Warriors Analysis: Why the Warriors Can Win with “Fake Bigs”


Last week, Sacremento Kings’ coach George Karl made a comment about the Golden State Warriors’ supposed inability to play big.

“You actually think they can go big, huh?” Karl asked a reporter. “I think they fake big. I think they want to play small.”

And the coach was probably right. So far, there is little evidence that the Warriors have even one player that they can throw the ball inside to, create for themselves and put up 20-10 stat lines like DeMarcus Cousins or Brook Lopez. But the fact that no Warrior center has yet to do that, just means the Warriors’ don’t need a player like that.

The Warriors want to play small. Of the players leading the league in the +/- category, the top five are all Warriors.  Three Warriors average above 40% from behind the three-point line (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala).

As a team, the Warriors not only attempt the second most threes per game (30.3, second only to the Houston Rockets’ 32.0), but they also make the most by a large margin: 12.2 threes made, 2.2 more than the Portland Trail Blazers  and 3.1 more than the Rockets. The Warriors’ biggest strength on offense is their ability to stretch the floor and pass their way to open shots. Having a traditional center in the middle doesn’t necessarily fit in their game plan.

However, just because the Warriors tend to bury their opponents in threes doesn’t mean they are not capable of throwing the ball inside and playing physical in the front court. Exhibit A would be their championship run, where the Warriors went head to head against four of the best centers in the game today and came out barely scathed. The addition of Jason Thompson, the growth of Festus Ezeli and the veteran presence of Andrew Bogut and Marreese Speights gives the Warriors as solid a front court as any team in the NBA.

November 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli (31) shoots the basketball against Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

But even though the Warriors have good size and depth, it’s hard to classify them as a traditional front court. Ezeli is a defensive-minded center, whose majority of points come from offensive put backs and alley-oop dunks. Bogut possesses an array of post moves but has shifted towards becoming a pass oriented center to fit with the system. Speights prefers the 20 footers but has a decent touch around the rim. Still, he is more versatile away from the hoop. Jason Thompson is arguably the most “traditional” of the Warriors’ big men but lacks the experience to lead an offense, even with the second unit.

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The Warriors are a special team who force their opponents out of their comfort zone and have a formula for winning that has yet to be solved. And with 11 straight wins to start the season, the Warriors have little reason to veer off what seems like another inevitable, deep playoff run.

A major part of their success is the versatility of every player on the team, especially players like Bogut and Green who have developed untraditional skill sets that allows the Warriors the play the way they do. So while many people have taken offense to Coach Karl’s comments, it’s really hard to argue against him.

But until he or any other coach in league can come up with a way to test the Warriors’ ability to play more traditionally in the front court, the Warriors really don’t have to answer the question yet.