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How Steve Kerr rescued Harrison Barnes while keeping Andre Iguodala happy

The new Warriors coach made the difficult decision to start the young Harrison Barnes over the veteran Andre Iguodala at small forward despite Barnes' struggles last season. The move has paid off.

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When the Golden State Warriors asked Andre Iguodala to come off the bench at the beginning of the season, he wasn't thrilled. A longtime veteran making $12 million annually, Iguodala had grown accustomed to starting and was caught off guard when the team's new coach, Steve Kerr, proposed the idea to him.

Starting is still meaningful to many players around the league, and Iguodala didn't deny that the demotion to the bench bothered him. "Guys are wired like that from a young age," he told USA Today's Sam Amick in October. "I mean I've been playing basketball since I was five, and you're just so used to just starting the game. Even when you're young, it's 'Starters vs. Scrubs.' That was kind of the (mentality)."

What Iguodala and the Warriors didn't do is allow his role to become a distraction. The 31-year-old could've complained more to reporters and wondered aloud why Harrison Barnes and his $3 million salary were starting over the more experienced and expensive player. He could've pushed for a trade to a team that would give him a role more commensurate with his contract.

None of those things happened, though, because the swap worked and the Warriors kept winning. Iguodala was open from the beginning that he was disappointed about Barnes starting over him, but he also respected the way Kerr went about the decision and understood why it was happening. "I think the best way to (convince players to play the sixth man role) is to just be honest about it," Iguodala said. "What are you trying to do? What's your goal? Why do you think it works? And that's what Coach Kerr did."

Kerr was trying to put his team in the best position to succeed, and over the past few months Iguodala (and everyone else) has learned he was right. Barnes has blossomed as Golden State's starting small forward, and Iguodala helps maintain the team's defensive intensity when the second unit is out there. How do you get players to buy into a potentially risky plan? By showing it works.

There are six players on the Warriors who played heavy minutes and finished the regular season with on-court net ratings of plus-10 or better: the five starters and Iguodala. While a lot of those minutes came together in the various smaller lineups Golden State likes to deploy, it's also reflective of the bump Iguodala gives to the team's second unit.

The Warriors' starting lineup was always going to be stellar with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut anchoring things, but Iguodala helps to maintain the team's identity at all times. It's a big part of how Kerr turned Golden State into the league's top defensive team this season.

The emergence of Barnes is the real story here, though. While Iguodala's presence on the bench gives the team a major boost, Barnes settling into the starting spot is something the team didn't have a year ago. As Iguodala said in October of playing off the bench, "Some guys, mentally, can't take it. Other guys might be able to. So a guy may actually be a better player, and he should be starting, but he can't take coming off the bench better than the other guy so you just flip-flop them around."

Barnes proved to be the perfect example of Iguodala's point. The breakout performance of Draymond Green has taken some pressure off Barnes on the defensive end, and now he's using his length to play solid team defense while offering some efficient scoring from the perimeter.

His improvement in a starting role is obvious compared to coming off the bench. After a promising rookie year as a starter, Barnes really struggled last season playing behind Iguodala. His shooting percentage was below 40 percent, his PER was below 10 and the team performed far better when he was off the court (plus-13.3 points per 100 possessions) than on it (minus-0.8 points per 100). He could not carry the second unit as Jackson anticipated.

But Barnes has thrived as a complimentary player in a loaded starting lineup. His overall numbers are better across the board in his third year. The 22-year-old (he turned 23 on Saturday) averaged 10.1 points on 48 percent shooting during the regular season and has put up 11.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting in the playoffs.

In fact, the postseason has only illuminated Barnes' importance. Only Curry and Green have swung the team's on-off numbers more in the playoffs, and that's been particularly important given that Iguodala hasn't played as well offensively. The Warriors are 17 points per 100 possessions better with Iggy on the bench in the playoffs, and that's largely because the other lineups -- often featuring Barnes -- have been unstoppable. It's not like Iguodala, who's averaging eight points, four rebounds and three assists per game in the playoffs, has been playing poorly. It turns out Barnes is actually quite good.

No game was a better example of the duo's success than Game 5. Iguodala hounded James Harden into a 13-turnover night, while Barnes started and finished Houston off with a critical flurry in the fourth quarter when Stephen Curry was struggling and Klay Thompson was injured.

Does all of that still happen if Barnes is coming off the bench? The starting lineup likely would've been fine with Iguodala still there, but the team wouldn't have ended up with the ideal scenario of Barnes emerging and Iggy continuing to do his thing. That's one of the key reasons why Golden State went from a good team to an absolute juggernaut this year.

It all goes back to that decision made in October and Kerr's deft handling of the situation. There are a lot of reasons to praise the Warriors coach for getting the team to this level, but convincing Iguodala to come off the bench to put Barnes in a better position to succeed should be near the top.

Now, the Warriors have one of the most versatile, dangerous corps of wings in the league. You need strength on the wings to stop LeBron James, and thanks to some smart moves, Golden State can throw waves of players at him instead of just one man.

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