The 2012 NBA regular season is finally upon us. With the opening tip of the Washington Wizards game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the league has officially begun what should be an extraordinary season of professional basketball.
Out in California, however, the anticipation ranges well beyond mere beginnings. Instead, the expectations are of postseason success or failure.
Even in Northern California.
For the Golden State Warriors, the past is not going to be a telling tale of the future. Despite having missed the postseason in every season since 2007, the Warriors fully expect to make a push for the postseason in 2013.
According to Marcus Thompson III of The Silicon Valley Mercury News, the latest step in that direction has been the decision to start rookie Harrison Barnes at small forward. An honor that Barnes appears to cherish.
"Starting was definitely a goal of mine," [Harrison] Barnes said. "Playing in the NBA and starting on opening night is a huge accomplishment. But my mindset is not going to change. I'm going out there and try to provide this team all of the little things I can to help us win."
This is the proper mindset for any player to take, regardless of age. The fact that a rookie is saying these words, however, offers insight into just how valuable Barnes will be to the Golden State franchise.
It also provides an example of why both Barnes and the Warriors are winners from the decision for him to start.
Who should be the Golden State Warriors' starting small forward?
Establishing the Core
Brandon Rush is one of the most well-versed players in the NBA. He defends at an elite level, shoots the three-ball as well as any and has proven capable of functioning within the Warriors' current system.
His slash line of .501/.452/.793 offers insight into just how efficient a player he has become at small forward.
With that being said, it is Harrison Barnes who is considered to be one of the key players for the Warriors' future. Barnes was selected with the seventh overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft and is expected to fill the final void in an otherwise outstanding starting lineup.
The upside of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut as a collective unit is outstanding on its own. With Barnes included, that makes five players with either star status or star potential in one lineup.
By starting the former UNC Tar Heel, the Warriors have opted to avoid a postponement of the inevitable.
Balancing the Burden
When healthy, the most important aspect of the Golden State Warriors' attack is how balanced they are. With sharpshooters on the perimeter, a 20-point-per-game scorer at the 4 and an elite interior defender at center, the Warriors have few holes.
With key players having a long history of injury, however, the team will need to take advantage of this balance to the fullest extent. In order to do so, there must be reliable options at every position on the floor.
Despite his status as a rookie, Harrison Barnes is just that.
Barnes plays a mistake-free game with an uncanny value placed on the fundamentals. He's quickly learning that staying in front of an opponent is far more important than forcing a turnover, which is yet another development in his rapid progression.
Say what you will about the abilities of the Warriors' alternative options, but there is no better fit than Harrison Barnes.
Filling the Seats
During the 2012 NBA regular season, the Golden State Warriors filled an impressive average of 96.2 percent of their seats. This came during a season in which the Warriors finished at just 23-43 and provided their fans with very little to cheer about.
For that reason, it is all the more rewarding for the Warriors to start Barnes.
If the team is to under-perform, fans will at least become satisfied with what could be their future. Barnes may start slow, but his progression will remind fans of what is soon to come in the Warriors' pursuit of postseason legitimacy.
If the team is to miss out on the playoffs in 2013, they must at least develop the talent that could one day lead them to the promised land. Biases aside, Harrison Barnes is just the right player to achieve such a feat.