With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Pacific Division: the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, Suns and Kings.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Most Interesting New Player: Jermaine O’Neal
JO might be kind of a tough sell for most interesting on a team that made a much more obvious big-budget acquisition this offseason, but I feel like I know what Andre Iguodala is going to give the Warriors this season — not an inconsiderable contribution, mind you, but I’d be surprised if he greatly deviated from my expectations in any way. O’Neal, however, could play more of a swing role on this team than people realize. He’ll go into the season with a decent shot at the Dubs’ backup center role, unless Festus Ezeli’s shoulder heals and he actually learns how to catch the ball or put it in the basket in the offseason, and he was sneaky good in that role last year for Phoenix, averaging 16 and 10 per 36 minutes (though he only played about half that on a nightly basis) and posting his best PER, by far, since he was on the pre-LeBron Heat.
More importantly, he might end up doing a whole lot more than playing backup if — and based on recent history, more like when — Andrew Bogut goes down with injury. Bogie’s missed double-digit games each of the last five seasons, and over half his games each of the last two, so it’s a relatively safe bet that there’ll be stretches where O’Neal, assuming he stays healthy himself (no easy assumption given he’s missed nearly as many games as Bogut over the last six years), gets pressed into far more than locker-room-leadership duty. Is it too late for Jermaine O’Neal to play a key-ish role on a championship contender? Or will GSW be forced to say “to hell with rim protection,” stick David Lee at center and go bombs away with the rest of their lineup? Maybe the latter is the likelier bet, but I haven’t given up on JO just yet.
Most Interesting Returning Player: Harrison Barnes
Barnesy recently ranked at No. 40 on SB Nation’s projected list of the Top 40 NBA Players of 2017, higher than both young studs like Larry Sanders and Damian Lillard and current superstars like Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker, basically entirely off the strength of his playoff run, in which he averaged 16 and six with decent shooting numbers and a number of big buckets. But it’s worth remembering that in the regular season last year, Barnes was basically a no-show, averaging less than 10 a game and posting a PER that barely cracked double digits, and that next season, he might not even be starting, with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the continued presence of David Lee (and the big contracts of both) possibly blocking him in the first five.
To get to be a Top 40 player four years from now, Barnes is gonna have to build on his playoff success — and as much as that run seemed like a breakout for Barnes, he still basically averaged his same shooting percentages from the regular season, with a fairly mediocre 13.8 PER — and prove that his 3-and-D skills are too integral to the Warriors’ run-and-gun attack for him not to get big minutes. And if not, expect for Barnes’ name to replace Eric Bledsoe’s as the go-to Intriguing Trade Chip in every blockbuster mega-deal rumor you hear from now until the end of his rookie deal.