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Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes is photographed during media day on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in Oakland, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

OAKLAND -- The last time Harrison Barnes came off the bench, he was a freshman on his high school varsity team. In his first two games with the Warriors, he's been the sixth man.

"It's just different," Barnes said. "That's the best way to describe it: different. It's the NBA, so you've got to learn your role."

Barnes, a small forward, has no doubt made an impression through training camp and in the first two preseason games. He's shown some signs of the scoring prowess that made him a high school sensation and a star at North Carolina. He's been praised by coach Mark Jackson for his intensity on defense. He's earned his teammates' respect with his fearlessness and work effort.

But while developing his game and learning the system, Barnes is having to dust off another one of his intangibles. Patience. Because this is all new territory for Barnes, the No. 7 overall pick in June's draft.

"I'm just trying to learn my role on this team," Barnes said after Tuesday's practice. "Obviously it's much different from Carolina. I'm just trying to go out there and work hard."

Barnes is used to the role of superstar, but he had to endure hearing "knocks" about his game throughout the draft process. Then he slipped from the one-time projected No. 2 pick to the middle of the lottery.

Now, he's fighting for the status that once came so easily. With the Warriors, he's gone from saving the day to proving himself daily.

And while he keeps a poised expression and speaks words of humility, you get the sense this coming-off-the-bench stuff is giving him an edge.

Of course, edge is a good thing in the NBA.

"He wants to be great," Jackson said. "You're talking about a kid that comes early, stays late. He's here late into the night, requesting film, asking questions. He's going to be very good."

Barnes is in a tightly contested battle with swingman Brandon Rush for the starting job, which is the only noninjury-related drama in Warriors camp. Jackson said Tuesday that Barnes could easily be the starter.

However, he has a few obstacles to overcome. Primarily, Rush's play.

Rush is the better defender, which matters tremendously since the Warriors' starting lineup really needs defense. Plus, Jackson has a comfort level with Rush, who earned Jackson's favor as a key bench player for Golden State last season.

But Barnes has several things working for him. At 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, he gives the Warriors good size at the position. His strength has been apparent -- such as when he posted up the Lakers' Kobe Bryant on Sunday and dunked on Utah's Paul Millsap on Monday -- bringing some physicality to the Warriors' finesse.

Though he hasn't shot the ball as well as Rush, Barnes is proving he can score in a variety of ways -- in transition, off the dribble, out of the post.

It might all add up to his starting, or he might become a cog on the second unit. Jackson said Barnes is going to get playing time either way.

But if he is the starter, he will have earned it.

"Once he understands what plays we're calling for him, and what reads he needs to make, he'll be fine," point guard Stephen Curry said. "He's a humble kid. He understands he's got a lot of work to do, but he has an opportunity to really have an impact on our team. But it doesn't change his mentality going into the season -- waiting his turn and learning, continuing to get better."