David Lee came to his pre-Training Camp media session looking lighter than the last time we saw him, and the Warriors power forward said he lost eight pounds and 5% body fat during the summer. We didn’t get a body composition update from Harrison Barnes during his group interview today at the Warriors’ facility, but there’s no doubt he’s bigger than the “Black Falcon” we saw soar through his rookie year.

Barnes told reporters that he didn’t want to be known by that moniker anymore, stating that his nickname might “change every week.” But on the court what matters more to the Warriors is the position he plays. During the playoffs, Barnes took on a much larger role after Lee’s hip flexor injury. His minutes increased by 13 per game to 38.4. After averaging 9.2 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game during the regular season, those numbers jumped to 16.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg. And even though he played much more as a power forward during the postseason than ever before, he went from making 0.6 threes per game to 1.6 while shooting a slightly higher percentage (36.5% as opposed to 35.9% during the regular season).

Harrison Barnes SF 49ers gameIn effect, the Warriors were forced into making a change that’s become in vogue among some coaches and several basketball fans and writers in recent years. Barnes became what is known as a “stretch 4,” meaning a power forward who can shoot from the perimeter like a swingman. Karl Malone prototypes need not apply.

Lee has a solid midrange game and spoke of becoming a player who can be counted on to make the corner three or beyond the arc at the top of the key, but Barnes already showed he could do that in the playoffs.

Barnes started in each of the 93 games he played during his rookie season, most of them at small forward. After the Warriors went the sign-and-trade route to land Andre Iguodala — who’ll unquestionably go into next season as the starter at the “3” spot — most assumed Barnes would go to the bench. Not that he minds.

“I can imagine much worse problems,” Barnes said. “I feel confident about this team and where we can go. Regardless of if I’m starting or coming off the bench, we have a chance of making a serious playoff push.”

Barnes said his role might even increase as a reserve (one would have to assume he meant offensively), and the Warriors probably enjoy the idea of letting Barnes feast on second-team forwards next season. Barnes said all the right things about winning mattering above all. However, he could still end up playing starter’s minutes this season, or even become a starter once again at some point … in place of Lee, not Iguodala (who doesn’t like being called “Iggy,” according to Barnes).

I asked Barnes if he likes playing this relatively new position, both for him and the Warriors:

“I’m actually more comfortable in the stretch 4. I had a chance to play it a little bit in (Team) USA, and just been playing a lot of stretch 4 in pickup games. So I’m getting more and more comfortable with it so it’ll be natural during the season,” said Barnes, who sounded confident that he had the strength to handle guys like David West or even Zach Randolph, not just other 3/4 tweener types.

“I think we’ll definitely try me playing four against actual fours. I think there’s advantages to that. As I’ve become stronger, I think it becomes more realistic,” Barnes said.

Lee probably has a starting spot locked up for at least the first month of the season, perhaps much longer. But there are reasons why it’s not as far fetched as some may think to see Barnes replace Lee as the starting power forward (as well as the power forward who plays at the end of games).

Lee is a rich man’s Carl Landry

And not just because he costs a lot more.

  • Landry is a strong interior scorer — Lee has more moves around the basket than Landry.
  • Landry has a good midrange jumper — so does Lee, only Lee’s is probably a bit better.
  • Landry averages just under 8 rpg per 36 minutes — Lee’s career average is 10.9.
  • Landry’s defense isn’t all that great — neither is Lee’s.

Landry thrived off the bench for Golden State last season; Lee would probably earn the Sixth Man of the Year award if he spent the majority of the season in that role … for what it’s worth — Sixth Man is kind of a silly award.

Where’s there’s smoke, there’s usually fire

Even though Lee mentioned how Joe Lacob and Bob Myers assured him he wasn’t the subject of trade talks during the offseason, it’s hard to believe Lee is one of the team’s “untouchable” players. This is Stephen Curry’s team now, and whatever supporting cast makes the most sense is what Curry will get. If Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Barnes/Bogut performs better than any other lineup, that’s what the Warriors have no choice but to stick with, because …

They already know Barnes at the stretch 4 works

Barely anyone expected the Warriors to push the Nuggets to seven games after Lee got hurt, and instead they wiped out Denver in six and came awfully close to taking a 2-0 lead after two games in San Antonio, a place where the Warriors couldn’t win. It would be shocking if the Warriors of a couple years ago benched Lee, but now they have title aspirations. They were in on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, and would’ve gladly parted with Lee to get him. If Barnes’ modified physique and increased confidence from a breakthrough playoff campaign mean he’s a star on the rise, they’d be fools to limit his minutes simply because Lee is the All-Star.

At the end of today’s group session, I asked Barnes: what can you take from your playoff experience into next season?

“How fun it was to win. I think that’s the biggest thing that everyone in this organization remembers. Just the atmosphere, what it was like to win, and when you start the season off you have that goal in mind. We’re not going into the season like we were last year – let’s just roll the dice, see how many games we win and hopefully we end up with that eighth seed,” he said.

Then I pressed him on what the playoffs meant for him individually.

“Just be better than I was last year. If you look at my shot chart, it wasn’t great for 82 games. That’s definitely something I want to improve upon,” Barnes said.

Barnes suffered a concussion in the last game of the Warriors’ season. He said he viewed the replay once, “and it was hard to watch.” But he doesn’t expect the concussion that kept him off the court for two-and-a-half weeks to change his game.

“I still play with the same reckless abandon as I used to. Still flying in the air, hopefully I land on my feet instead of my head,” Barnes said.