Warriors Stock Watch: Most and Least Improved Players
We may only be one third of the way into the 2012-13 NBA season, but 28 games is no small sample size.
It feels like months ago that the Warriors beat the Phoenix Suns on opening night or that Brandon Rush tore his ACL in the home opener. Well, that's because it was.
We are now two months into the NBA season, and the Golden State Warriors have already put together a long list of great wins, frustrating losses and memorable moments in between.
Not only that, but each individual Warriors player has had time to grow (or shrink) beyond where they were in late October and early November.
Here's a look at the Warriors players whose games have improved and those who have taken the largest steps back since the start of the season.
Stats used in this article are accurate as of December 21, 2012.
Most Improved: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson was expected to be one of the NBA's breakout stars this season. However, he came out of the gates worse than he was last season. His shot was terribly off, his confidence was gone and he wasn't making the defensive strides he was expected to make.
Through 11 games, Thompson was dreadful. Luckily for the Warriors, he turned his season around dramatically during a November 21 home win against Brooklyn.
|Thompson's stats before November 21||13.4||4.2||2.2||33.3||30.6||76.0||0.6||0.5||2.5|
|Thompson's stats after November 21||17.5||4.2||2.8||45.0||41.5||96.2||0.9||0.6||1.4|
The numbers clearly show that Thompson improved across the board. Sure, his shooting percentages climbed up to where they should be, which led to his scoring average increasing, but Thompson's improved defending, passing and ball management have been equally important to the Warriors' success.
Early this season, there were questions as to how long Thompson would remain a starter. Now, the 6'7" shooting guard is an integral part of just about every facet of Golden State's game.
Most Improved: Draymond Green
The Warriors appeared to have struck gold by grabbing All-American forward Draymond Green in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft. Green's supporters saw him as a rookie who was not exceptional in any one area of the game, but would be very hard for Mark Jackson to take off the floor.
Well, early in his rookie season, this simply wasn't true. In fact, it was hard for Jackson to put Green on the floor. The Warriors rookie saw just 6.3 minutes of action a night before a Richard Jefferson injury opened the door for Green on November 18 in Oklahoma City.
|Green's stats before November 18||1.0||1.0||0.3||15.4||14.3||66.7||0.1||0.2||0.4|
|Green's stats after November 18||4.1||5.3||1.1||32.2||22.7||100.0||0.4||1.1||0.7|
One could argue that Green's increased per-game averages are simply due to his increased minutes. While that is undeniable—Green began averaging 19.3 minutes after November 18—to view it that way is to see things backwards.
Rather, Green's increased minutes were a direct result of his improved production. The 6'7" combo forward has given Golden State great minutes, defending the two, three and four spots with success, grabbing tough rebounds, creating turnovers and providing the energy needed to win games in the fourth quarter.
Despite being the eighth guy into the game each night per Mark Jackson's rotation, Green is now always on the floor during crunch time. Hard to take off the floor, indeed.
Least Improved: Festus Ezeli
When Warriors starting center Andrew Bogut was sidelined indefinitely just five games into the season, rookie Festus Ezeli was asked to step in and start. This was partially due to the promise Ezeli had shown during the preseason and the first five games, but also due to the lack of another option (Andris Biedrins wasn't going to cut it).
The Warriors rookie actually lived up to the challenge, arguably exceeding expectations after his first 13 games and nine NBA starts. He was excellent on the offensive glass, decent on putbacks and capable of defending the paint better than many veterans.
|Ezeli's stats before November 24||3.7||4.9||47.5||0.9||1.8|
|Ezeli's stats after November 24||2.2||3.1||45.2||0.9||2.6|
It's unclear why Ezeli's game dropped off so suddenly, but the Warriors rookie has not been the same player since a November 24 win over Minnesota. Perhaps he watched teammate Harrison Barnes posterize Nikola Pekovic that night and became fearful he would soon be posterized (as many quality NBA centers are).
Whatever the reason, Ezeli hasn't been the same during his second month in the league. He isn't getting on the offensive boards and he's struggling to finish inside. Perhaps most discouragingly, he's had a tougher time protecting the rim. He's still blocking some shots, but he's also fouling more and getting beaten with regularity.
Least Improved: Harrison Barnes
Perhaps I should be fair. Rookies tend to go through far more ups and downs throughout the course of a season than veterans do, and so it's no surprise that Harrison Barnes is the third rookie highlighted in this article. Moreover, periods of struggle are much more common than periods of success for rookies, so having both Barnes and Ezeli as "least improved" players is no cause for grave concern.
It is especially no cause for concern when one considers how well Barnes played during his first 14 games, all of which he started in. The 20-year-old small forward was aggressive with the ball, explosive off the dribble, able to move well without the ball, active on the boards and energetic all over the court.
|Barnes' stats before November 29||10.7||5.0||47.5||35.5||69.4|
|Barnes' stats after November 29||6.3||3.2||31.2||26.1||64.3|
After he threw down the dunk of the season on Nikola Pekovic on November 24, it seemed as if Barnes was becoming a catalyst for the Warriors and rising to the top of the NBA rookie ranks. Since then, however, he's taken a major step back.
He's only scored in double digits during three of his past 14 games, after seven double-digit scoring games in his first 14. He also grabbed at least nine boards four times during those first 14, but has failed to grab more than six since.
While the shooting percentages may suggest Barnes has simply gone cold from the field, the reality is that the Warriors rookie has been attacking the rim less, picking his spots less effectively and disengaging more frequently when the ball isn't in his hands.
Again, there is no reason to panic in Oakland—yet. However, inconsistency and apparent disengagement plagued Barnes at North Carolina, so the Warriors are hoping he grows up fast.