The Golden State Warriors might not have known what they were capable of until they experienced a prolonged period without the constant humming and whirring of their unstoppable machine of a team. Sure, there were game without Stephen Curry, ones with Klay Thompson, of course those with Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. In those games, the Warriors survived or failed in accordance to what we knew and expected. Either the offense stalled without the spacing of Klay and Steph or the rim protection lacked a sustainable force without Ezeli or Bogut on the back line. But Harrison Barnes? It's as simple as inserting Andre Iguodala and watching the machine sing along as normal, right?
Barners on Monday night against the Charlotte Hornets and immediately picked up where he left off, draining a couple pullup midrange jump shots and allowing the defense to switch left, right, and all over the place. Walton said as much after the Hornets game in how Barnes was able to stabilize the bench and starting units. It also led to the happiest locker room I've seen the entire season. The reason? Marreese Speights.
How good does he feel? "
With Barnes able to come off the bench as the power forward, it allowed the spacing necessary to unleash the Speights at the 5. Open jumper came after open jumper as Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, and Andre Iguodala were all able to run the mid-court pick-and-pop to death. Like last season, all the bench has to do is to sustain the lead the starters create in order to keep this team nearly unbeatable.
On defense, the return took a big like James Michael McAdoo, Speights-at-the-4, and Jason Thompson off the floor, thus allowing Barnes to switch onto PGs as Ian Clark ran around trying to push Spencer Hawes out of the paint. The scramble is how the Warriors thrive, and Barnes at the backup power forward position allows the manic movement to return.
Most importantly, though? Luke Walton said it best.
"We're able to get our small lineup out there for the first time in a while. It's nice having options."
The Death Lineup is back and it is, along with the starting unit sans Barnes with Iguodala, the two best lineups in the entire world. Harry B's return doesn't necessarily fix some of the woes of the recent Warriors. The defense has lagged in regards to its stifle-ness last season, unable to put away teams in the same "let's all sit the fourth quarters" vibe, and minor injuries have contributed to a bit of a malaise midway through the regular season.
I'm not at all used to covering or watching every single game of a championship team so I'm not privy to how teams coast or how this is likely just a slow time in the season now and the improvement should simply come when they decide it's time to start trying. For now, the Warriors are struggling a little bit, while improving to 33-2 anyway after a workmanlike blowout (what other team in NBA history can say something like this?) of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Warriors have shown and evidenced toughness through the seasons with Mark Jackson, last postseason down 1-2 twice, and now through injuries and an unnecessarily long schedule. However, the delicate nature of a great team only functions when everything is moving and transitioning into each other seamlessly. It broke at times when the Warriors let the big stage get the better of them in their first run through the later stages of the playoffs.
It isn't so much about Harrison Barnes, even though the trollish title means to incite commenter rage. It's about how significant Andrew Bogut is in dissecting defenses right off the bat with so many shooters in the starting lineup. It's Draymond Green's now fully immersed offensive skill into the flow of the passing. It's even Leandro Barbosa's leadership off the bench when Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala don't want to shoot. All integral, and all important in getting this team to 33-2 this year, and 83 total wins last season. These aren't the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Andre Roberson are as replaceable with most average players.
The Warriors built a team full of high-IQ, perfect running machine that functions best when everyone is pulling their height and on the floor. Obviously, without Stephen Curry or Draymond Green, none of this works in the most blatant and visible way. But even without Harrison Barnes, the Warriors are unable to get to their peak. That's how delicate and great the Warriors have become.
Bogut's little aside at the end of it all on Barnes, "He brings a guy who has the coolest nickname on the team, on the floor. He gave himself that nickname and tried to take it back but it was too late at that point." Then a jab at ESPN reporter Ethan Strauss when Ethan joked that Bogut rambles on. Happy locker room, healthier team, and the perfect system to wit.