Matt Barnes is the mojo the Warriors need

March 4, 2017

 

Let's start this one by getting a few things out of the way.

 

The Warriors signed Matt Barnes the other day because Kevin Durant hyperextended his knee when the less-than-graceful Zaza Pachulia fell into him. He will be out at least a few weeks, and it is never good to not have Kevin Durant.

 

Last night the Warriors were bad in their second straight game without Durant, and they lost a second straight game for the first time since April 2015.

 

Barnes didn't really do a whole lot during his 12 minutes on the court, and in fact his minus-9 in that brief time managed to be the second-worst on the team in the game. Barnes is not really a good basketball player anymore, a fringe-y at best three-point shooter without the quickness to defend or attack the basket like he once did, who is to boot in the most generous of accountings a questionable decision-maker.

 

There is every possibility that everything I'm subsequently going to write winds up utterly meaningless just because they get rid of him when Durant returns or they just don't play him.

 

But, acknowledging all that: I think it is absolutely fantastic for Golden State to have Matt Barnes back.

 

This is probably the least scientific take I'll ever publish, but Barnes brings an unflappability, a resolve, that the Warriors sorely need. 

 

He's never afraid, he never wilts. We've seen in the past the Warriors can be, well, wiltable. You might remember something about a 3-1 lead.

 

Curry and Klay can go on weird, listless streaks together (like last night's 3-for-22 combined performance from three). They look like they do feel the weight of things sometimes, and on rare occasions they can get into a little funk and it's a little hard to shake. 

 

They're finely-tuned rhythm players, and when it gets knocked out a bit this is what happens.

 

I promise this is not some scalding takedown of the two, it's just a thing. It's a thing that has been exacerbated by the gravity of the Finals before, by the difficulty of wrestling with the likes of LeBron's Cavs. It's not always necessarily shooting (Curry's playmaking looked like it got Monstarred in last season's Finals), but they kind of – they just press sometimes.

 

When they're off and they're pressing like that they're just not quite their best. It's a very forgiveable imperfection for players of their caliber.

 

But that's where a guy like Barnes is important in hard to define and, dare I say, unquantifiable ways. He hits those stupid shots when you most need them. He makes dumb passes that seem to work when they can't afford not to. He bangs around, maybe no longer a shutdown defender but still an annoying one. He remains a genuinely good rebounder.

 

The Warriors need these elements. They need a little Matthew Dellavedova of their own out there to scrap around and be irritating and just offer some relief when things get heavy on Steph and Klay.

 

 

 

 

Even when Durant comes back, he too is a quiet, reserved guy. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala and David West can all be understated.

 

Draymond Green has always been the one full-speed-ahead guy no matter the circumstances, and it wasn't especially surprising that he was far and away Golden State's best player in Game 7 last June.

 

He rises into those sorts of moments and feeds off their energy. It's okay that that's not really who Curry or Klay or KD are, because they are so good as a baseline. But for moments like that it helps to have another guy like Green. 

 

A Matt Barnes who goes out there for two or three minutes and does some stuff that doesn't really make any sense but works somehow and acts as a pressure-releasing valve.

 

What I'm saying is sometimes these dudes just need a minute, a chance to reset. The deliberate sorts of possessions of the second units, where one of Curry or Klay sits and the other runs alongside the Livingstons and Iguodalas and Wests (to say nothing of a Pat McCaw or James McAdoo), do not do that. 

 

Matt Barnes heaving an off-balance corner three with a dude in his face for no apparent reason, and draining it, does.

 

He just has that kind of uplifting effect, an unapologetic boldness, a brash self-belief that can infect a guy in a funk like Steph or Klay or even KD and shake them out of it. Provide that slack to step back, get settled and reoriented.

 

Like I said, this is not the most scientific, data-drive take. Barnes is shooting under 33 percent from three, he's barely above replacement by BasketballReference's vorp (0.3), and actively harmful by their box plus-minus stat (-1.2). The Kings were solidly worse with him on the court (minus-5.1 points per 100 possessions) than they were with him off it (minus-2.9 per 100).

 

I know, I get it. Matt Barnes? He's your unsung key to the Golden State Warriors? When's the column about how Richard Jefferson is actually Cleveland's true difference-maker?

 

And it's not that, I swear. I know full well Curry and Klay and Dray and KD will take the Warriors as far as they go and it won't be down to Matt freaking Barnes to swing the course of history.

 

It's just that the Warriors could use some mojo, you know? Matt Barnes is some mojo.

 

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