Monday, January 14, 2013

Why the Golden State Warriors playoff hopes rest with Andrew Bogut



As their recent losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets suggested, the Warriors, well…they are who we thought they were! They have some of the best shooters in the league, no doubting that. The backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can hit a dozen threes before you even know what hit you. Even Harrison Barnes has proven of late to be good for the occasional shot from behind the arc. Then there’s Jarrett Jack who sometimes forgets the half-court line isn’t the three-point line…but makes it anyway.

Of course, there’s the foundation of David Lee, who should be a 2013 All Star. 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, D-Lee is an incredibly well-rounded scoring weapon and playmaker. Just when the opposition locks him down on the inside, he dishes to a shooter or steps out for a 15-foot jump shot.

But the Warriors excel in high-tempo games where Steph Curry can step up and hit threes or Klay sits in the corner waiting to drop daggers (Golden State has the 6th highest tempo in the NBA). As the Grizzlies proved, when the tempo slows, the Warriors will struggle. Two main reasons: 1) harder to get off in transition on made baskets and 2) second chance points. The first point is self-explanatory but the second is something that the Warriors have been able to cover up against weaker competition—which, to their credit, is most of the NBA.

The Warriors gave up second chance points to the Grizzlies because Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were too much for the Warriors to handle. They create mismatch problems; if Mark Jackson opts to put his defensive stoppers on the floor (Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, Andris Biedrins), then he risks defenses locking in on the “Big Three” (Klay, Lee, and Curry). If Jackson chooses to go small with Curry-Jack-Thompson-Landry-Lee, which is a popular choice the Warriors are nearly helpless on the inside. It’s a that will have a tough time against the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Clippers.

Some problems even arose against the Trail Blazers, who had seventeen offensive rebounds against Golden State in last Friday’s game. While their shooting overcame that, it won’t against the best Western conference teams in the playoffs.

This is why the Warriors need Andrew Bogut.

Realistically, a playoff appearance alone will excite a Warriors fan base that has been deprived of May basketball for more than five years. But if they want to go further than a first round exit—which is possible—Andrew Bogut will need to be there. He won’t be a “cure-all” because for one, the Warriors have proven that they can do very well without him. What he will be is an important piece that has been missing from the puzzle. His size allows David Lee to take advantage of mismatches (take smaller forwards inside and taller big men outside of the lane). Most importantly it adds a tremendous defensive presence and yet another way the Warriors can put the ball in the bucket.

If he returns from injury and plays anything like he did during his tenure in Milwaukee, Golden State can compete with any team in the West (save maybe the defending conference champs). While I originally thought the Warriors matched up well against Memphis, their last meeting proved there are challenges to overcome. And even though they have played the Clippers well over the season series, a playoff matchup will allow Los Angeles to exploit their weaknesses inside. I still believe that Steph & Co. match up well against the Spurs…especially in a potential second round matchup (which is likely unless the Warriors fall to the seventh spot in the West or San Antonio drops a slot to Memphis). Put Bogut on Duncan and even ESPN might start whispering upset.

Bogut is that combination of offensive and defensive playmaking that the Warriors have starved for. In most cases Mark Jackson is forced to choose between expecting scoring or stopping from the center position—and thus far has made it work. But come the playoffs, the top teams in the West will know what buttons to push against the Warriors; and if the shots aren’t falling, it could cause some serious problems.

With a healthy Bogut, on the other hand, a deep playoff run is very much within reach.

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