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Golden State Warriors: 2011-2012 Final Season Awards

Nathaniel JueSenior Writer IIMay 14, 2012

Golden State Warriors: 2011-2012 Final Season Awards

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    The NBA playoff season is in full swing with the Golden State Warriors out of the playoff picture.

    Sometime in mid-March, or maybe even last December 25, the Warriors were simply playing out the season because they had to, but that’s not to say the season wasn’t full of intriguing storylines.

    The daunting, shortened campaign saw countless injuries to key players. There was the official changing of the (shooting) guard before the trading deadline, and ultimately the preseason playoff predictions slowly waned into tank mode in order to bone up for next season.

    The torturous end to the Warriors’ season brought about a slate of final grades for the frontcourt and backcourt players. But who was the team’s best player this year? Who was the team’s worst? And who was the Dubs’ biggest surprise?

    Let’s hand out some awards to the Warriors for the 2011-2012 campaign.

Most Regressed Award: Andris Biedrins

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    It’s amazing to look back and realize that Andris Biedrins has been in the NBA for eight seasons, and he’s only 26 years old. Given those numbers, Biedrins should be right smack dab in the middle of his prime, yes?

    No.

    Truthfully, his best years are apparently behind him. In the two seasons between 2007 and 2009, Biedrins averaged a double-double per game (11.1 points, 10.4 rebounds), but those stats came during the “We Believe” era, when he flourished in the middle of the run-and-gun offense engineered by head coach Don Nelson. He was an efficient complementary piece to a high-scoring offense, contributing with his athleticism in the Dubs’ fast-break system.

    Since then, however, Biedrins has somehow shrunk into a shell of his former self, demonstrating that he is in actuality playing like a junior high school kid. His averages last season support this claim: 1.7 points per game, 3.7 rebounds and a dismal 11.1 free throw percentage. He ultimately was replaced in the starting lineup and finished the season withering on the bench nursing injuries and his shattered pride.

    If this were indeed seventh grade, Biedrins would at least get a participation trophy for his effort, but ironically, it’s his lack of effort as a 26-year-old grown man that earns him this award for startling regression.

    Maybe next season, he’ll disappear from Golden State’s roster.

M.C.P.: David Lee

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    It’s hard to really assign a Most Valuable Player award to anybody on the Warriors. It could be argued that the loss of point guard Stephen Curry due to injury for the majority of the season showed how valuable he is to the team’s on-court success. Or the real MVP of the Dubs could be the last veteran standing, forward David Lee, who put up solid numbers in Curry’s absence and after Monta Ellis was traded midseason.

    But there isn’t any real evidence to prove that Lee’s steady health and leadership made that much of a difference in the Dubs’ season—especially considering his supporting cast of rookies and inexperienced role players. How much value did Lee really add to a team that was destined to lose anyway?

    However, Lee’s dependable and gutty performance this year has to account for something. Thus, the 29-year-old earns the team’s Most Consistent Player award.

    With his fellow stars falling out of the lineup, Lee was empowered to lead the team of scraps and scrubs. Lee was a glorified babysitter and became the focal point of the team’s offense. Upon Ellis’ trade prior to the Dubs’ matchup against the Sacramento Kings on March 13, Lee averaged 22.1 points per game—a shade above his 20.1 average for the entire season.

    Yes, Lee became the de facto leader of the team, mostly because of his All-Star resume and the absence of Curry and Ellis. Lee’s hard work and effort are to be admired, and he is a true leader of the team because of that exemplary consistency. 

The Golden State Warrior Award: David Lee

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    David Lee is a Golden State Warrior and a basketball warrior.

    The seven-year veteran went through a lot this season professionally. He saw his team transform into a junior varsity squad in a matter of weeks. The Dubs went from beating teams like the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat to embracing full-blown tank mode in order to help secure a lottery pick in the NBA draft.

    Sweet.

    Through it all, Lee clocked in and played hard every night. In the abbreviated season, with nothing to hope for other than a losing record and NBA lottery aspirations, Lee could have mailed it in. But the consummate professional that he is, he tried—in vain—to bring the Warriors to victory.

    It didn’t exactly happen the way he or the team had hoped. But there was Lee, with the organization crumbling around him, standing with his lunch pail and hard hat putting up a double-double every game, fighting to the bitter end—even with his own injuries mounting.

    No other player demonstrated the true fight of a warrior.

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Rush

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    The signing of Brandon Rush last offseason did not make very many headlines. Why would it? The Warriors were bringing in a fourth-year, part-time bench player who boasted a career scoring average of nine points a game.

    There was no rush of excitement when the 26-year-old came to Golden State. After all, the Dubs already had a swingman, Dorell Wright, who seemed to be locked and loaded at the small forward spot. Rush was simply going to come in and play a dozen minutes or so off the bench.

    Or so it was assumed.

