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Are the Warriors better starting Harrison Barnes or Brandon Rush?

Would Barnes be the answer to the offensive woes of the 2nd team? Does Rush make the starting lineup even more impossible to defend with his elite 3-pt shooting?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The return of Steve Kerr has shifted the success of this team to new heights and expectations. The sacked city of San Antonio lies in ruins. The resounding cheers fall faint over the icy shores of Lake Erie, as the good people of Cleveland cry out, "The king is dead, long live the king."

Meanwhile, in Oakland, big wins breathe life into the renewed pursuit of Chicago's record. Klay Thompson has recently decided to put his drink down and step onto the dance floor, as the duo of Curry and Green now turns trio. Furthermore, in the wake of an exacted revenge against Mark Cuban's Mavericks, the Warriors now have three names on the same all-star ticket for the first time in 40 years.

But the escalation of this Grimm b-ball tale isn't without its twists. It's not common for a winning team of the Warriors' caliber to go through a coaching change mid-season, whatever the reason. Change is here. The players have clearly responded to having Kerr back, and who can say what the immediate future holds with the reins passing back to more aggressive, unapologetic hands. If there could be a precarious chapter in the Warriors' road to folklore, so far, it belongs to Harrison Barnes.

"Having Harrison on the court gives us a lot of options."

- Luke Walton

After turning down a contract worth roughly 16 million a year, Barnes is looking to have his most impressive season yet. At his best, Harrison is the big cashew in a bag of M&M's and dried fruits. At his worst, he's a raisin in a bag of raisins. After 3.5 seasons, HB has demonstrated a unique blend of power and explosiveness, centered around a developing midrange game. Being only 23 years old, Barnes would be one season removed from a college senior. The trick now, is to find the most effective surroundings for his rapid growth.

Barnes has a True Shooting percentage of 57% 30 games into the season. Last year, he shot 57.3%. All in all, Harrison is sustaining offensive value and is showing improvement. Lately, his rate may be a bit skewed, as he's still favoring the ankle. But before the injury, his game was accumulating towards solid growth, and he wasn't without his big moments. Since the injury, his legs have been weaker under his shot, and his explosiveness in the paint has kept him below the rim.

13.4 pts per game pre-injury

10.5 pts per game post-injury

With Kerr back and Harrison still regaining strength, the uprising of Brandon Rush in his absence presents the coaching staff with a bit of an interesting quandary: Who makes the starting lineup more effective, HB or B-Rush?

What would the switch do, for winning-sake?

Pros. Historically speaking, slotting Harrison Barnes as the offensive focal point in your second unit is a bad idea. Under Mark Jackson, Barnes struggled to create his own shot as the sixth man. Incidentally, it should be noted that Shaun Livingston was not running the offense back then; Toney Douglas and Steve Blake were. Shaun is a paramount upgrade. Additionally, a reserve lineup consisting of Igoudala, Barnes, Livingston, and Ezeli would be staggering in its dynamic.

Conversely, a starting lineup featuring three all-stars (including the best scorer in the NBA) could easily survive a less versatile, but more effective catch-and-shoot scorer in Rush. Think Bruce Bowen with Manu and Tony: a two-way guy with not a lot of ball skills, but stiff defense and pure range, surrounded by two playmakers (Curry, Green). Like Barnes, Rush is also a power wing. He actually rebounds at a higher rate (6.0 per 36). Even if he only played 16-18 mpg, Brandon's value as a two-way shooter is most effective in the early-goings of the game, when the momentum is being decided. Those early, big leads keep the MVP out of 4th quarters.

Shooting. The strength of the starting lineup is its ability to move the ball efficiently and shoot with unforgiving authority. The passing of Curry, Green, and Bogut equates to playing three point guards at once. In turn, working three pure shooters around the pick and roll would seem to make more sense. Having Rush as the third shooter enhances the punishment when the passing breaks down the defense and the ball cycles to the weak side. Harrison's corner/wing three doesn't provide that yet.

*B-Rush is climbing up the ladder among the league's best shooters. (8th best wing in NBA at 60% TS, 46% 3pt)

Blending. Livingston is hitting his stride as one of the more quality reserves in this league. Unorthodox and inverted, Shaun can sustain a home in the post like no other point guard can. Barnes is very good off the ball in situations where he can cut from the weak side and prowl the baseline. While S-Dot continues to gain confidence and play well, his orchestration of the offense will improve and set Harrison up for success. Mixing Barnes' versatility with Shaun's unorthodox style could work better for both players.

* Personal note:  I've had conversations with fans about how Harrison would be better off on a team that focalizes his scoring ability and gets him more shots. Why not allow him to do that here, with a pass-first point guard like Shaun?

Back-up power forward. It's wide open for the taking. If HB comes off the bench, splitting minutes with the first and second team, it allows the option of blending more of his time at the 4 spot. This would also afford Iguodala more play at small forward while allowing Ian Clark to continue in regular short stints. Harrison could still average close to 30 minutes per game this way; even as a reserve.

Transition offense. A transition game with wings like Barnes and Iguodala running the edges boasts a lot of speed. Ezeli's stopping power at the rim, coupled with the length of Andre and Livingston in the passing lanes, makes a faster pace more favorable for the Warriors. But the reliability of Livingston and Iguodala handling the ball also allows them to operate at a half court pace if Barnes is viewed as the number one scoring option.

Defense. Brandon Rush is the stronger defender. His defense completes the circle of devastation in the starting lineup. There is no weak/average link. He's regaining his instincts and mobility. Last game against the Mavericks, at about the 3:30 minute mark of the 3rd quarter, Rush recovered after Wesley Matthews beat him on a drive and blocked the shot at the rim from behind.

Kobe gets him with the step-back here, but there is no way Rush recovers to challenge that shot last year. His body is coming back.

Cons. Meddling with successful chemistry can be dangerous. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Barnes has moved from starter, to reserve, to starter. Arranging his role yet again could be destructive to his confidence and placement.

It's a contract year. Harrison has proven to be a gentleman, but he has a lot of his future riding on this season. There's a possibility that he's less than thrilled about sharing reserve minutes with a talent like Iguodala, let alone losing his starting gig to a 30 year-old who was considered left-for-dead a season ago.

Collectively, it's harder to spot imperfections in a player when your team is essentially unbeaten. It will be difficult to be overly critical of Barnes' value if he plays a significant part in a historic season, regardless. If the Warriors did decide to make Rush a starter, one would only hope that it would entice Barnes to be more of an active ingredient within the offense, and not get lost in the fray of Stephen Curry's influence.


I'd personally be very curious to see how Barnes would play off Livingston. More shots might be just what the doctor ordered, and it's understandable why he often disappears with Curry and Klay in the limelight. It can detract from Harrison's value and ability if he's getting less touches and playing fourth wheel to Steph, Klay, and Draymond. It's hard to imagine how good the reserve team would be with their own big 3 of Livingston, Barnes, and Iguodala, with both units backed by a shot blocker/rebounder.

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