The Unsung Impact of the Golden State Warriors’ Centers


Stephen Curry has been masterful.

In the three victories against the Rockets, he’s averaging 35.7 points, six made threes, and six assists on 61.3% shooting. If anything, Curry has proven to be a true leader for his team and the undeniable MVP.

While his impact is irreplaceable, the Warriors don’t win three straight games against Houston without Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. The front line has done a remarkable job of limiting Houston’s effectiveness in the paint despite Dwight Howard’s best efforts.

It’s easy to overlook Bogut and Ezeli. The Warriors have displayed an dazzling all-around offensive attack, with beautiful ball movement and shooting, but it is their paint presence and defense that allowed them to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Rockets.

After missing last year’s playoff series against the Clippers due to a freak rib injury, Bogut’s durability was a primary concern coming into this season. After missing 15 regular season games, Bogut hasn’t looked better in a Warriors jersey than he has during this post-season. Curry and Thompson are the focal points on offense. Draymond is the emotional leader and swiss army knife, and Bogut is the anchor. His sheer size, timing, underrated athleticism, and his ability to rotate allow him to man the paint and make it extremely difficult for opponents to finish at the rim.

May 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) looks to drive as Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) defends during the game in game three of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Bogut finished Game 3 with 12 points, 12 rebounds, on 5 of 8 shooting and was instrumental in the blowout win. While Howard managed to earn a quiet double double of 14 points and 14 rebounds, Bogut’s timely scoring and rebounding prevented the Rockets from making it a close game. After battling a hay fever during Game 1, Bogut has provided a scoring punch of his own, making 12 of 17 baskets over the last two games.

The Warriors may flourish with a small ball lineup, but Bogut’s defense alone makes him a key component to completing the sweep of the Rockets and an important asset in the Warriors likely Finals matchup against the Cavaliers.

Perhaps the most under-appreciated player on the Warriors roster during the Western Conference Finals is Festus Ezeli. Ezeli missed all of last season and only played in 46 regular season games this year. His strong Game 3 effort has shown that he can be a worthy backup center. He finished Game 3 with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting while grabbing 6 rebounds and blocking a shot all in 18 minutes of playing time.

May 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli (31) reacts after scoring during the first half against the Houston Rockets in game three of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ezeli was notorious for his hands of stone during his rookie season. His inability to catch a simple pass made him an offensive liability. His tenacity has pushed him to overcome injury while becoming a better player simultaneously. Ezeli looked comfortable on Saturday night. He caught a couple of alley-oops with ease and even managed to finish a simple hook out of the post. While he isn’t the most polished player, Ezeli’s physicality and motor make him a valuable inside presence. His effectiveness in limited minutes has proven why he will be needed in the time that Bogut sits due to rest or foul trouble.

The Warriors have historically never had a superstar center on their squad since Wilt Chamberlain. That fact hasn’t changed yet, but they do possess two centers that will be needed for them to end their championship drought.

As long as Bogut and Ezeli are able to play, the Warriors don’t have to worry about a lack of paint defense and timely paint scoring. If the two big men can maintain their level of physicality and defensive effort, the Warriors will continue to win. They may not provide the athleticism or impressive numbers that players like Howard or DeAndre Jordan do, but their contributions to this team are unquestionable.