Can Golden State Warriors Thrive with 'Smoke and Mirrors' at Center Spot?

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Can Golden State Warriors Thrive with 'Smoke and Mirrors' at Center Spot?
USA TODAY Sports

The combination of Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins playing at center has worked well for the Golden State Warriors in the 2012-13 NBA season.

But after a blistering 22-10 start, they have now lost two straight and proved that if they want to become a real threat, Andrew Bogut will have to be starting at center.

It’s not exactly time to hit the panic button (we’re not talking about the Los Angeles Lakers here). The combination of Ezeli and Biedrins at center should take them to the playoffs, which for this franchise is quite an accomplishment.

But if they are looking to make some serious noise, the Warriors need Bogut playing center.

Ezeli has done an admirable job as the starter. He has performed better than anyone has expected and possibly even better than anyone else has in the last five years at that position for Golden State. Sure, the competition has not been great, but you really couldn’t ask for much more from the rookie center.

But let’s call him what he really is at this point: a good backup center.

USA TODAY Sports

He has averaged 2.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. For a first-year player starting on what looks to be a playoff team, that’s not much production.

Biedrins has been better than anyone could have hoped for this year too. His presence in a limited role has not gone unnoticed. But his numbers, 0.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, are hardly even worth typing.

While both have contributed admirably, the Warriors will not maximize their potential with just these two guys in the middle.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve been sufficient so far, but how long can that last? Ezeli just may hit the invisible rookie wall anytime after March, and Biedrins, well, we’ve seen how he's performed in pressure situations in the past.

Another worrisome aspect concerning the lasting power of an Ezeli and Biedrins combo is their plus/minus number: a combined minus-37 for the year. That is unusual for a team with a record like the Warriors have and is likely to catch up to them.

Additionally, the Warriors were exposed in their recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 9. (And against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 5, but it’s best to pretend that game didn’t happen!) The loss to the Grizzlies showed that in a defensive battle, which most playoffs series tend to be these days, they need more toughness in the middle. 

That's something Bogut was brought here to provide.

It’s easy to forget how good Bogut can be because we really haven’t seen him play much in the last three years. But this is some of what he is capable of doing when healthy:

While you shouldn’t expect him to come back as the player he once was, wouldn't he look great next to David Lee, Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson at even 75 percent?

According to 82games.com (via John Hollinger of ESPN.com), in the 2011-12 season, the Milwaukee Bucks gave up 9.9 points per 100 possessions less with Bogut on the court. If he would give Golden State even half that number, he would offer a huge boost. 

The Warriors' explosive offense combined with the improved defense would allow them to contend with just about anyone in the NBA as the games get more important. Could we say the same about the Warriors with just Ezeli and Biedrins at center?

*All stats are accurate as of Jan. 10, 2013.

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