By TED SILLANPAA
The Golden State Warriors have a team filled with complimentary players. Forward Carl Landry and guard Jarrett Jack come off the bench to do things every championship team needs done in every game all season long. Andrew Bogut, when healthy, will defend the rim and do things offensively that a playoff team asks a big man to do. Stephen Curry is a lights-out shooter, one of the best in the NBA. Power forward David Lee does all sorts of things well offensively and can try to defend at two positions.
Those five are proven professional NBA players. Curry is a second-tier star, trying to play point guard when his true value is as a spot-up shooter.
The Warriors have a problem. A big problem. A problem that diminishes the value of Curry, Bogut and the rest. NBA contenders have a star player who takes the game over whenever he’s needed or whenever he can. Second-year swingman Klay Thompson has shown that he could become an NBA star, better than Curry. He’s 6-foot-7 and he can stroke it from the perimeter, but he’s also willing to go to the rim … to try to make a play. He’s a far better defender than Curry, too. He has, as basketball folks say, length.
Thompson might become a star. He’s on the road to being able to grab games by the throat. In Friday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Thompson went far too long without touching the ball in the second half. The Warriors lost. Guys ready to be NBA stars don’t let much time pass before they demand the ball.
Thompson has a way to go before we know if he can be the star who makes Curry, Landry, Bogut, Jack and others more than a collection of good players who can’t compete in a league where great players win championships.
Warriors’ fans are thinking, “They have a kid who has everything it takes to be an NBA star. He was a freakin’ lottery pick. He fell to the Warriors in the draft after some teams felt he was the best player available in the draft. Harrison Barnes is going to be a star in the NBA!”
Hey, I thought so, too.
I thought Barnes was a steal at No. 8 overall. He was a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward out of North Carolina who was supposed to be the next Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. I followed his two-year college career, where he was the first true freshman ever chosen preseason All-American. After Barnes wowed the Warriors with breathtaking pre-draft workouts, I convinced myself that the fact that Barnes didn’t take college games by the throat and that he disappeared in all the big games didn’t mean anything.
I thought Barnes would be one of those great athletes who just doesn’t prosper in the more regimented college game. Free from coach Roy Williams’ structured offense, it was easy to leap to the conclusion that Barnes was simply an NBA player. He’d become something closer to the next Kobe when he joined the Warriors.
Based on early results, I was wrong. Barnes has about 10, 12 years to prove me right.
Barnes appears to be one of those guys who has exceptional basketball skills. He can shoot, pass, run the court and he’ll rebound. Heck, he can defend, too. There’s just something missing. Effort? Hustle? Desire? The Warriors had another big-time player, chosen in the lottery out of a college hoop powerhouse. Remember when Mike Dunleavy was drafted out of Duke? He had all sorts of skill, but he never became an NBA star. For the first couple of years in his career with Golden State, he floated around and showed only glimpses of the star people thought he would be.
For the record, I’ve waited roughly a decade and Dunleavy has become a competent NBA player, but not the star that I insisted he would become.
Barnes isn’t exactly a young Dunleavy. Dunleavy was more involved in the offense from the start than Barnes is now. He understood the game and tried to do some things that he just couldn’t do as well in the NBA as he did in college.
Dunleavy’s effort and simple technique was never questioned. On Friday night, Warriors’ analyst Jim Barnett say said of Barnes’defensive effort: “I’d like to see him keep him man in front of him more often.”
If a defender can’t do anything else, he has to be able to keep his man in front of him. So, Barnett was saying Barnes couldn’t do the first thing a defender has to do. Ouch!
There’s another concern.
Barnes was defending Grizzlies’ star Rudy Gay through much of the game. Gay seemed remarkably bigger than Barnes, who is listed at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, remember? Barnes looked small chasing Gay around the court.
Then, as a Warriors teammate shot free throws, Barnes stood in the background next to Jack. Jack and Barnes looked roughly the same height, the same weight. Jack is listed at 6-foot-3, 197 pounds.
Woa! What? Wait. The physical specimen the Warriors stole at No. 8 is a 6-foot-5 1/2 small forward who can’t handle the ball well enough to play guard? OK. Maybe Barnes is 6-foot-6. He’s not 6-foot-8, though, because Gay is listed at 6-8, 230 and he’s taller than Barnes. A lot taller. And, no, Gay’s not lying about really being 6-10.
Based on two games, Barnes is as willing to float around on the perimeter in the NBA as he was in college. He’s hesitant to go to the hoop. Barnett rightly noted, when Barnes started to the hoop only to stop and pass back out to Curry, that there was a situation where he expects Barnes to be willing to try to make a play on his own. That was the only time Barnes got near making a play off the dribble.
It doesn’t take a guy who wants the ball and has the desire to make a play long to show it in the NBA. Look at Weber State rookie point guard Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers. The guy hit the NBA with that bravado and desire to go with offensive skill he showed in college and during those pre-draft workouts. Barnes played at one of the premier basketball colleges in the country in the premiere conference and he has shown no desire to put his stamp on the game like the guard out of Weber State has in Portland.
Two games is a small sample size. Obviously. Perhaps, if Barnes stands around on the court for a week or a month, he’ll get a feel for the game. He never really found the game the world loved in high school while he was at North Carolina, though, so I’m not counting on him finding the game that made him the most ballyhooed high school senior in recent history returning to him now that he’s in the NBA.
Barnes’ lackluster play so far, on the heels of a college career where he let down those who expected him to dominate, puts a world of pressure on Golden State’s Klay Thompson to be the star that a winning team needs.
Barnes will have a nice NBA career. The Warriors need a star. So, the pressure is on Thompson.