Harrison Barnes was a key member of the 2014-15 Warriors team that went on to win the title, but this season Golden State has been without his services for an extended period of time. He may make his return to the lineup tonight after a left ankle sprain had sidelined the small forward, causing interim coach Luke Walton to joke that he would hold tryouts for wing players.
Barnes has missed 16 games. The Warriors managed to thrive, going an absurd 14-2 in his absence. It’s no surprise that Golden State is still a quality team without Barnes but it is remarkable to have this level of success in spite of his injury. Even as Barnes may be returning soon, the Warriors are confident with or without him.
The best reason why the Warriors have hummed along without Barnes is the play of Stephen Curry, who has somehow improved upon last year’s MVP season. After averaging 24 points the last two campaigns, he has scored a sublime 29.7 thus far. Curry has managed to do this without sacrificing shooting percentage. A Player Efficiency Rating of 31.8 improves upon the 28.0 he compiled last year, which was a career best. Curry’s 44.2% on three-pointers is close to last season’s rate, but his overall field-goal percentage of 50.9% is two points better than his previous high water mark. Curry is money in the bank even on very long shots, registering 45% on 201 attempts from 25-29 feet away.
Another player who has stepped forward is Draymond Green. This season, Green has raised his offensive game to go with his usual strong defense. After all, opponents are shooting 6% worse when Green guards them, just like last season. He oozes versatility as a power forward who can really pass: after averaging 3.7 assists last year, he’s up to an even 7.4. The Michigan State product now scores 15 points and grabs 9 rebounds per contest, which are also improvements despite a minimal increase in playing time.
Festus Ezeli isn’t a starter like the previous two players, but the center has taken on more playing time while performing at a high level. He has managed 8.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 20 minutes. His role has become almost a platoon partner for Andrew Bogut. Even Bogut is having a slightly better season thanks to his 65.6% from the field. As usual, he is blocking about 1.8 shots per contest to go with 5.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in about the same playing time as Ezeli.
As a team, the Warriors have scored 114 points per night, which is close to a 5 point increase from last season’s output and more than 5 better than the second place Thunder’s output this year. Golden State leads the league with 48.4% field goal shooting and an otherworldly 42.1% on threes, which doesn’t look like a coincidence after examining Curry’s statistics. Another result of this is an average of 1.32 points per shot, while Oklahoma City sits at 1.28 in second place. Even their 28.7 assists place the Warriors far ahead of the 25.1 held by runner-up San Antonio.
Barnes himself had an excellent start to the season, starting 17 games and scoring 13.4 per game compared to 10.1 in 2014-15. Even his free-throw shooting seemed to improve as he converted 83% compared to a career average of 74%. Andre Iguodala and Brandon Rush have not performed well enough to stand in his way once Barnes is healthy.
Barnes return to the lineup may roughly coincide with coach Steve Kerr’s return to the bench. When all that happens, the sound you hear will be the rest of the league letting out a heavy sigh.
photo via llananba