The Golden State Warriors still have a massive edge on their SoCal rivals...on the bench.
Outside of the starting five, where the Lakers have an advantage at every position besides small forward, the Warriors reserves boast more size, skill and potential than the Lakers' sorry bunch. Let's check out the tale of the tape.
Andrew Bogut is probably the second-best center in the Western Conference. He's a defensive stopper who rebounds at a high rate. Of course, Dwight Howard does both of those things better than Bogut does.
But in support of Bogut, the Warriors have rookie Festus Ezeli (who's already got the size to stand up to Howard) and the shell of Andris Biedrins. A rookie and a mentally broken stiff are still better than Jordan Hill (who the Warriors passed on this offseason) and rookie Robert Sacre. Sacre, in particular, looked awful during Summer League.
Pau Gasol could slide over to center when Howard's off the floor—which changes the conversation. But for our purposes, we're comparing guys who come off the bench. Golden State's got the better backup centers.
The Warriors have more frontcourt depth than they've had in years. Led by newly signed Carl Landry, Golden State's backup forwards look especially strong. Management is high on rookie Draymond Green, and the Warriors also have either Richard Jefferson or Harrison Barnes (depending on who earns the starting job) to play some backup 3.
Plus, Brandon Rush is back to stretch the floor.
There's no comparison between that group and the Lakers' frontcourt bench. Only former Warrior Antawn Jamison could crack the Warriors' bench rotation up front, and he's certainly not better than Landry—who's also much younger than Jamison.
And for my money, I'll take Green over Devin Ebanks any day.
The Lakers will run out some combination of Steve Blake, Chris Duhon(!) and Jodie Meeks to back up their veteran guards. With both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant battling Father Time, expect that trio—along with, possibly, Darius Johnson-Odom and Andrew Goudelock—to play quite a bit. That's a problem for the Lakers.
Meeks can stretch the floor, but he's no Brandon Rush, who also plays some backup shooting guard for Golden State.
Not to mention the Warriors have Jarrett Jack, who may be the NBA's best backup point guard.
When you lay it all out, there's really no contest between benches; Golden State's is just plain better. Of course, the Lakers' star-studded first unit is fantastic. On the strength of their starters alone, the Lakers are a championship contender.
But consider the following: Dwight Howard is coming off back surgery, Kobe Bryant has about a million miles on him and Steve Nash is no longer under the watchful eye of professional sports' best training staff in Phoenix.
Age and injury are serious threats to the Lakers this season. If more than one of those guys goes down, there won't be anyone to fill the hole in the starting lineup.
If that's the case, the Warriors' bench could become the reason they finish ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings this year. Anything's possible, right?