Which Is Bigger Shock to Warriors' Postseason Success, Rookies or Veterans?
Two underlying themes have emerged in the Golden State Warriors' resurgence in the wake of the report that the team's lone All-Star, David Lee, would be lost for the postseason with a torn right hip flexor.
The first has been the breakout playoff campaign of All-Star snub, Stephen Curry.
The fourth-year sharpshooter out of Davidson College has dazzled on basketball's biggest stage.
With 25.0 points per game (better than a two-point increase over his regular-season average of 22.9), he's the fourth highest scorer among all playoff participants. He also has the fourth best three-point percentage (42.9) of all shooters who have attempted at least 30 long-range looks, a considerable accomplishment considering he's attempted better than 30 more threes (91) than the second most active marksman (Kevin Durant, 59 attempts).
Add in the fact that he's averaged the second most assists in the playoffs (8.3 per game) and he looks far more like a budding superstar than an All-Star snub.
But the Warriors aren't playing in a conference semifinal for just the second time since 1991 on the strength of Curry's play alone.
His supporting cast has looked equally brilliant, with a host of players sharing the spotlight on a seemingly nightly basis.
And herein lies the shock value to the Warriors' second-round venture, but the question becomes which group of Mark Jackson's unheralded stars has been the biggest surprise?
Although he's played in just three of Golden State's last seven games for a total of 12 minutes, the mere presence of Lee appears to give the veteran Warriors an edge in the awe factor.
The initial prognosis to his hip injury, suffered in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s first playoff game, left him looking at a couple months of rest before returning to basketball activities.
Yet he made a 90-second cameo less than two weeks later in the Warriors’ series-clinching win in Game 6 over the Denver Nuggets. Even more shocking than his initial return, though, is the fact that he’s since appeared in two more games, totaling five points and seven rebounds in a shade less than 11 minutes.
But Lee’s not the only surprise veteran contributor for the Dubs.
Andrew Bogut, who missed all but 32 games in the regular season while recovering from ankle surgery, has been the interior presence that the Warriors' front office had envisioned when they parlayed fan favorite Monta Ellis (along with Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown) to the Milwaukee Bucks at the 2012 trade deadline. Bogut’s 11.8 rebounds per game are the highest among all postseason players still in action, and his 1.8 blocks per game ranks fourth among that group.
Carl Landry, who did not receive the anticipated bump in playing time when Lee went down, has provided an interior presence on the offensive end. He’s averaging 11.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field through 10 postseason contests.
Jarrett Jack, the team’s highly scrutinized sixth man, has shot nearly 67 percent from the field this postseason in the clutch (last five minutes of a five-point game, via NBA.com). He scored eight of the team’s final 13 points in regulation during Sunday’s Game 4 97-87 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs.
But a team featuring a trio of rookies in its top nine-man rotation has to have contributions from its younger stars as well.
Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli have provided that and then some during their first taste of playoff basketball.
Barnes, the seventh overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, topped the 20-point mark just three times during the regular season. But the North Carolina product has added three more 20-plus-point performances to his resume (and two 19-point outings), none greater than the game-high 26 points he poured in during Game 4.
Green and Ezeli have never been players defined in the box score, and this postseason run has been no different. The pair have combined for 9.0 points, 6.9 boards and 1.5 blocks through 10 playoff games, but they, along with Bogut, have helped set the physical tone that has defined these new-look Dubs.
Even with Lee’s surprise appearances, it’s hard to say that the veteran play has been the more shocking source fueling the Warriors’ playoff push.
Jack and Landry were brought in over the offseason to do just what they’re doing now: bring poise and production to Mark Jackson’s bench. Jack gets a little too ball dominant at times and Landry will struggle with bigger, disciplined defenders, but for the most part they’re expected to contribute.
Barnes had the best pedigree of the Warriors’ rookies, but even he entered the league with his share of question marks. Scouts questioned his ability to create his own shot and wondered if he had the selfishness to cash in on his superstar potential.
Other than Curry, who's been the biggest factor in Golden State's playoff success?
Ezeli was a project pick in the truest sense of the phrase. The Nigerian-born bruiser saw significant minutes in just his final two seasons of college hoops, and had only a handful of years of exposure to the sport before then.
Green was simply a baller, a nicer way of saying a prospect without a position. A season’s worth of NBA exposure still hasn’t identified a longtime home on the hardwood.
Yet, as they’ve done all season, this Warriors’ rookie crop has played beyond its years. Barnes has shown an ability to take over games in spurts. Ezeli has established an intimidating presence at the basket when Bogut’s given a breather. Green has shined as a harassing defender and relentless hustler.
With so many surprise contributors emerging at this point of the season, maybe it’s time to redefine expectations for Jackson’s Warriors.
This team’s playing with house money, but that doesn’t mean their thirst for winnings has yet been quenched.
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