Harrison Barnes short sleeve jersey Warriors

The schedule was released this week, which by itself isn’t all that newsworthy unless you were worried that the Golden State Warriors’ place in the NBA was in jeopardy. It wouldn’t have been fair if the NBA gave them the boot now that they’re one of the best teams in the Western Conference, especially after so many years when relegation was a fate the Warriors probably deserved.

Not only do the Warriors get a full slate of 82 games against NBA opponents, they were handed one of the more media- and fan-friendly schedules in recent memory. Bob Fitzgerald is over the moon about just 15 back-to-backs, which should help the players and make travel easier for everyone involved with the organization (including the announcers). But basketball fans don’t really mind back-to-backs all that much.

“Oh, basketball on my television tonight? But it was on last night … actually, I see no problem with this.”

/Turns on TV, sinks into couch

Speaking of television, the Warriors have a ridiculous 17 games on ESPN or TNT. This tells us a few things:

  • For many viewers (and network execs), the Warriors’ run was the highlight of the 2013 NBA Playoffs
  • The Warriors’ combination of uptempo offense, Stephen Curry and Oracle noise makes them a hot TV commodity.
  • East Coast bias is still a thing, but it’s probably less of a thing in the NBA than any other pro league.

The Warriors also play on Christmas Day (evening, actually) against the Clippers at home. It would have been impossible to picture these teams getting facing each other on Dec. 25 five years ago. Hell, two years ago. But that’s the topsy-turvy world we now live in. The Warriors and Clippers are better than the Lakers, and two-thirds of the teams now follow the Warriors’ fashion lead (20 teams will wear short-sleeved jerseys at least once during the 2013/14 season).

David Lee, Harrison Barnes and the stretch-4 craze

Moving on from things that don’t really matter that much in regards to the team’s win-loss record (scheduling concerns, sleeves) to something that certainly will (personnel), there was an interesting development on the Lee/Barnes front this week. Bob Myers went on with Tom Tolbert and Ray Ratto on Tuesday, and effectively shot down the notion that the Warriors are better with Barnes playing power forward.

Tolbert: Based on what you saw last year, and specifically in the playoffs with Harrison Barnes, how much time do you think he’ll spend at four this season? Will he be a guy that, depending on matchups, can slide over and play some power forward?

Myers: I think he can. I mean, he did. But Tom, I don’t love personally the philosophy — and I think Joe would agree — I would rather go big. I think a lot of people have commented on Barnes playing the four, and he probably will in some special situations. But I think size ultimately wins. People would argue that the Heat have won without size. They happen to have a pretty good player that can cover up a lot of size issues. I don’t know. I just think the closer you can get to the basket, the more likely the ball’s going to go in, you get offensive rebounds. Being a great shooting team gives us some coverage to play a little smaller, but ultimately if Barnes is guarding whether it’s Tim Duncan or (Tiago) Splitter, David West if you’re playing the Pacers. There’s certain guys where their fours are just going to beat you up. I know you played center, and you get away with it. You bring the other guy out, we had David Lee play center. At some point the rubber meets the road where you’re at a disadvantage. So going small’s an option, but I hope we can play big. But we’ll see what happens, it’s a good weapon for the coach to have at his leisure, I guess.

I’ve gone back and forth on this. The Curry-Klay-Iggy-Barnes-Bogut lineup is very, very intriguing. Spread the floor with a bunch of guys who can shoot threes pretty darned well (or, in Curry’s case, better than anyone else in the NBA), run like crazy, let Andrew Bogut handle the defensive rebounding and shot-blocking … what’s not to like?

But if we’re talking matchups, Lee provides some mismatch opportunities as well. And with three of the Warriors’ four centers either recovering from injuries (Festus Ezeli) or injury-prone (Bogut, Jermaine O’Neal), those who want Barnes at the four might get their wish in a really small lineup with Lee playing the five. However, Marreese Speights (a pretty nice under-the-radar addition) can also go back and forth between the power forward and center spots. So unless the Warriors think Barnes can torch the opposing team’s power forward on that given night, he’ll probably play small forward more often than not as the Warriors try to stick with last year’s formula of winning the rebounding battle.

With O’Neal and Speights joining the team and Andris Biedrins tanning elsewhere, Bogut presumably healthy and in a contract year, and one of the better defensive small forwards in Andrew Iguodala, it will be easier to mask Lee’s defensive shortcomings. While the Warriors won’t have Jarrett Jack’s scoring off the bench to get them through offensive lulls, Barnes is set up to take over as Golden State’s Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Barnes will play some at power forward this year, but unless the right trade for Lee comes along (good luck) the Warriors are in better shape with Lee doing what he does and Barnes perfecting his skills at small forward.