    Instead, Rush quickly showed he is capable of bigger and better things. Rush’s three-point shooting and versatility on defense earned him more playing time, and he eventually supplanted Wright as the team’s best wing player. Rush finished the year ranked sixth in the NBA in three-point accuracy (45.2 percent). His scoring off the bench often lifted the team’s second unit, and his surprising defense in particular earned him quality minutes in crunch time of (the few) games in which Golden State was securing a close win.

    For the season, Rush shot over 50 percent from the field. He missed only one game—the season finale. He led the team in blocked shots.

    Pretty impressive. Brandon Rush was definitely a pleasant surprise in 2011-2012. Hopefully, he does more of the same next season with Golden State.

Milk Carton Award: Dorell Wright

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    For pretty much the entire season, a photo of Dorell Wright’s face was pasted onto Bay Area milk cartons with the caption, “Have you seen this basketball player?”

    As it turned out, he was nowhere to be found.

    After a remarkably impressive 2010-2011 campaign in which Wright led the NBA in three-pointers made and averaged 16.4 points per game that earned him a third-place showing in the Most Improved Player award, the eighth-year small forward disappeared as quickly as he arrived.

    This past season, Wright regressed, averaging 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Not the type of productivity the Warriors and fans were hoping for.

    The problem is, there wasn’t exactly one thing to pinpoint what caused his downward trending numbers. He was healthy throughout the season. There was no contract disgruntlement. The Warriors supported his role as the team’s starting small forward. Somehow Wright just could not get on track the way he did the previous season.

    There are a few possible explanations. The absence of point guard Stephen Curry prevented Wright from getting open looks. With Monta Ellis shouldering the offensive load, Wright got lost in the shuffle. Playing with so many rookies may have ruined the chemistry of the players who remained from 2010-2011.

    Whatever the case, head coach Mark Jackson simply did not have confidence in Wright, and he sat his starter several times during crucial moments in games. Wright only averaged 27 minutes played per contest, a huge drop from the 38.4 the prior year.

    Wright was missing in action last season. Maybe he’ll be found sometime during the summer.

Fan Favorite: Nate Robinson

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    There’s something infectious about Nate Robinson. Wherever he goes, whichever he team he plays for, the fans adore the sparkplug Robinson. Warriors fans soon grew to love the energy and determination with which Robinson played, just like every other home fanbase he’s played in front of.

    Golden State signed the seventh-year point guard as insurance for the oft-injured starter Stephen Curry. Robinson stepped in nicely, igniting the Dubs’ second unit during critical moments in close games. He averaged 23.4 minutes per game, scored 11.2 points and had 2.8 assists. Not often the most efficient player on the court, Robinson still put up a respectable 42.5 field goal percentage and 35.4 three-point percentage.

    More importantly, however, was the effervescent enthusiasm he brought to the young Warriors squad. It’s no secret how inexperienced the Dubs were, boasting six rookies by season’s end. But Robinson’s steady leadership off the bench more than compensated for the injury to Curry and the trade of veteran guard Monta Ellis.

    Despite a very drab season for the Warriors organization, each time Robinson was in the driver’s seat as the team’s floor general, the crowd would go nuts at everything he did. Whether jacking up heat-check threes or leading a fast break, the Oracle Arena fed off of Robinson’s energy, and he fed of off the crowd’s.

Ankle-Breaking Handles Award: Stephen Curry

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    Stephen Curry’s crossover dribble will never be mistaken for Tim Hardaway’s UTEP two-step. However, Curry’s ball-handling ability as a whole is notorious for breaking ankles...his own.

    Curry’s ankle is made out of glass or something because the third-year point guard turned, twisted, sprained or rolled his ankle many times this season. He was limited to 26 games played—only 39 percent of the schedule. Good thing it was a shortened season. It could’ve been worse.

    Without their star point guard at 100 percent for the entire season, Golden State used a makeshift lineup on a nightly basis, unsure of when, or if, Curry would be able to play again. Shooting guard Monta Ellis shouldered much of the ball-handling duties in Curry’s stead—before he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Dubs started Ishmael Smith, rookie Charles Jenkins and Nate Robinson at point guard in various parts of the season. Another rookie, Klay Thompson, also ran the offense in brief stints on the court.

    Needless to say, the Warriors’ offense did not have the same flow and consistency. Despite missing so many games, Curry was still effective when he was healthy enough to play. He finished the campaign with averages of 14.7 points, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while setting career highs in field goal percentage (49.0) and three-point percentage (45.5).

    The Warriors could have used some of that for sure. Although Golden State’s record without Curry in the lineup was not much different than when he was in it (.350 without him; .346 with him), there’s no doubt that his presence on the court would have greatly improved the team’s success.

    Nobody will ever really know for sure. All Warriors fans can wish for is for Curry to be as close to full strength as possible come preseason. He recently had surgery—again—on his injured ankle, so hopefully this is the last of his woes.

