Klay Thompson cast a big shadow on every rookie coming in to play for the Golden State Warriors this season.
If there is any rookie capable of outshining Thompson's stellar rookie campaign from a season ago, it's Harrison Barnes.
Barnes can surpass Thompson's NBA All-Rookie first team season by posting similar numbers, playing solid defense and, most importantly, by being a key member of a winning team.
Barnes has the shooting stroke to match Thompson. His sweet release makes him fully capable of matching the success Thompson had from the field last year. And having Andrew Bogut in the middle will create more open looks for Barnes than what Thompson saw last year.
Barnes will have a great opportunity for better overall numbers because he has chance to get more minutes as a rookie than did Thompson. If Barnes beats out Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson for the starting small-forward position at the start of the season, he'll at least get consistent minutes right out of the gate.
Thompson didn't become a regular starter during his rookie campaign until Monta Ellis was traded in mid-March. In effect, Thompson didn't get fully accustomed to the NBA until late in his rookie season. Barnes, on the other hand, can get a comparable level of experience before the new calendar year starts—a big plus if Barnes wants to exceed what Thompson accomplished last year.
Barnes also gets to play on a team that is fully healthy and much more talented than what Thompson played on as a rookie. Defenses will key on Stephen Curry, Thompson, David Lee and, to a lesser extent, Bogut.
That will leave Barnes all alone with plenty of open looks. With his touch, he should be able to knock down at a high percentage.
Barnes is already a better defender than Thompson, without even having played an NBA game. He is not a lockdown defender by any means, but he is very long and athletic, and he will be able to keep his man in front on him and disrupt the passing lanes.
The Warriors do have Bogut, but with defensive liabilities such as Lee, Curry and Thompson, having Barnes as another defensive presence will help the Warriors as much as anything he provides on offense.
Barnes will be able to contribute more on the glass, too. He averaged 5.5 rebounds a game at North Carolina—not eye-popping numbers but, for a team that was dead last in the rebound rate, a lengthy forward who can snatch boards will make for a positive impact. Yes, the Warriors do have Bogut to help with that, but a team can never have too many guys who can rebound.
The most obvious way Barnes can eclipse Thompson's impact last season is by winning.
If Barnes plays a key role on a team that makes the playoffs, his rookie season will easily outshine Thompson's.
Thompson was great last season, but he logged big minutes or a team that won one out of every five games. Granted as soon as Thompson became a factor in the NBA, it seemed the Warriors were actively trying to lose games. But that's what will make Barnes' rookie campaign much more important, he can contribute on a potential playoff team.
Playing for a winner might also present Barnes opportunities to step up and make big shots. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the ball were in Barnes hands to end the game. If given the opportunity he will be able to knock down big shots.
That couldn't be said about Thompson last year. Yes, it would have been detrimental having Thompson hit game-winning shots last season—losing games down the stretch helped secure the Warriors a lottery pick—but Barnes won't be subjected to those same circumstances. Therefore, he has a chance have a productive rookie season and make an impact on a winning team.
Surpassing Thompson's rookie year will be a tough task, but Barnes can do it. And the Warriors are going to need a productive season from him to make the NBA playoffs this year.
Expect him to deliver.