Even though the Golden State Warriors’ record has improved each season during the Mark Jackson era, the Warriors bench has progressively gotten worse.
Back in 2011-12, the Warriors bench, led by Nate Robinson, Charles Jenkins, and Klay Thompson were an above-average unit. They averaged 32.8 points per game which was in the middle of the pack, but averaged 7.8 assists per game, which was fifth best. But the most important statistical category was their 45 percent shooting percentage, good enough for third in the league.
Last season, the Warriors bench, led by Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, and Draymond Green were actually statistically worse than the Robinson group from the year before. They averaged only 30.6 points per game and 7.3 assists, but again they shot the ball well. Their 45 percent field goal shooting was again good enough for third in the league.
Now to this year. The Warriors bench, led by Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and half-decent Jermaine O’Neal, is even worse than the bench’s of seasons past. This current Dubs bench averages only 24.5 points per game and is dead last in assists as well as shooting percentage. For most of the year the Warriors bench has been as stagnant as they come, often times looking more like a barge trudging through mud than a race car zooming around a track.
But recently the bench has improved and looks more like a second unit than a third unit. In the Warriors last 10 games, they have been an average unit averaging 30.3 points per game and are shooting slightly better percentage.
Now with Steve Blake taking over as the Warriors true backup point guard, the Warriors second unit looks even better. The five-man lineup of Harrison Barnes, Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, Draymond Green, and Marreese Speights is shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three. Plug in Jermaine “Old’Neal” for Speights and the team’s shooting percentages go up to 50 percent from the field and from three. With O’Neal in at the five position, the Warriors are able to spread the floor with four three-point threats and really force the defense to respect the longball.
Watch this play from the Warriors win over the Pistons Monday night with the above lineup on the floor:
Once Blake receives the ball at the top of the three point arc, he uses a rare Jordan Crawford screen to begin his drive to the hoop. At the same time Jermaine O’Neal shows and then rolls to the hoop. This allows Blake to initially kick to Crawford, find Jermaine O’Neal rolling to the rim or if the Detroit defender over helps off of Harrison Barnes then Blake can kick it out to Barnes for three.
In this play though, the Pistons play pretty good initial screen and roll defense. Forcing Blake to pass the ball back out to Jordan Crawford. O’Neal then sets another screen creating some space for Crawford. Crawford dribbles left and thanks to some porous defense from Josh Smith knocks down an open two pointer.
Watch another set from the same unit. Watch as when Harrison Barnes feeds Jermaine O’Neal in the post, how when O’Neal faces up on his defender, Greg Monroe, all five Pistons defenders are below the three point line. Brandon Jennings gets a bit lazy and gambles on O’Neal’s pass setting up a wide open three from Steve Blake. Had Rodney Stuckey (#3) run at Blake, he could have easily kicked it to Jordan Crawford who was open as well.
The arrival of Blake also means that Jordan Crawford will no longer be relied upon to facilitate, but rather he will be asked to do what he does best-chuck up shots. Crawford has scored double-digits in three of the Warriors last four games including 15 points and 16 points against the Pistons and Bulls respectively.
The Warriors bench has been terrible this season, but since Steve Blake arrived the trajectory of the second unit is point up. If their second unit plays well then expect Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to get a little more rest down the stretch. And if the bench does play well then expect the Warriors to rise up the Western Conference playoff standings.