When an NBA franchise is labeled "on the rise," common belief is that it's just a matter of time before it maximizes its potential. The truth of the matter is, a fair share of teams fail to reach their potential due to a series of injuries, miscalculation of upside or the mishandling of their roster.
For the Golden State Warriors, the latter must be avoided at all costs.
Those familiar with my work are well aware of my disdain for rookies being handed a slot in the starting lineup. There is no better way to elevate a rookie's confidence beyond the level it should be than to hand him the ultimate reward before he's proven a thing on an NBA court.
There are those rare instances, however, where starting a rookie player is the only logical move to make. The Warriors are in that very situation with seventh overall draft choice Harrison Barnes at the small forward position.
With all due respect to Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson, neither player is a postseason-caliber starter. Rush is a consistent perimeter defender who thrives from beyond the arc on offense. Jefferson is equally as lethal a three-point shooter whose veteran presence alone improves the Warriors' postseason chances.
Both are best fit to contribute as role players, however, and neither is capable of lifting the Warriors to the playoffs. Harrison Barnes can.
This source, who I trust and has seen every second of practice, said rookie Harrison Barnes has been special the first two practices. He went as far as saying “it’s Harrison Barnes’ job to lose.” Coming from him, it says something. Trust me.
Thornton appears intent on verifying the credibility of his source. Based on his reputation as a writer, it's fair to assume that his information is reliable.
Regardless of whether this report bears truth or not, it is imperative that Barnes is named the starter from day one.
The Golden State Warriors core is made up of a youthful perimeter with two borderline-elite interior veterans. At center, Andrew Bogut is one of the best shot-blockers in the league. He has polished his defensive fundamentals to a level that far exceeds the average big.
David Lee, meanwhile, is a nightly threat for 20 points and 10 rebounds. He makes up for everything he lacks on defense with his versatility as a scorer.
At point guard, Stephen Curry is one of the more respected young players in the game. The 24-year-old burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2010 with averages of 17.5 points, 5.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He also shot 43.7 percent from distance.
Since then, his three-year career averages have rounded out at 17.5 points, 5.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals on 44.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Alongside Curry's well-rounded production is shooting guard Klay Thompson, who impressed during the final month of the 2011-12 regular season. He averaged 18.6 points per game during that time and proved to everyone that the Warriors would be OK without Monta Ellis.
Even with the contributions of these four players, the Warriors fell significantly short of the postseason. They finished 2012 with a record of 23-43. Injuries derailed the Warriors' season, which is why they must take advantage of their current core while it's healthy.
Harrison Barnes is not going to be a 20-point-per-game scorer as a rookie. What he will do, however, is provide a mature mind on the floor who can shoot the ball and defend his position. Although Brandon Rush serves the same function, Barnes has legitimate star potential.
Attempting to allow him to realize that in his first year is certainly worth the risk.
Furthermore, Barnes is a very smooth player who is excellent at taking the ball in stride. Stephen Curry will now have two reliable motion scorers who he can hit on curls, screens and slashes. Expanding the point guard's weapons is just as important as positional improvements.
With Barnes on the perimeter and Bogut inside, the Warriors defense may be reputable for the first time in a significant number of years. Barnes may be a rookie, but he has a veteran's footwork and is quite tamed on the perimeter.
As soon as head coach Mark Jackson gives him the chance to prove it, the Warriors' postseason odds will improve accordingly. Should the coach wait until a future time to start Barnes, injuries or a slow start may derail any chance of building this team as planned.