The Golden State Warriors have surged to a 10-7 record despite Andrew Bogut's injured ankle, but in order to maintain their success, rookie Harrison Barnes will have to step up both offensively and defensively.
It sounds a bit far-fetched because Barnes plays small forward and Bogut plays center. Barnes usually guards the best wing player on the other team, and Bogut would be busy taking care of David Lee's missed rotations.
However, the Warriors will need Barnes to compensate in other areas, because there isn't another player on the roster who brings what Bogut provides—unless Festus Ezeli suddenly grows a pair of soft hands, post moves and a learned understanding of defense.
That's probably unlikely.
Coach Mark Jackson hasn't yet taken the reins off Barnes in the early going, but whenever he does, Barnes may explode. Granted, he has been rather inconsistent with his shot and aggressiveness, as he seems to drift through some games without making things happen on a play-by-play basis.
Then he goes up and does one of these and you remember his vast potential.
Barnes still has trouble handling the ball at times, especially in transition when he hesitates to find open players. However, he can offer good offense in the half-court. Simply put, no other player on this roster has the ability to penetrate and finish the way Barnes can. Granted, he has shot 21.1 percent from 3-9 feet (via hoopdata.com) but that inconsistency is a byproduct of not getting enough touches.
Taking the reins off Barnes would also free up room for shooters like Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Some of Thompson's struggles this season has had to do with him shooting without his feet set as defenders are blanketing him. Barnes would help relieve some of that pressure by collapsing wing defenders on the way to the bucket.
They won't be able to replicate Bogut's passing in the low block, but Barnes driving and finishing can have the same result: freeing up talented shooters.
Even though Barnes isn't capable of erasing the struggles from the frontcourt by himself, he is capable of providing solid defense on the opposing team's best players.
To be frank, the Warriors don't really have another option to guard forwards like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala or even a guard like Kobe Bryant.
Barnes has also had six games in which he has grabbed five or more rebounds. He is a main contributor to the Warriors being fifth overall in team rebounding (45 rebounds per game). The Warriors also rebound at a better clip when he is on the court: 72.2 percent versus 72.8 percent when is off the court.
He won't be able to box out larger bodies in the post, but he needs to be a better defensive presence than he has been so far. This will help alleviate some of the defense lost with Bogut's absence.
The small light at the end of the tunnel in this whole Andrew Bogut microfracture-ankle-surgery debacle is the fact that Barnes has a chance to become more acclimated to the speed of the NBA game without losing more looks at the basket.
If Bogut was healthy and playing, it may have been hard for Barnes to get touches because Bogut would have the ball in the post quite a bit to start the offense. Of course, this is just speculation since we have no way of knowing what kind of offense Coach Jackson had in store for a healthy starting five.
Barnes isn't getting that many touches as it is, but it would have been even harder with Bogut in the fold. Since Bogut is out for the foreseeable future (maybe until January), Barnes will have the time to progress offensively and defensively to fill in the void until the big man's return.
There is no way this team can replace the tangibles Bogut brings to the court, but having Harrison Barnes step up offensively and defensively helps the Warriors improve in the same way that Klay did in the second half of last season.
If Barnes is able to fill Bogut's void to a certain extent, the team should only be better when the big man finally returns.