The Golden State Warriors enter the season with several question marks hovering over their bench. Which of the seven men sitting on the sidelines can take over a game at a moment’s notice? Who are the defensive stoppers? Who provides rim protection? Who is the undisputed irrational confidence guy?
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry provided excellent leadership for Golden State’s bench unit last year. In particular, Jack proved that he could run an offense on his own and Landry proved invaluable as an offensive rebounder and baseline threat. The league took note, and their performances netted both players four-year contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings, respectively.
As nice as it would have been to keep Jack and Landry on the roster, Golden State limited its ability to pay both players when they extended a four year, $48 million offer to Andre Iguodala (he said yes). This forced general manager Bob Myers to dig deep into the free- agency rolls for replacements, which resulted in mid-level and veteran contracts for power forward Marreese Speights, point guard Toney Douglas and center Jermaine O’Neal.
A bench core consisting of Douglas, Speights and O’Neal represents a significant downgrade offensively from Landry and Jack, both of whom were highly effective from mid-range and could draw fouls around the rim. As is the case with many offensive sparkplugs however, Jack and Landry also suffered on the defensive end. Landry’s bullying style on the block couldn’t make up for the fact that he is undersized for his position (something Tim Duncan took advantage of during the second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs). As for Jarrett Jack, well, he’s Jarrett Jack.
As always, defense matters. Even with the firepower supplied by Jack and Landry, opponents outscored the Warriors bench units by 2.4 points per game on average, according to hoopsstats.com. That proved to be an issue, especially for a team that barely outscored its opponents on average over the course of the season — 101.4 points per game versus opponents’ 100.6 points per game.
If anything, head coach Mark Jackson will likely rely on this year’s bench unit to provide defensive stability. Although the addition of Iguodala improved the starting lineup’s perimeter defense, I wonder if it will also lead to a faster, more explosive offense. As the starting five relies more on transition baskets, their efforts on the defensive end will likely fall off.
Douglas has a reputation for being a strong perimeter defender and a black hole on offense, and Speights’ merely average offensive numbers last season appear to be due (in part) to the Memphis Grizzlies’ tendency to slow down the game and focus on defense. If you factor other defense-first bench players like Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore into the equation, Golden State appears to have finally balanced their high-powered offense with some consistent effort guys on the other end of the floor.
With that in mind, there’s good reason to be optimistic about the Warriors’ bench depth.
Speights and Douglass are solid additions and their contracts make sense given their likely contributions to the team. However, the Warriors still lack depth at center, and there’s no telling what would happen if Andrew Bogut goes down with another injury before Festus Ezeli can make his return.
Newly acquired big man Jermaine O’Neal will enter his 18th NBA season at 35 years of age. Although he managed to drag himself up and down the court for 18 minutes per game last year in Phoenix, his per-game production has dwindled as time and injuries have taken their toll. This means the Warriors have three health risks at the five with power forwards Speights or David Lee as their only alternatives.
Everyone loves when Jackson plays smaller lineups (especially Harrison Barnes), but that means the Warriors would struggle against any team featuring multiple talented big men, such as the Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies or Houston Rockets.
Even so, Golden State improved in many ways this offseason, and it’s easy to forget that the addition of Iguodala will probably result in Barnes being converted into a sixth man. That’s an exciting development when you consider how effective Barnes became as a centerpiece of Golden State’s offense during the series against the Spurs.
It will be very interesting to see how Jackson works with his new lineup; he’s certainly not short on options.