STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Warriors’ ownership and management just need to chill. Two years ago, new owner Joe Lacob talked about qualifying for the playoffs. Last season it was new head coach Mark Jackson speculating about the postseason. If they can learn to let the rebuilding process happen organically, everything will be fine.
Entering last season, Golden State had some nice pieces but there were gaping holes on the roster. Bereft of good center play, quality depth, and overall size the Warriors eventually cashed in their chips, and traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for injured center Andrew Bogut. The trade coincided with Stephen Curry’s ankle injury that ended his season early. From that point on Golden State finished 6-22 and booked their ticket to the draft lottery. The takeaway from the season was the emergence of first-round draft pick Klay Thompson as a deadly, accurate marksman.
Health is the big question as we look to the 2012-13 season. Three projected starters – Bogut (ankle), Curry (ankle) and David Lee (abdomen) – are coming off injuries and are in various stages of rehab. Of the three players, Curry is the most worrisome because he’s experienced recurring ankle injuries the past two seasons. Bogut is expected to miss the opening of training camp, while Lee is on schedule. Those three will join Thompson and a small forward to be determined – either Harrison Barnes or Richard Jefferson.
The starting five might be a bit challenged defensively, but they’ll score. And Jackson will have a deeper bench in 2012-13, with Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry joining Brandon Rush and Jefferson/Barnes. Nobody’s setting playoff expectations this year, but there are expectations.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
David Lee led the team in minutes last season and should see mid-to-high 30s once again at power forward. Andrew Bogut should log 32-34 minutes at center. Most of the backup big-man minutes will go to Carl Landry, banishing Andris Biedrins to the fringes of the rotation. The backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson should get low-to-mid 30s with Jarrett Jack capable of backing up both spots. Harrison Barnes will be given the opportunity to win the starting small forward job in training camp. If he doesn’t win it to the start the season, he is expected to eventually land the job. He’ll compete for minutes with Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, who will also see minutes at shooting guard.
Andrew Bogut: Bogut’s 2011-12 campaign was a season of both constants and changes. The constants started with his production and defense, but the most glaring constant was Bogut’s propensity to get injured. Like the previous three seasons, Bogut’s campaign was cut short after he suffered a season-ending injury. The change for Bogut was his scenery; he was traded to Golden State in March. His recovery from ankle surgery is on track, but Bogut will likely miss some time in the preseason before he’s back at full strength. The Warriors have more scoring options than the Bucks did while Bogut was in Milwaukee, so his new team probably won’t ask him to do as much offensively. But he’ll still be asked to anchor the defense and clean the glass. While still an injury risk, Bogut is in a great position to be a productive defensive/rebounding option.
Andris Biedrins: After two disappointing seasons, Biedrins saw his playing time drop to just 15.7 minutes per game and his per-36-minute numbers were by far the worst of his career. His play suggests someone who has lost confidence in his game. He can still be effective as a shot-blocker, but he inexplicably appears to have lost all sense as a rebounder. He’s been such a liability on the offensive end that if he can’t rebound, his usefulness to the Warriors is nil. We suspect Carl Landry will further eat into Biedrins’ playing time this season.
Festus Ezeli: Ezeli is athletic and mobile, but is a work-in-progress at both ends of the floor. He’s an aggressive shot blocker, though probably too aggressive as it takes him out of rebounding position when, more than anything, the Warriors could use rebounding help in the frontcourt. Where he fits in the big-man rotation is up in the air as the team enters training camp. He could usurp minutes from the disappointing Andris Biedrins, but the addition of Carl Landry could block Ezeli’s path to meaningful playing time.
David Lee: Lee narrowly missed averaging a double-double in 2011-12, and at 29, his motor showed no sign of stopping despite averaging 36.8 minutes over the past three seasons. Perhaps the burden is starting to show, however, as Lee’s season ended early because of torn abdominal and adductor muscles. He was cleared for full-contact work and is expected to be ready when camp opens up. Lee will be getting some help this season, with Andrew Bogut at center and Carl Landry signed as a backup. A little less playing time will help keep Lee fresh and available for the long haul, though he will still remain a nightly double-double threat.
Carl Landry: Landry isn’t the big-time rebounder the Warriors were looking for in the offseason, but he’s a clear upgrade from last season’s roster as a backup frontcourt man. He can certainly score in the low post and is a dogged competitor. He’ll back up David Lee at power forward, but that doesn’t mean a lot of playing time. Landry will get more minutes in smaller lineups when Andrew Bogut is out of the game.
