have been of this trip — during which will include their fifth game in eight days after Tuesday's game in Indianapolis — the Warriors have continued to roll along undefeated. Not unchallenged, mind you, but continuing to find what it takes to emerge victorious even on the road.
And with Barnes out and the team moving forward in its quest to re-write the history books, it's easy to start questioning how much he matters to this team's success — we're sort of getting a natural experiment to test that question during this road trip with Barnes out and the majority of the roster healthy.
Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders had an extended piece about the subject just yesterday, noting what ends up being the chief conundrum of paying so much money for a player who is arguably not even one of the top five players on the team or even the best at his position on the team.
Barnes, like his teammate Draymond Green, is an auxiliary piece for the Golden State Warriors. The argument can be made, though, that they are a team that is comprised exclusively of auxiliary pieces. Among the Warriors, Stephen Curry may be their alpha-male, but his personality and the way that he carries himself isn’t indicative of a player who believes that it is his team and his ball and that everyone else is just along for the ride. And that’s what has made the Warriors a remarkable team to watch...But this summer, whether it be the Warriors or another NBA team, when Barnes hits the market as a restricted free agent, you better believe that someone will be willing to pay him a pretty penny for the sake of finding out.
Labeling someone as an auxiliary piece seems demeaning, but anyone who understands basketball knows how important those "auxiliary" pieces are to this team's success — the key is that they're not just out there because you need 15 players to field a team, but that they're near perfect complements to each other. Yes, Curry is what makes this team go, but each of those other pieces around them helps the team succeed with him as its engine.
So the question is whether we can imagine another player taking Barnes' place, whether we can imagine Barnes being considered expendable. That's not exactly a question that you can answer well with thought experiments: although people do it all the time, you can't just plug another player's numbers into his spot as a pure replacement and expect the system to continue to function. The question comes down to how many other players can you plug into this system while expecting it to still function? Or more importantly, expecting it to still compete for and win a championship?
James Herbert of CBS Sports described how Barnes' replacements during injury have performed so far and explains their shortcomings.
Rush has shot 52 percent from 3-point range this season, but can't do what Barnes does defensively. Livingston is a versatile defender, but isn't as equipped to play power forward and can't stretch the floor like Barnes.
It'll be interesting to see if the Indiana Pacers give the Warriors a game on Tuesday. Forward Paul George would be in the MVP conversation if Curry hadn't made it moot, and ordinarily Barnes would spend a lot of time guarding him.
And I think Herbert does a good job highlighting something I wrote about earlier this season: Barnes is a surprisingly unique NBA player. And nothing about that has changed in my mind: he's still an extremely unique player — particularly in the minds of those of us who take defensive versatility into account — and he's still uniquely valuable to a team that is nearly impossible to defend when you have someone who can hit over 40% of his 3-point shots from the right side.
But the question remains how much that uniqueness is worth and, specifically, whether the Warriors should pay him any more than the 4-year, $64 million contract he did not accept this past offseason. And beyond a discussion of market value, the even more context-dependent that has to be answered is how much would the Warriors miss him if he was gone? Looking even further down the line, with key rotation players like Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala not getting younger, could that money be more efficiently allocated to replace their value while replacing Barnes by committee?
I still don't think those are easy questions and, as tempting as it is to say that he's not that valuable if the Warriors are winning without him, there's still something to be said for just keeping this team together as long as they can compete for a title.
More on Barnes & the Warriors' success
- One thing actually working in Barnes' favor is his work ethic: Diamond Leung also reported yesterday that Barnes has also developed a relationship with the trainer that Stephen Curry worked out with this summer, "...who believes the highly skilled player has a tendency to over-analyze on the court. While recovering from a sprained ankle, Barnes spent part of Thursday night doing seated ballhandling drills under the direction of Payne, according to the trainer." Hamilton made a great point yesterday by way of former NBA star Kenny Anderson, who categorized NBA players as those who want to make money and those who want to be great. It's hard not to put Barnes in the latter category.
- But speaking of whether the Warriors would continue to succeed without a rotation piece, one of the most amazing thing about this season is that multiple players have missed games this season — from Barnes to Andrew Bogut to Leandro Barbosa — and have still managed to post numbers that suggest that they'll win 70 games. Nick Restifo of Nylon Calculus updated his win projections to estimate that the Warriors have a 75.32% chance of winning 73 games. That's as ridiculous as a Curry pull-up three to beat the buzzer.
- Speaking of Steph Curry's ridiculousness, he was a major reason why the Warriors were able to come back to beat the Brooklyn Nets last night. Prior to that game, Herbert got a quote from Andrew Bogut that seems to suggest that the players feel the same way as we do (or I do, at least) while watching the Warriors: "We know there's going to be a period of the game when [Curry and Thompson] go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang," Bogut said. "So if we're close with a team and we're not playing that well or it's a three-point game, it's a five-point game, we tie it up, we know we're going to have one of those spurts." Herbert also has more about the "circus-like atmosphere" around the team right now.
steph: "that’s what we do" pic.twitter.com/6fj6TQZX0Y— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) December 7, 2015
- Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus offers numbers suggesting that Curry is deadly as a point guard. CAN YOU BELIEVE HE LABELED HIM A POINT GUARD? Yes? Oh. Ok.
- But Curry does more than strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. Prior to last night's game, there were a few articles about the relationship between Curry and former teammate Jarrett Jack. Fred Kerber of the New York Post wrote about how Jack considers Curry "like a little brother" and was struck by Curry mentioning his name during last season's MVP speech and, on a possibly related note, Andy Vasquez of The Record wrote about why Jack gets so motivated to play so well against the Warriors.
Andrew Bogut injury update
- CSN Bay Area color commentator Jim Barnett mentioned a number of times during the third quarter of last night's game that Andrew Bogut looked like he still wasn't 100% after sitting out Saturday night's game with a back injury. In fact, that's almost certainly the case — as reported by Rusty Simmons of the SF Chronicle, Bogut knows that, "...his lower back issues, which are causing spasms, will need to be monitored throughout the season." While that might not be a cause for panic, it's almost definitely a reason to think Bogut should be getting even more rest, even if that threatens the Warriors' streak — I just can't see a reason to continue pushing this for a team that is undefeated in December.
- Simmons also reported on Saturday that Luke Walton doesn't intend to start playing people specifically to preserve any streak. Something else that comforts me a bit about them managing player health is that, "...Walton said he relies heavily on the Warriors' sports-science team and his observations and those of the assistant coaches. Just about anything but the players' assessments."
Odds and ends
- If you read nothing else today, Ian Thomsen's article about Ron Adams and "the defensive joy" the Warriors play with is worth your time. One interesting tidbit from that piece: Adams and former coach Tom Thibodeau wanted to draft Draymond Green to the Chicago Bulls back in 2012 but the team selected Marquis Teague instead. Thanks, Chicago!
- The crazy thing about how good this team is? Folks are almost ignoring how good Klay Thompson has been lately after a slow start. Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit gave Thompson his props, concluding that, "...the recent signs of life we've seen from Klay Thompson could make an unstoppable team even more impossible to beat — a terrifying thought for the rest of the NBA that's still trying to catch up."
by the way: klay thompson quietly had his best game of the year last night, on both ends of the court.— a shrill of hope (@theshrillest) December 6, 2015
I know for a fact that there are other pretty good articles out there worthy of reading, but I limited this post because it was getting long. What other links do you think are worth following? Drop them in the comments or create a FanPost/FanShot if you have a longer commentary to make.