    We’ll see.

Harold Camping Award: Mark Jackson

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    Remember that Christian radio broadcaster who predicted that the world would end last year? Twice? Harold Camping notoriously prognosticated that the apocalypse was upon us in 2011, but surprisingly, we are all here.

    Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, himself a man of faith and a licensed minister, made another prediction upon his hiring last offseason: the Golden State Warriors would make the playoffs during the 2011-2012 campaign—his rookie season as an NBA head coach.

    Thankfully, the world did not explode last April, since the Warriors shockingly did not make the playoffs. Whew.

    Granted, a lot of factors played roles in keeping the Dubs from the postseason. Injuries, trades, trade rumors and Andris Biedrins all affected the team’s competitive makeup. Jackson did the very best he could given the cards he was dealt. Despite having five-of-a-kind (five rookies) in the starting lineup, Jackson and the Warriors lost.

    The Dubs went full on tank mode for the last five weeks of the season, losing 10 of their last 11 games and 17 of their last 20. Fortunately, the Warriors were able to secure a bottom-seven record and enhance their ability to land a top-seven lottery pick in this month’s NBA draft.

    Wonderful.

    Nobody could have predicted the drama and tortuous, apathetic interest in the perennially bottom-feeding Warriors. Although Jackson had good intentions this season, with hopes of turning the moribund franchise into a defensive-minded, winning basketball team, he was doomed to fail from Day 1.

    This is the Warriors, after all. Nobody makes predictions about Golden State...at least not positive or favorable ones.

    Note to Jackson for next season: Do not make any guarantees. Lesson learned.

10 Tons of Pressure Award: Andrew Bogut

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    The Golden State Warriors made one of the boldest trades during the course of last season, swapping star shooting guard Monta Ellis and an up-and-coming forward, Ekpe Udoh, for center Andrew Bogut.

    The Milwaukee Bucks gladly sent their own oft-injured star to the Warriors in exchange for some healthy bodies. The Dubs, meanwhile, trade their lone superstar for a player who would not appear in a game for the rest of the season.

    Golden State essentially packed it in in 2011-2012, with visions of playoff contention next season. The Warriors have long coveted a talented big man, and the team feels that Bogut is the missing ingredient to their postseason aspirations.

    Feel that pressure, big fella?

    A team that has missed the playoffs in every season but one in the past 19 years is counting on Bogut to carry them to the promise land. Nice.

    Bogut, by the way, has missed 126 games in the past four seasons. True, when he is healthy, Bogut is a defensive force in the paint and has a low-post presence that is lacking on the otherwise smallish Warriors roster.

    Here is the key question: Can Bogut stay healthy?

    That’s a lot of pressure to place on one man, especially a 27-year-old center who, by all accounts, isn’t that great of a player. He made an All-NBA Third Team in 2009-2010. Aside from that, Bogut’s stats aren’t overwhelming.

    Is Bogut really the player to get the Warriors into the eighth spot in the loaded Western Conference? Can he realistically stack up against the powerful big men in the conference—the Andrew Bynums, Pau Gasols, Tim Duncans, Al Jeffersons, etc.?

    Warriors fans will have to wait until next season to find out. All they know is that the team traded away its best player—a fan favorite for the past seven seasons—for a guy who sat on the bench in a tie and blazer for the last seven weeks of the season in hopes that he’ll be the missing component for a playoff run in 2013.

    No pressure, Bogut. No pressure.

Most Embarrassing Moment: Joe Lacob

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    It’s a trade like Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut that had fans up in arms with Warriors management. How could the franchise rid itself of the highlight-reel scoring of Monta Ellis for a player who walks with a limp?

    It didn’t make much sense at the time, especially since the transaction seemed to refute the organization’s promise and efforts to make the playoffs this season. Giving up Ellis was a waving of the white flag this year. Something that the Warriors fanbase is certainly used to seeing.

    Warriors fans were so fed up with ownership that they used the most public forum to express their displeasure: Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony.

    As owner Joe Lacob took the mic to say some words during the jersey unveiling, a raucous chorus of boos cascaded from the 18,000-plus fans in attendance at Oracle Arena who came to the game to also honor their Hall-of-Fame forward. They rained the parade a bit with booing, forcing Lacob to gather himself in a rather embarrassing—and unprecedented—moment.

    No owner expects to be showered with boos during a jersey retirement ceremony, and he could not escape the television cameras that captured his every uncomfortable fidget.

    But that’s what happens when a fanbase has over 20 years of frustration accumulating together. With Lacob taking the opportunity to say some words, it was Warriors fans’ opportunity to let them know how they felt about the direction the team appeared to be heading.

    All he has to do to win fans’ favor is build a winning team—just as he promised.

    Easier said than done.

     

    Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue

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