Harrison Barnes: Barnes will be in the mix for the starting small forward spot. He has ideal size at the three and his mobility/wingspan is suited to defending. Offensively, he has a mid-range game and can create space for himself, but mediocre ball-handling/dribbling limit his ability to get to the rim and create shots. He’s a good rebounder at the three, but he may not get starters’ minutes right away.
Richard Jefferson: Jefferson finds himself on the wrong team at the wrong time. Entering this season at age 32 after a relatively distinguished NBA career, the 11-year veteran is on a team looking to develop its youthful core. Where Jefferson fits will sort itself out in the preseason, but he might serve as a bridge until first-round pick Harrison Barnes is ready.
Jeremy Tyler: Tyler got some regular minutes toward the end of last season, which was valuable development time for the rookie. He was able to learn the speed of the NBA game in a time when little was expected from him. But that was then and this is now. The Warriors added Carl Landry to upgrade the power forward rotation, leaving Tyler as a depth big.
Draymond Green: The Warriors gave Green a three-year contract with two years guaranteed, so they’re high on the second-round pick and four-year collegiate from Michigan State. Green has basketball smarts and can make an impact without the ball, though it’s hard to see him playing a big role this season. Working against him is the dreaded “tweener” label – too big as a three, not big enough as a four. Still, the Warriors feel they have a ball-player in Green.
Stephen Curry: With Monta Ellis out of the mix, Curry will be the primary driving force for Golden State's offense this year. The one significant thing to worry about is that he's been a huge injury risk. A recurring ankle injury has limited him the last two seasons and required surgery in April, but he’s been cleared for all basketball activities and is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Whether or not it will be worth the risk to draft him early will be based on the reports coming out of training camp. Make sure there are good indicators that he’s healthy before investing too heavily in him this season.
Klay Thompson: The midseason trade of Monta Ellis opened the door for Thompson, who averaged 17.0 points and two three-pointers per game after the All-Star break. His shooting was a sublime .440/.397/.867 across the board. As he enters his sophomore campaign, Thompson’s biggest challenge will be finding his role amidst a slew of returning players. Thompson’s ascension came mostly while the Warriors were without the services of Stephen Curry (ankle), Andrew Bogut (ankle) and to a lesser extent, David Lee (groin). He’ll need to bring up his assist and rebound totals while maintaining his late-season scoring numbers in order to take the next step, but Thompson certainly has the potential to raise his game in 2012-13.
Jarrett Jack: Jack, coming off his most productive NBA season, will serve as a veteran backup to protect against a Stephen Curry injury. Though more of a combo guard, Jack will primarily play the point this season. To state the obvious, Jack becomes much more valuable if Curry gets hurt. Any prepared fantasy owner knows which starters have injury histories and Curry is one of them.
Brandon Rush: The Warriors inked Rush to a two-year deal in the offseason after his most promising NBA season. He averaged 50 percent from the field and over 45 percent from three-point range. Consistency has long been Rush’s bugaboo, but he was able to sustain throughout all of last season. He’d like to be a starter, but Rush was productive in a bench-scoring role last season and that’s where the Warriors see him in the current roster mix.
Charles Jenkins: Involved fantasy owners were aware that Jenkins emerged as Golden State’s starting point guard down the stretch last season. The second-round pick from Hofstra had an up-and-down run, but showed off some of the scoring ability he displayed in college. He can score and distribute from the position, but he won’t be getting the same opportunity this season that he got last year. The Warriors brought in veteran Jarrett Jack to backup Stephen Curry.
Jarrett Jack: As a backup point guard, Jack is unlikely to break through as anything other than a 15-to-20 minute player. However, one must evaluate a starter’s injury risk and that’s where Jack’s sleeper status comes into play. Stephen Curry has been dogged by a wonky ankle the past two seasons, making Jack a player to monitor this season.
Richard Jefferson: Jefferson’s on the wrong end of the age spectrum for the 2012-13 Warriors. The team has several younger athletes that will be part of the franchise’s next competitive window, so allotting playing time to Jefferson runs against the team’s long-term goals. He could be a starter early on, but look for Harrison Barnes to relegate Jefferson to a bench player.