Face it, everyone: Dwight Howard will never be a Golden State Warrior.
But who needs him? The Warriors have Andrew Bogut, and he’s two-thirds the player Howard is, with only one tenth of the headache.
The Warriors’ new center can’t play the entire game himself, so he’s going to need some backup. And we know that David Lee can’t slide to the 5 to replace Bogut because he’s too awful defensively. Check out what ESPN’s John Hollinger says about Lee:
Lee…really has no interest in playing defense at all. This wasn't just a Golden State thing—he was horrible in New York, too—and obviously joining this bunch didn't heighten his motivation any. The all-too-common sight of Lee staying put on the weak side while an opposing guard cruised in for a layup was his most egregious failing, but he also struggled on-ball.
The numbers back up the subjective evaluation. Pick a method, any method—Synergy says he was in the bottom quarter of power forwards, 82games.com shows opposing power forwards had a 20.1 PER against him and basketballvalue.com reports the Warriors gave up 5.01 points per 100 possessions more with Lee on the court. He was 60th in blocks per minute, and in his case, his low foul rate was another indication that he was mailing it in.
The good news is that Hollinger’s analysis is based on Lee’s 2010-2011 season. The bad news is that Lee’s defense was even worse last year.
So it’s established: the Warriors need someone to eat up a few minutes at center when Bogut’s taking a breather. It’s also established: that particular someone should not be David Lee.
The Warriors currently have three other centers on the roster: Andris Biedrins, Festus Ezeli and Jeremy Tyler. Let’s break them down to see who should play the most behind Bogut.
You know, Andris Biedrins used to be a pretty good center. Just a couple of years ago, he averaged a double-double and looked like he might develop into a star. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old’s career has been in a downward spiral since 2009.
Afraid to be fouled, Biedrins has lost any semblance of aggressiveness and has become a net negative player on both ends of the floor. He’s still owed $9 million this season, so it’s likely he’ll be on the roster.
Amazingly, this season will be Biedrins’ ninth in the NBA, and he’s still in his mid-20s. While it’s nice to hope he’ll somehow rediscover the form he showed a few years ago, it seems unlikely. Mentally, he may be too far gone.
Unless Biedrins can turn back the clock or rediscover his confidence, he’s not the man to back up Bogut.
He did improve his numbers—on the surface—after he was granted significant minutes in April of last year. But a closer look at Tyler’s averages of 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in April shows that he accumulated those stats inefficiently. He shot only 41 percent from the field and 58 percent from the line while turning the ball over more than twice as often as he logged an assist.
Tyler is extremely young and certainly has room to improve on his rookie season. But it’s hard to imagine him improving enough to deserve key reserve minutes behind Bogut.
Selected by the Warriors at No. 30 in this year’s draft, Ezeli is bigger than both Biedrins and Tyler. At 7’0” and 264 pounds, he already has the size to take up space in the middle. He projects to be a pretty good shot-blocker and can run the floor, too.
Of course, that’s about all we can say about Ezeli at this point, since the rookie hasn’t yet played a minute in the NBA.
But if you’re a Warriors fan, you’ll probably agree that Ezeli is the best option to back up Bogut—because we don’t yet know that he isn’t. For years now, Warriors’ fans have pinned their hopes to unknown, unproven players because that’s all we’ve had. Draft picks represent hope—until that hope is proved false, as in the cases of Biedrins and Tyler.
So, in conclusion, Festus Ezeli has the benefit of the doubt for the moment. He’s the answer—until he shows us he isn’t.
It’s nice to hope, anyway. Right?