Prior to the 2012-2013 season, Golden State Warriors small forward Brandon Rush looked poised to take a major step forward in his career. After a strong finish to his 2011-12 season, it appeared as though he would be a contender for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award moving forward. He provided a strong spark off the bench offensively, while also doubling as the Warriors’ best wing defender.
Brandon Rush then suffered an unfortunate, and completely avoidable ACL tear when Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph undercut Rush on his way to a backdoor dunk. While Randolph and Rush have buried the hatchet, they types of dangerous mid-air collisions remain commonplace around the NBA as Warriors fans can attest to the many times Harrison Barnes has narrowly avoided major injury this past season.
In 2011-12, Rush averaged 9.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He had improved his stats every season thus far in the NBA, and looked to continue that trend in 2012-13, but a 12-month hiatus was put on his playing career. While ACL tears seem like no big deal now after Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings came back to more than full strength in less than one offseason, we can’t have expectations that he will be back in only 12 months, and that he will be the exact same player he was before.
Both Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose tore their ACLs in last years playoffs and while Rose remains out, Shumpert came back late in the year and was playing through some pain in the postseason. While Shumpert and Rush are no Derrick Rose, and definitely don’t mean as much to their respective teams as Rose does, their impact is felt on both ends and their presence is hugely imprtant, especially come playoff time.
Could the Warriors have used Rush on Kawhi Leonard to nullify him as the X-factor? These types of hypotheticals will drive one insane, but Rush being in the lineup, even in a heavy reserve role off the bench, is very important for the Warriors to repeat what they did this season.
The Warriors will likely lose Jarrett Jack this offseason, as his postseason play will bump him out of the Warriors’ budget, so Rush will have to fill the role of ‘energy guy’ off the bench. Rush and Jack are not comparable players in style, but what they mean to their team is. One is a back up point guard expected to run the offense while Curry is out (or playing off ball), while the other is expected to lock down the other team’s best wing player and knock down key three pointers. Vastly different but equally important, unfortunately the Warriors could never have both in the same year, but perhaps Jack wouldn’t have had half the season he did if not for being able to jump into more minutes due to Rush going down.
With the Warriors looking to take steps forward and building off of this past season’s success, the next logical move would be make it past the second round of the playoffs. The best teams usually have an elite wing, especially in the West. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant, the Spurs have Leonard, the Los Angeles Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and the Denver Nuggets have Andre Iguodala and Danilo Galinari. These are the teams the Warriors will be facing in next year’s playoffs, and they will need a defensive stopper.
Mark Jackson isn’t going to want Barnes expending all his energy on the defensive side of the ball, in steps Rush. It is also important to remember that Rush will be in a contract year next season, always a major factor, especially for young(er) guys still trying to show what they can do at the NBA level.
With the Warriors unlikely to sign any impact players in the free agency market this summer, the fans will have Rush’s return to look forward to. Don’t expect Rush to flawlessly fall back in stride as the Warriors’ sixth man, but by the time the playoffs come around, Rush may be one of their greatest commodities.