The Golden State Warriors are playing better basketball than most people imagined they would in 2012-13. Considering the absence of Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush, the Warriors are playing better basketball than anyone imagined they would.
There are several complex reasons for this, but the biggest is the most simple: Guys are stepping up.
Every player entered the season with perceived roles and certain expectations. Injuries altered these roles, and for the most part, every Golden State Warriors player has responded by outplaying their expectations.
There are exceptions, as the team is not tearing through the league. That being said, let's look at how each player's value to the team—their role and their game—has changed over the season's first month.
Like any rookie, Harrison Barnes' value was vague at the start of his first NBA season. His value was mainly due to his youth, as his talent was unproved and the Warriors had depth at his position.
One month later, Barnes' value has skyrocketed. His potential has already started paying dividends for Golden State, and injuries to Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson have made Barnes an indispensable part of the 2012-13 Warriors.
Andris Biedrins entered the season with his stock at an all-time low. The Latvian was coming off what was by far the worst season of his career, and he had fallen from starting to third-string center on Golden State's depth chart.
However, Andrew Bogut's prolonged absence has allowed Biedrins to move up to No. 2 on the depth chart. Biedrins hasn't exactly seized the opportunity by the horns, but he has played with more passion and less fear than he had over the previous couple of seasons.
Entering the 2012-13 season, Andrew Bogut was the talk of the Warriors. His surgically-repaired ankle was a concern, but that concern was dwarfed by the excitement that surrounded the 7'0", 245-lb beast.
Bogut came out of the gate slowly, playing in limited minutes and at less than 100 percent. When the pain became too great, Bogut shut it down indefinitely.
It's all been downhill since then. Bogut ended the Warriors' plan to keep the severity of his ankle injury under wraps, a coverup that lost the Warriors both the happiness of their best player and the faith of many fans.
Just before the start of the season, Stephen Curry signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension with Golden State. This left some fans nervous due to his weak right ankle, while others were relieved that they wouldn't lose Curry to free agency. The one thing everyone agreed on was that Curry had to take the next step.
He has. The Warriors fourth-year point guard is having his best season, posting career highs in points and assists while improving his game mightily on defense. Most importantly, he's stayed on the court.
As with Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli's value was hazy entering the season. The rookie center had the physical frame and raw skill set to potentially be a major factor off the bench, but he also had the inexperience and non-guaranteed minutes to potentially be a nothing.
Ezeli made an impact early, and Andrew Bogut's absence has greatly increased Festus' role. The young center is too raw offensively and too foul-prone defensively to play heavy minutes, but his per-36 stats (10 rebounds per game, five offensive rebounds, 2.2 blocks) are impressive.
Of all the Warriors rookies, Draymond Green entered the 2012-13 season with the least-defined role. Green has never really had a defined role, being that he is part undersized power forward and part unathletic wing, but the uncertainty was amplified due to the Warriors being two players deep at every position.
Unfortunately, minutes found Draymond. Brandon Rush's ACL tear made sure of that. Fortunately, Draymond has found a role. Green is the Warriors best perimeter defender, a quality rebounder and a hustle player who simply makes the Warriors better when he is on the floor.
The Warriors acquired Jarrett Jack for two reasons. The first was has ability to be a quality starting point guard in the event of a Stephen Curry ankle injury. The second was his ability to come off the bench and defend, facilitate and knock down shots in the event that Curry remained healthy.
So far, Jack has been the latter, and then some. This is good not only because it means Curry is healthy, but because it means that Jack has arguably been the NBA's best backup point guard. He has been so good that the Warriors primarily feature Jack at the point during the second half, with Curry sliding over to the off-guard position.
The Warriors didn't exactly build the 2012-13 roster around Richard Jefferson—rookie Harrison Barnes started ahead of him at small forward and Brandon Rush figured to be the main wing off the bench—but the Warriors were hoping that their $10.6 million veteran would at least come off the bench, hit threes and provide leadership.
Jefferson has done very little of the above. He did come off the bench in 10 games before getting injured, but the 32-year-old was more of a hindrance than an asset on the court. However, his injury has paved the way for rookie Draymond Green, so I guess one could call that leadership.
The Warriors had done well to build a strong starting five over the last couple of seasons, drafting awesome talents in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, signing double-double machine David Lee and trading for elite big man Andrew Bogut. So the Warriors needed to address depth over the summer, and the addition of Carl Landry was supposed to provide just that.
Landry has added to the Warriors an awesome dimension of frontcourt depth, allowing David Lee to rest more and every big man to play more aggressively. Beyond that, he's simply been one of the team's most productive players, leading the team in field goal percentage, offensive boards, points per 36 minutes and energy.
David Lee was, for a brief period, the Warriors' star player last season. Monta Ellis had been traded, Stephen Curry had been shut down and Golden State's $80 million man was running the show.
After a summer that saw Andrew Bogut (seemingly) get healthy, Harrison Barnes get hyped up, Klay Thompson (seemingly) turn into the next big thing at shooting guard and Stephen Curry (potentially) blossom into a superstar, David Lee (seemingly) became the weakest link in the Warriors stating five.
Now, 17.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and about five awesome right-handed finishes per game later, Lee is a close second behind Curry for Warriors best player and leading the charge for Warriors All-Star representative.
After a career year in 2011-12 and an awesome preseason, Brandon Rush was a tantalizing player coming into the 2012-13 season. Just a game and a half in, he appeared to be wrestling the starting small forward spot away from Harrison Barnes.
Right then and there, a hard Zach Randolph foul resulted in a torn ACL for Rush, ending his season and his career year-to-be. The Warriors will have Rush back next year, but everyone can only hope he returns as the same player.
Entering the season, Klay Thompson was a popular pick for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. The 6'7" shooting guard came on strong at the end of his rookie season and, after becoming a starter due to the Monta Ellis trade, was expected to become a star in Year 2.
Thompson started the season dreadfully. His shot was ice cold, he wasn't attacking the basket, he wasn't rebounding and he wasn't defending. Thompson has begun rebounding and defending much better, and his shot has gotten going as well. Still, Thompson doesn't attack the basket frequently, something the Warriors desperately need from his after trading Ellis.