During the first quarter of Monday's win in New York, Steve Kerr had a bit of a sideline conniption.
"He broke the clipboard, then threw it. You'd be surprised, he expects perfection and we're never there.''
- Draymond Green
"Coach Kerr got on us pretty good. He was very animated on the sideline and we responded well to it. He told us we were playing very embarrassing and just to pick it up."
- Klay Thompson
The absence of Steve Kerr had left the Warriors bereft of the proper fear. Monday's events proved that the head coach can be more like a downed power line than a spark plug. Luke Walton, Ron Adams, Jarron Collins, and Bruce Fraser are all cerebral guys, but none of them offer that classic fire and brimstone inspiration. In the face of the leadership reuniting, the Warriors have responded with big team wins, (Cleveland, San Antonio) while individual headway has manifested in the form of Klay Thompson.
(Klay Thompson is averaging 28 ppg since Steve Kerr has returned vs. Indiana)
In contrast to the emergence of Klay, the submergence of Barnes since the win against the Pacers has been equally apparent.
(Harrison Barnes is averaging 8.2 ppg on 36% FG in 30 mpg since Kerr has returned vs. Indiana)
Klay Thompson has since been named to the 2016 NBA All-Star team; Harrison Barnes' moments, with the exception of his game-winner in Philly, have been marred with a fraught recovery from his high ankle sprain. As it happens, life is filled with these strange little ironies; one man gets sick, another gets well.
The fully-recovered Kevon Looney has joined the Warriors' D-League affiliate down in Santa Cruz. The rookie turns 20 next week, and has already been called to sit at the end of the Warriors' bench and await his opportunity. As it also happens, the role of backup power forward is open for the taking.
(Looney has been averaging 16 rebounds per 36 minutes during his short stint in Santa Cruz)
As the season falls into the month of February, the Warriors find themselves at 44-4, with virtually nothing to lose until the start of the playoffs in mid-April. With a full squad coming around soon, (Ezeli, McAdoo day-to-day) Steve Kerr will now travel and practice with the team. Soon, the coach will have a host of different lineups and game plans in which to experiment, without any foreseeable repercussion. As the snows thaw in Harrison's yard, Bob Myers and Steve Kerr will have close discussions about how the 23 year-old swingman fits into their immediate future.
As evidenced by his 2012 dunk against Pekovic, it's clear that Harrison packs as much boom in his dynamite, than any wing in the association not named LeBron. As the two collided mid-air, it was the 300-pound Pekovic who moved - not Barnes. A very tiny selection of players in this league can claim such a combination of power and explosiveness. This makes Harrison truly unique, and makes even the most credited GM second-guess his expendability.
Barnes can guard power forwards. Ethan Strauss wrote a piece on the work Harrison did during last year's playoff series against Memphis forward, Zach Randolph. After finding themselves behind in the series, 2-1, the Warriors responded by matching Barnes against the bowling ball that is Randolph. After averaging 21 ppg in the first 3 games, the interior defense of Harrison limited Zach to only 13 ppg on 44% FG. This helped turn the tide permanently in the Warriors' favor.
"Throughout Game 3, we're getting punched in the face [smacks hand]. Punched in the face [smacks hand]. I mean, you either gonna lay down or you're gonna respond."
- Harrison Barnes, following the Warriors series-winning, game 6
Who should the Warriors play at the backup power forward position?
Barnes - Harrison has arguably played some of his finest minutes in this league at power forward - adding intrigue as a stretch-four. Last season, he was a league-leader in 3-point percentage from the left corner. Once his health catches up to him, and he regains his legs, Barnes will have a chance to split minutes between both forward positions, and show every evaluator in the league his value as a versatile building piece. Not only has Barnes proven his effectiveness from deep, but when confident, he's shown aptitude in his mid-range development. His power on drives can move even the strongest defenders, and his explosiveness on his pull-up jump shot consistently grants him separation. Many believe that by age 25, (two seasons from now) Barnes will improve to be one of the best two-way small forwards in the NBA.
Signing Barnes to a six-year contract would not only ensure Golden State a very young, versatile player in whom they can trust, but it also means they'd have him under contract before he turns 30 - when his athletic decline begins.
Should the Warriors continue to play Brandon Rush at small forward, while keeping Looney benched?
This would mean that the backup minutes at power forward would go exclusively to Barnes. The benefits of this are obvious; the brass gets an up-close-and-personal look at what Barnes can do at a different position, in addition to their previous three years of bookkeeping on his work at small forward.
It also allows Kerr to keep Rush's story-book comeback a hot topic during this legendary run towards back-to-back titles, and that's just great for morale. Fans and teammates endear to Brandon. Playing HB a lot as the backup 4 gives Rush more opportunities to stay on the floor. HB and Rush would give Livingston and Barbosa more room to be effective, while granting Ezeli more chances to touch the ball.
Looney - Offensive rebounding and efficient 3pt output is the sweetest combo since Skippy and Smucker's. Still a teenager, and still growing, Kevon Looney already has a standing reach of 9'2", and a wingspan of 7'4". To put that into perspective, 7'3 New York Knicks rookie, Kristaps Porzingis, has an estimated standing reach of 9'4" and a 7'6" wingspan. Looney might be the longest player in the NBA at 6'9. Like Barnes, he's also unique.
To pair with his insane length, Kevon has extremely soft hands. Handling, passing, and gaining control of balls that should be out of his zone, Looney will be in the middle of virtually every play in the paint. His fundamentals are above and beyond what should be expected of a prospect this young, and his decisiveness in reaction to his defender is also advanced at this stage in his career. A very smooth athlete.
Walking with Festus - The possible tandem of Ezeli and Looney arouses the imagination. Defensively, Festus is a player who covers ground in a ferocious hurry. Looney's length/finesse combined with Ezeli's speed/power, leaves for very little breathing room in the paint. It will not be easy to score, no less, rebound against this duo. The offensive rebounding percentage between the two should prove to be alarming. Their combined wingspans come to an outrageous 14'10". (Ezeli, 7'6")
Offensively, the two couldn't play on any more of an opposite spectrum. Ezeli bruises opponents even with the ball in his hands. He still heavily favors the left shoulder, but his footwork in the post is improving steadily, and his ability to catch the ball off the bounce, in traffic, has come a very long way. Looney looks like he could stretch the floor - shooting 43% from the arch at UCLA and demonstrating textbook form on his jumper.
Furthermore, Looney's handle for his size is impressive. His patience and understanding of the game will allow him not to panic and pick up his dribble around the block. He keeps his head up and looks for the correct pass. Ezeli would benefit greatly from that, moving without the ball and cutting. Looney tallied a lot of his assists within 15 feet of the bucket in college - while Barnes has never been much of a passer on his drives. Ezeli and Looney are extremely complementary frontcourt mates.
Conclusion - The reality today, is that Harrison Barnes is struggling to be who he was before his injury. An additional truism, is that he turned down a generous offer from a somewhat dubious front office. Harrison has not earned his max contract yet, despite the inevitability of him getting it, anyway. In other words, pay close attention to see how this Barnes/Looney/Rush situation pans out, because the spread of minutes in the following two months will be very telling about the direction of this team for the upcoming off-season.
With that said, there is no rush to bring Looney along quicker than need-be, while Barnes continues to be one of the most intriguing enigmas in the league. Behind that sweet, almost sheepish smile and polite personality, there is a murderer just begging to get out. Hopefully, the Warriors find a way to get the most out of both young forwards, while winning.