Pros and Cons of Harrison Barnes Becoming Golden State Warriors Sixth Man
The Golden State Warriors have experienced an assortment of changes to the roster this summer, but the major offseason move was acquiring Andre Iguodala in free agency; a move that may push promising young starter Harrison Barnes into the role of sixth man.
If Iggy becomes the Warriors’ new starting small forward for the 2013-14 season, Barnes will be forced to make an impact off the bench. There’s still a chance that Iguodala could take over at shooting guard—leaving Klay Thompson as the odd man out of the starting lineup—but in all likelihood, Barnes will be leading Golden State’s second unit next season.
Regardless of which starter gets moved to the role of sixth man, there will be big shoes to fill following the departures of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Those two super subs anchored a very prosperous second unit for the Dubs last season. Without them, the Warriors would not have had such a successful playoff run.
Coming off the bench usually comes with the bonus of lowered expectations, but that’s simply not the case in Golden State. At just 21 years old, Barnes will have added responsibilities as the leader of a totally revamped bench unit.
Barnes’ shift to the bench could work out in the long run, but as is the case with any major change, there are sure to be pros and cons.
Con: Added Pressure
As referenced in the intro slide, Barnes may actually face more pressure next season as he moves to the role of sixth man.
The departed Jarrett Jack (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Carl Landry (Sacramento Kings) leave a gaping hole in what was a very successful second unit. Those two guys contributed 23.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game off the bench for the Golden State Warriors a season ago. That fails to mention the leadership qualities both guys brought not only to the court, but also to the locker room.
Finding similar production starts and ends with Barnes. If he doesn’t continue to improve and play as well as he did in the 2013 playoffs, the Warriors will lean too heavily on the starting five to win games.
Even though there's pressure to fill the void left by Landry and Jack, the University of North Carolina product will likely embrace the opportunity.
Pro: Improves Depleted Second Unit
Jarrett Jack finished third in the voting for Sixth Man of the Year last season. Carl Landry, meanwhile, played well enough to garner a second-place vote and a third-place vote.
Both of those guys will now be suiting up elsewhere.
Golden State retooled to some extent by bringing in Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O’Neal and rookie Nemanja Nedovic. It also doesn’t hurt that Kent Bazemore dominated the summer league (so perhaps he’s poised for a bigger role next season).
But even with those additions, replacing Jack and Landry is easier said than done. Moving Barnes to the bench, though, immediately improves the second unit.
It’s true that the Warriors are still an incredibly young team. The oldest player coming off their bench will be O’Neal, at age 34. Nobody else in the second unit is older than 27. However, the maturity Barnes shows both on and off the court could make for a smooth transition into the 2013-14 season.
If he can establish team chemistry with that second unit, the Warriors will have no trouble reaching the playoffs yet again.
Con: Best Lineup?
There are certainly a lot of positive aspects associated with moving Harrison Barnes to the role of sixth man. However, is that move in the team’s best interest?
Andre Iguodala has certainly played (and thrived) at the small forward position before. With that said, Iggy’s 6’6” frame provides ideal size for a shooting guard, while leaving him slightly undersized at the small forward spot. I’m splitting hairs here, but the bigger picture is a starting lineup featuring Iguodala and Barnes, while moving sharpshooting guard Klay Thompson to the bench.
As far as the sixth man role is concerned, guards that provide instant offense off the bench have had the greatest success.
Last year, J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award while Jamal Crawford and Jarrett Jack finished second and third, respectively.
Dating back to 2005, only one forward has won Sixth Man of the Year: Lamar Odom in 2011 with the Los Angeles Lakers. The other winners were Ben Gordon (2005), Mike Miller (2006), Leandro Barbosa (2007), Manu Ginobili (2008), Jason Terry (2009), Jamal Crawford (2010), James Harden (2012) and Smith (2013). All of those guys are shooting guards who provided instant offense for their teams in a bench role.
Given the track record of Sixth Man of the Year awards, wouldn’t Thompson be better suited coming off the bench and putting up points in bunches?
Over the past decade, shooting guards have clearly had the most success in a sixth man role. There’s reason to believe Thompson would be no different.
Pro: Better Balance (Offense/Defense)
Moving Harrison Barnes to the second unit brings a nice balance of offense and defense to the bench, but Andre Iguodala will be the major reason for the Warriors’ balanced attack next season.
Iguodala’s stellar perimeter defense is his biggest selling point. It's also the key reason why the Golden State Warriors brought him in as a roster upgrade.
With Iggy added to the starting lineup, the Dubs would have a steady balance between offense and defense. Not surprisingly, that’s a prevalent factor found on NBA championship teams.
With so many prevalent scoring threats in the loaded Western Conference—Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, etc. —having a lockdown defender who can go head-to-head with those stars is incredibly important.
The Warriors ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring last season, averaging 101.2 points per game. Defensively, they ranked 19th giving up 100.3 points per game.
With Barnes taking a team-first attitude by moving to the bench, Golden State will look to even that gap.
Con: Barnes Was Breaking out
As the idiom goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Moving Harrison Barnes to a sixth man role may be the best decision for the Golden State Warriors as a team, but whether or not it will be best for his individual success remains to be seen.
In the 2013 playoffs, Barnes stepped up his game and played the best basketball of his rookie year, despite the pressure of the big stage. Although he averaged just 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game throughout the regular season—with a pedestrian 11.08 PER—his playoff performance hinted of big things to come.
The rookie averaged 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in Round 1 against the Denver Nuggets. Against the San Antonio Spurs, he upped those stats to 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
Additionally, during Golden State’s playoff run, Barnes shot 44.4 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from three-point range and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.
The 21-year-old forward finally had his breakout performance as a starter in the NBA postseason. The Warriors would hate to send that performance backward by thrusting him into an unfamiliar role.
Pro: He's the Ultimate Team Player
In the NBA, egos reign supreme. Often times, players will put personal pride over what is best for the team, hurting the unit’s chances of embracing its potential.
Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, has proven himself to be on the opposite end of that spectrum.
According to an article by Sean Deveney of Sporting News, Barnes said the following with regards to a possible bench role:
"My role will remain the same—do whatever it takes to win. Whether it is starting, coming off the bench. There are plenty of minutes to be divided up among everybody. I just have to make sure I am ready."
The youngster’s thought process regarding this big change shows a great deal of maturity. Instead of airing grievances over his new role, he’s committed to winning no matter what. That’s a similar outlook to veteran players like Ray Allen and Shane Battier, which is eye-opening because Barnes is only 21 years old.
Head coach Mark Jackson has clearly made a meaningful impact on his young stars. If all of the pieces come together next season, the Golden State Warriors will be poised for another run deep into the postseason.