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Who Should Start at Small Forward? It’s Early, But I’m Going With …

Brandon Rush.

I’m told he’s looked really good, so far. And not just looked good in the sense that everybody who isn’t out of shape or injured looked good. But apparently, Rush is standing out. I thought Richard Jefferson’s experience might win over coach Mark Jackson. Though Rush as the starter makes a lot of sense, perhaps the most sense. He ran with the first team at training camp on Wednesday, so something is there.

Let’s examine what the Warriors need. Considering the other four starters are set, it’s very easy to identify the weaknesses in the starting lineup and see if the small forward can fill them. Since the weaknesses are obvious, then the needs are obvious. Here is how I see it.

1. The Warriors need a defensive player at small forward. Of the four starters, only center Andrew Bogut can be called a reliable defender. The other three, though David Lee made noted strides last season, are best in a team-defense setting. They need the gameplan to be on point and the help to be on time. But in the NBA, team defense doesn’t solve all ills. And the league is full of guys who are good enough offensively to overcome. So the Warriors need someone on the perimeter who can defend on an island, someone who can match-up with a offensive beasts like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce — yes, there are a lot of special scorers at small forward — and at least make life tough.

It’s too much to put that on Harrison Barnes. If you have to, OK. But if you don’t, why not ease him in?

That leaves Rush and Jefferson.

In his hey day, Jefferson was known as a defender. He probably has the edge when it comes to understanding of the game’s elite scorers and experience defending them. Plus Jefferson, at 6-7, 230, has a more traditional small forward size. But Rush is no slouch either. Last season, he proved to be a reliable defender. He’s an especially good shot-blocker. Only James Johnson, Kevin Durant and Nicolas Batum were the only small forwards with more blocks than Rush. One player called Rush the best defender on the team.

Advantage: Pick ‘em.

2. The Warriors need some athleticism. Speed, strength, bounce are intangibles lacking from the four inked in starters. That means the small forward needs to have some. Jefferson was once a noted athlete. But at age 32, in his 12th year, and with 890 career games under his belt, Jefferson is not the athlete he used to be. Even if he has some juice left in his legs, he doesn’t have as much as 27-year-old Rush. He has been looking especially vibrant in training camp so far. A few of his teammates have been impressed with his activity and motor.

The Warriors will need someone who can run the floor, someone who can slash with abandon, someone who can finish with authority. Rush is no Andre Iguodala, but he is the best athlete the Warriors have at small forward.

Advantage: Rush

3. The Warriors need a guy who can score multiple ways. Whoever starts at small forward won’t have many plays run for him. But he can’t be a liability on offense. Rush showed he’s far from it. He shot 50 percent from the field last season, including 45 percent from 3-point range. But Rush also showed he can put the ball on the floor and make offense happen off the dribble, something he had to do as teams started closing out on him. Rush can get buckets without his number being called.

Jefferson, formerly a slasher, he morphed into a spot-up 3-pointer shooter. His last four seasons in the NBA, he took 1,055 shots from 3-point range. His first seven seasons, he didn’t take 900. Part of it was his role in the system in San Antonio, where he took 497 3-pointers in 122 regular-season games. And Jefferson did shoot 40.1 percent in those four years. But that’s a lot of 3-pointers, and in a line-up with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors don’t need another volume 3-point shooter.

Rush, despite being toward the top of the league leaders in 3-point percentage all season, still took just 219 3-pointers last season, tied for 50-th most in the season.

Advantage: Rush

Marcus Thompson

  • Ewok

    Kobe back in the day, was actually a back up to Eddie Jones.. So Harrison Barnes as a 6th man is not a big deal to me especially with the team’s talent base.. However, I expect Harrison Barnes to grow immensely and impressively to be a regular starting forward by next year.. His talent is just impressive.

    Going back to Biedrins, I often wonder, What will the team be like if the Biedrins of 07 shows up this year? I hope this becomes a topic we can discuss MT. I think this team will be awesome if that happens.

  • PhillyJ

    Sounds good. I am always for the best players starting. Rush would be solid and surprise many people.

  • J-RIDAH

    Thats what I’m talking about! Rush is the leagues next superstar!I have had a few drinks with him in SOMA and the dude is solid and bought me a shot. He seems to have it figured out and he loves the Bay Area! My sources say we will play him at 2 and 3 and he might even play a little PG backing up Steph! Brandon could end up being the league MVP! Trust me! Trust my sources! We are never wrong!

  • Marcus Thompson

    J-RIDAH,

    He solid because he bought you a shot? lol

  • JanG

    Who really cares who starts. Red Auerbach always said, it’s not the starting team but the finishing team that’s important. Do the Spurs think Ginbobili is not the best shooting guard on the team? Way too much discussion on something that is of little importance. Would rather discuss playing time.

  • http://Yahoo! PeteyBrian

    @Marcus – J-RIDAH’s just making some noise…

    I couldn’t agree with you more – Brandon’s a nice fit in the starting lineup. Someone will need to guard the oppositions best perimeter player and it sure won’t be Klay.

    We’ve got to give Brandon Rush more props on his defense – he’s a near elite defender IMO.

    Bogut and Rush – are two, two-way starters who can play excellent defense.

    Assuming Jack comes in for Curry, I’m curious – who comes in for Klay? Jenkins? Basemore is interesting in that he’s a huge defensive talent. Can Harrison play backup SG with his handle? Or only SF?

  • Raider E

    @ Petey Brian,

    I would think that Rush would slide over to the 2 and barnes or Jefferson would come in at the 3. Possibly even Green when the matchups were more in our favor.

  • Gwydion

    What’s all this dissing Klays D?

    He spent the summer going up against the Olympic team and word was back then that he picked up a lot. Better defender than he’s being given credit.

  • Young

    Rush is a better athlete than Barnes??

  • Leggo dubs

    Rush should start. I’ve advocated him starting for a while now. He provides great defense and consistent offense. Look at how he defended Kobe in the last (I think) warriors vs lakers game. The warriors lost but you can see in his performance that game (he did really good) that his defense was perfect. His ability to drive is something that none of the other starters have as we’ll as getting to the foul line when he does drive ( he has the strength to). Basically the article here points out that he fills the needs of the team and I agree with that, but I also think he is a great player who is going to have a break out season.

  • noma_pride

    PB, I think Rush slides over to off-guard with Jack on the floor. RJ/HB slots into SF. I’d also expect to see a Curry/Jack backcourt for stretches during the game.

  • EW

    Marcus – I think it’s been touched on that Brandon Rush has skills to play the 2. Assuming Klay Thompson’s 2nd year is a struggle, would there be a possibility that he starts at the 2? Are there any setbacks to having him start at the 2?

  • Yoda

    Hey Marcus, speed, strength and bounce are not “intangibles.” They are quite measurable. Heart and desire are intangibles.

  • Young

    I have the funny feeling it won’t matter much.

    I think Klay will end up playing many minutes at 3, with bazemore or jack playing a lot at the 2.

    Someone has to stop the dribble penetration…and I doubt that someone is Barnes or Rush