How Each Golden State Warriors Rookie Must Improve in His Sophomore Season

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How Each Golden State Warriors Rookie Must Improve in His Sophomore Season
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The Warriors will need Barnes to get better despite a solid rookie season.

The NBA is unlike the NFL, where lower first-round picks and selections in the second round are often projected to become starters or even stars.

But in a sport that holds just five positions at once on the court, these types of picks are not expected to be impact players.

The Golden State Warriors, however, might have struck gold in last year's draft, as they landed a promising small forward at No. 7 overall and also picked up two quality players later in the proceedings—a starting-caliber swingman in the second round and, at the end of the first round, a big man who, if he keeps progressing, could be a solid ten-year NBA center.

While we know that Harrison Barnes has the potential to become a star, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli both are underrated players who have the ability to defend, scrap and fit into Mark Jackson's system. 

But these three promising young players will need to work on and improve in specific areas of their respective games in order to fulfill their promise and help the Warriors consistently contend in the Western Conference 

 

Festus Ezeli: Hands

Ezeli's defense was solid but not spectacular during his rookie campaign, which boded well for a team that lacked interior size for the past several years. Just him clogging the paint and affecting shots helped to stabilize the improved Warriors' defense, especially when Andrew Bogut was sidelined with injuries. 

If Ezeli can make the simple plays, he can become a solid center for years to come.

His quick feet and jumping ability are already evident, and his timing and skills will get better as he learns to recognize NBA defenses. But he must improve his hands if his career is to take that next step.

At times his struggles catching the ball were laughable; Warrior fans made as much fun of his hands as they did Klay Thompson's problems with layups. 

It's tough enough already to finish in the paint against the likes of Serge Ibaka or Tim Duncan when you can catch a pass. But a player has no chance if he can't manage this fundamental part of the game.

Some players are gifted at catching the ball, but those aren't necessarily big men. For every Tim Duncan, there are so many more Kwame Browns. 

It may be less a matter of concentration than Ezeli needing to practice hand-eye coordination. Keep in mind that he hadn't played basketball until he was deep into high school

The improvements will most certainly come, and when they do, Ezeli should become a solid center along the lines of a Samuel Dalembert. 

 

Draymond Green: Shooting

Green shot 32.7 percent from the field and 20.9 percent from distance in the regular season—then 42.9 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively, in the postseason. He averaged about a shot and a half more per game and stroked the ball with markedly more confidence in this year's playoffs. 

So which one is the real Green? The confident clutch shooter in the postseason or the hesitant, out-of-control player who struggled with his shot for much of the regular season?

Green had much better rhythm in college.

Truth is, he's probably closer to the postseason player because, as he was pressed into action in the playoffs, he became more comfortable with the spacing in the spread-out offense.

Now, I'm not a shooting expert—playing center in high school usually means fewer jumpers and more layups. However, Green's college highlights show a player who was much more comfortable shooting the ball, perhaps because, as a primary ball-handler for Michigan State, he was better able to get into a shooting rhythm.

As an NBA rookie, he often looked out of sorts when shooting perimeter shots, especially from beyond the arc.

Green shot nearly 45 percent in college, and if he can fix his shooting in the offseason, he would provide an offensive spark to balance his solid defense. 

 

Harrison Barnes: Dribbling 

Barnes, like Green, improved so much by the end of the postseason that he was the Warriors' second option on offense and one of their better rebounders. Despite playing heavy minutes, he didn't slow down one bit. 

The spread offense with him as the stretch forward provided Barnes more space to operate and more shot opportunities. But David Lee and the return of Brandon Rush doesn't necessarily bode well for Barnes' playing time or quantity of shots. 

However, it doesn't mean that Barnes won't be able to bring what he did in the postseason into next year. 

Will Barnes need to become the second or third option for this team to succeed next season?

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I've harped on the lack of plays run for Barnes before, but it bears repeating that Jackson barely called any pick-and-rolls for the rookie. All his shots came in the flow of the offense and too often, said flow flowed the other way. 

The Warriors are now versatile enough on offense to play both spread and deploy a lineup that features two bigs (Lee and Bogut).

Having a small forward in Barnes who is able to both attack the basket and create opportunities for teammates would be doubly significant to the team's multifaceted offense. But Barnes must improve his ball-handling skills to make this happen.

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