OAKLAND -- Draymond Green is rising, Harrison Barnes has been falling, and together I think the Warriors' yin/yang sophomore duo could control whether this team rises or falls as a whole this season.

That is, of course, figuring that the other Warriors mainstays are relatively complete pictures:

Stephen Curry is the team's best player, David Lee and Klay Thompson are known quantities, and Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala are vital defensive cogs with room to help more on offense.

Also, we'll see what Jermaine O'Neal and/or Festus Ezeli can provide coming back from injuries and what Jordan Crawford and a few other bench players can do on the margins.

Golden State Warriors’ Harrison Barnes (40) scores against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first quarter of their game at Oracle Arena in
Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes (40) scores against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first quarter of their game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) (JANE TYSKA)

But, as the Warriors' recent 3-6 skid heading into Thursday's game against Los Angeles Clippers showed, there seems to be something vital missing.

So, if the starting unit is essentially a given night to night (with its own strengths and weaknesses), who else can lift the Warriors into true Western Conference contention?

Well, it could be the mercurial, versatile Barnes, who, until Thursday night, mostly hadn't performed anything like he did in last season's playoffs.

In a blast from the recent postseason past, Barnes exploded for a few dunks and knifing drives early against the Clippers as the Warriors built a large lead.

If Barnes finds a comfort zone and plays like that for the rest of the season ... the Warriors will be a much deeper, much more dangerous team.


Advertisement

But generally this season, the Warriors' second unit has been broken offensively without Barnes at electric top form -- and he has looked harried and uncertain.

Or the big lift could come from Green, who has picked up from his rookie season and given the Warriors some of their best defensive energy this season.

If Green takes over leadership of the second unit, and if Barnes is there with him, the Warriors look a lot different -- a lot sturdier -- than they have for much of this season.

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (23) passes against Los Angeles Clippers’ Jared Dudley, (9) far right, and Hedo Turkoglu (8) during the
Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) passes against Los Angeles Clippers' Jared Dudley, (9) far right, and Hedo Turkoglu (8) during the second quarter of their game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) (JANE TYSKA)

They're the Warriors' double X-factors. Barring a major trade, they're the franchise's best hope for this season and largest open question.

For now, coach Mark Jackson is giving both his full support, and he makes it clear that though they're both bench players, they play two different roles.

Green is mostly a backup power forward or big small forward; Barnes is slated as an offensive catalyst at the wing positions, though he excelled as a small-ball power forward in the 2013 playoffs when Lee was injured.

Really, the Warriors need them both, but if Barnes slacks off, Jackson will probably have to move some of his minutes to Green.

"We love his energy; we love the way he battles, competes," Jackson said about Green before the game. "We love the way he headhunts, setting great screens, getting guys open.

"He does everything that says, 'Give me more minutes.' "

So what is Barnes' play saying these days?

"There's certain guys in this league and on teams that, their minutes are going to be their minutes," Jackson said.

"Harrison's not going to dwindle down to no minutes or less minutes.

"The vision for this basketball team -- he's a huge part of what we're doing. He's a huge part of my vision. And I believe in him."

Heading into Thursday's game, Green was averaging just over 19 minutes a game, up from 13.4 minutes as a rookie.

Barnes was averaging 29.3 minutes, after averaging 25.4 minutes his rookie season.

The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes -- for Thompson. The second was Crawford -- for Iguodala.

The third reserve to check in was Green -- for Lee.

And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime -- his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago.

"When you believe in somebody that doesn't mean you just believe in them when they're rolling," Jackson said before the game. "The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year -- that guy didn't play 82 nights.

"We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he's going to be just fine."

That's what the Warriors have believed all season, and that's just about the only way they can move into the West's upper echelon.

They have Green. They need Barnes. And if Barnes isn't there every night, they'll need more and more from Green ... and everybody else.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.