The Golden State Warriors had several reasons to come into their home opener against the Memphis Grizzlies as a pretty optimistic bunch.
- They had just defeated the Suns in Phoenix, a notable achievement for this franchise even if the Suns turn out to be one of the worst teams in the NBA.
- They won even though Stephen Curry and David Lee combined to go 4-for-30 from the field.
- Neither Curry’s nor Andrew Bogut’s ankles exploded.
- Carl Landry looked great in his Warriors debut.
Things didn’t go so well at home against a much better team than the Suns (or the Warriors, for that matter). While Bogut and Curry remained injury-free, Curry made shots and Landry looks like the Warriors’ best free agent pickup in a long time, Brandon Rush tore the ACL in his left knee.
Suddenly, Harrison Barnes isn’t a starting small forward because Jackson wants to ease the rookie’s transition by surrounding him with “better” players. Now Barnes needs to play like a starting small forward — hopefully starting tonight in L.A. against the Clippers — and the Warriors will be forced to use Richard Jefferson quite a bit more than they probably assumed/hoped.
Rush tore his right ACL in 2008 when he was at Kansas, and his attitude seems to be as good as one could hope. Remember, this is a guy who looked like a candidate to build off a very strong 2011-12 season in which he was 4th in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (.628).
From Rusty Simmons, who spoke with Rush’s agent Mark Bartelstein:
“It’s devastating, but we’ll put a plan together with the Warriors’ medical team, and we’ll get him back to 100 percent,” Bartelstein said. Most athletes miss between nine and 12 months after ACL surgery. “He’s crushed, as you would expect, but he’s a hard worker, and we’re going to get this right.”
Jackson was clearly limiting Rush’s minutes at the end of last season when the Warriors were in “tank mode,” and now they’ll be without him for the next 80 games. It’s not just midrange and distance shooting the Warriors will miss (along with the occasional dunk, which is how Rush tore his ACL as Zach Randolph fouled him from behind — click that link with caution, by the way). Rush was Golden State’s best defender at the three spot, as well as their best rebounder at that position.
It’s way too early to make a judgment on Barnes’ future in the NBA. The good news: he’s bigger than most of us thought, and he seems quite intelligent in front of a microphone. However, he’s not going to look like the smartest player on the floor for a considerable amount of time simply due to inexperience, and his minutes are going to skyrocket due to necessity, not because he’s ready. Barnes played only 14 minutes in Phoenix, scoring 6 points on 2-of-5 shooting and grabbing 3 rebounds. Last night, Barnes played over 23 minutes and picked up 5 fouls. Gulp.
Rush is the kind of veteran you like — young enough to move, old enough to know where and how to move. Now that he can’t move, the Warriors need Barnes’ development to move quickly because Richard Jefferson can’t move like he used to.
Can the Warriors make a move to add another small forward? Probably not. Not that anything has come easy for Jackson since he took over as head coach in Oakland, but the loss of Rush is an unexpected challenge (compared to the obvious worries over the ankles of Bogut and Curry). Jackson will need to figure something out quickly, because the Warriors will need to do more than hope the Lakers keep losing if they want to make the playoffs.