Are Stephen Curry's Ankles the Warriors Only Weak Link?
That's really not as bold an assertion as one may think. They have a superstar leader in Stephen Curry, two All-Stars in Andre Iguodala and David Lee, a top-five center when healthy in Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson, one of the league's better two-way shooting guards and the team's "weakest" starter.
This isn't to say that Golden State will win the championship or even that it should be a favorite, but there's simply no lineup as solid as this one-through-five in the league.
If they stay healthy, that is.
Of course, very few teams can thrive without their best players to the same degree that they can succeed with them. But, in Golden State's case, that "if" is considerably bigger.
That's because the team's two best players are also the most injury prone.
No matter what Bogut may say, a quick look at the big man's Basketball-Reference.com page is all one needs to see. He's appeared in 70 games only twice in eight NBA seasons and has played in only 44 games combined over the past two years.
Curry's attendance doesn't indicate anywhere near as serious a problem—only once has he missed over eight games in four NBA seasons—but his repeated (to put it mildly) injuries to his right ankle are worrisome (another understatement).
In fact, Curry's situation almost makes Bogut seem less like he's in denial. Sure, Bogut has missed many more games, but he's also the antithesis of Curry: He's had many random major injuries already, while Curry seems to be bursting with potential for one.
He's as injury prone as they come.
That isn't to predict a Curry injury in any way. Seriously, basketball gods, I'm not jinxing anything.
It's just that there is a specific part of his body that is severely susceptible to damage, whereas Bogut just seems to get hurt a lot.
The "injury prone" title, Bogut and Curry's specific merits to be defined as such could be argued over forever, but the conclusion of that discussion is not as significant as the answer to this question: Which potential injury would most affect the Warriors?
Before answering, let's tweak the question to include every starter.
Anyone can get severely injured (just ask Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning) and, if the Warriors' lineup is predicated on having no weak links, the question becomes as much about who's replacing said injured player as it is about who initially goes down.
Here's a look at the Warriors projected 2013-14 depth chart, with three backups listed:
|PG||Stephen Curry||Toney Douglas, Nemanja Nedovic, Seth Curry|
|SG||Klay Thompson||Andre Iguodala, Kent Bazemore, Stephen Curry|
|SF||Andre Iguodala||Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson|
|PF||David Lee||Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green|
|C||Andrew Bogut||Jermaine O'Neal, Marreese Speights*, David Lee|
*Festus Ezeli will eventually fill this spot, but he will be out for much of the season
The first thing that jumps out here is that the Warriors' two most shallow positions just so happen to be the ones manned by Bogut and Curry.
If Thompson goes down, Iguodala, Barnes, Green and Bazemore would still make a strong wing rotation. The same can be said in the event of an Iguodala injury.
The Warriors nearly advanced to the Western Conference Finals without Lee last year, and Marreese Speights replacing Carl Landry isn't enough to change the fact that power forward is the team's deepest position.
So, after expanding the search to include everyone, the question is again reduced to Curry and Bogut. Who can Golden State most ill-afford to be without?
Even then, it really isn't much of a question.
The difference between Bogut and O'Neal is sizable, but the Warriors don't lose any shot blocking with O'Neal and may actually gain some offense.
They give up rebounding, interior defense and offensive playmaking ability, but it's nothing like what the team sacrifices going from Curry to Douglas.
While Douglas is a superior man defender to Curry, Curry is superior to vastly superior to Douglas in every other facet of the game.
Beyond the primary backups, the disparity grows larger.
Speights and Lee are not true centers, but both can rebound and score inside well enough to at least partially compensate for their lack of size and defense. That's not even considering Ezeli, who upon his return will eliminate Lee's center minutes altogether (even if Bogut got hurt).
On the flip side, Nedovic and Seth Curry haven't proven that they can hang on an NBA court. If Stephen Curry went down, one of the two would be asked to play rotational minutes.
To summarize, Curry is arguably the Warriors' most injury-prone player and undoubtedly mans their thinnest position.
Oh, and he's the team's superstar leader.
This shouldn't require much proving, but to quickly hammer that point home, Curry averaged 26.0 points, 7.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals on 47.6 percent FG shooting, 46.1 percent three-point shooting and 89.4 percent FT shooting during the second half of last season.
He also set the all-time record for threes made in a season (272), had the best individual scoring game of the year (54 points), single-handedly dominated a playoff series more than anyone not named LeBron James and would have finished as a top-five MVP candidate if the award was voted on after the postseason.
Again, there isn't an NBA team that can live up to their full potential without their best player healthy. But Curry is better than most team's best players.
He's also harder to replace than many, as his game and the Warriors' offense revolves so much around his one-of-a-kind skill set that grit, depth and defense simply could not begin to make up for the loss.
Combining those two realities with the fact that Curry is one of the more injury-prone players in the league, and it becomes realistic to claim that the Warriors' aspirations are more reliant on one man's right ankle than they are on any other player's entire body, mind and soul.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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