What letter grade has Festus Ezeli earned for his performance on the Golden State Warriors this season?
Well, at the very least, a passing grade for making the $11 million that is owed to Richard Jefferson next season nearly an afterthought.
The Warriors took on that money attached to Jefferson because they wanted to make sure they received a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NBA draft. While they got “lucky” and retained their own pick, allowing them to draft their current starting small forward in Harrison Barnes, little did they know that with the pick acquired from the San Antonio Spurs they would be drafting their starting center.
Andrew Bogut was supposed to come back from surgery, healthy and ready to transform the Warriors defense into a legit unit. So far Bogut has done what he has done best the last few years—wear a nice suit. His lingering injuries elevated Ezeli into the starting lineup, and he has been integral in making the Golden State defense formidable.
Despite playing in only 15.9 minutes per game, Ezeli has managed to make quite an impact, mainly in the form of helping the Warriors become one of the top rebounding teams in the entire NBA and by helping the team completely change their mindset on defense.
He has been exceptional on the offensive glass. Not only in the form of plays like this,
but also by averaging nearly two offensive rebounds per game, giving two extra shots to the likes of Stephen Curry, David Lee or Klay Thompson. While that may not sound like a whole lot, its the little things like one extra possession that can turn close losses into close wins.
His defensive presence has been extremely important, as it’s been years since the Warriors have had a shot-blocker in the middle. And until Bogut gets back (if he ever does), the Warriors can count on Ezeli to hold things down in the middle of their defense. Another aspect to his value is the impact he has had on Lee. Festus has taken pressure off Lee defensively, and now that David doesn’t have to defend the paint all by himself he is arguably having his finest season to date. Ezeli's presence has also made Andris Biedrins useful in a limited role.
Who would have imagined that anyone could make that possible?
His offense is where things get murky. Luckily he is on a team with Curry, Lee, Thompson and Barnes, guys who know how to score the basketball. They hide the fact that Ezeli is very limited offensively. But even if he did have a decent post game, it would be tough to show it off with those four needing their touches.
Outside of his lack of post moves, the most puzzling aspect in his stat line is his shooting percentage.
It’s not like he is a jump shooter. Any time he shoots the ball he should be at an arm’s length to the rim, so no matter how inept he is offensively he should be able to shoot at a higher percentage.
On top of that is the fact that he has nearly as many turnovers, 36, as he has made field goals, 40. Not exactly something you want to see from a 23-year-old, rookie or not. That’s a big reason as to why he only sees 15 minutes a game. Well that, and his ability to foul. Ezeli commits one personal foul for every six minutes played.
As good as Festus has been defensively, he has been as nearly bad offensively. But as the 30th overall pick, the Warriors couldn’t have asked for much more out of the rookie. Hopefully with time he will be able to develop something that will resemble an offensive game as he avoids sending opposing big men to the free-throw line.
Ezeli earns a B grade based on the fact that as a late pick he was able to step in for the injured Bogut and help the Warriors turn around their rebounding numbers, all the while becoming a key cog in the transformation of their defense. Really, the only thing keeping him from an A grade is his ineptitude on offense and the fact that Curry sprained his ankle on Ezeli's foot!
The Warriors have themselves a solid player in Ezeli, and hopefully he can continue to produce while Bogut is out and for years to come.
*All stats are accurate as of January 18, 2013.