The Golden State Warriors are winning consistently again, but with the bench as a new weapon. As the team moves into the final stretch of the season, which bench player will be the most critical during the stretch run?
The starting five has been very consistent this year with the normal ups and downs and injury problems. However, they have pulled their weight and own a 29-12 record through March 15 with those five on the floor.
However, the biggest problem throughout the season has been the inconsistency of the bench. Coach Mark Jackson stuck with his starters a lot more than he had to because of non-production.
The bench is now a bona fide weapon on most nights with the addition of Steve Blake, and they're fighting to be in the same conversation with the top-tier talents like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. But let’s take a closer at the core members that keep the train on the tracks.
As the season plays out, the Warriors will try to upgrade to the fifth spot or even earn a home-court advantage, but the rotations will start to shrink.
Instead of using the entire bench, coach Jackson will look to a select few players who are comfortable on the floor. He won’t have the ability or willingness to use all five bench players at one time.
As a result, Marreese Speights, Nemanja Nedovic, Ognjen Kuzmic and even Jordan Crawford will see their minutes dwindle. Jermaine O’Neal is a needed piece of the puzzle and should keep his current allotment during his rejuvenation season.
The three most important players off the bench are Steve Blake, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. Now it is time to look at who will be the most critical during the final stretch.
Blake has injected life into the bench, which was sitting at the bottom of the NBA in minutes, points and assists per game. The shooting percentages were also in step with the low quality.
With his ability to extend the clock and let players find their spacing, Blake is revitalizing the bench and giving the starters their needed rest.
He is the steady hand who takes care of the ball, represented by his 4.6-to-1 assist-to turnover ratio, but he is not finding high-percentage shots. Blake is currently shooting 36.1 percent from the field with 41 of his 61 attempts being from behind the arc.
Blake needs to diversify his shot selection, so that he has opportunities to drive to the hoop and create higher percentage looks. He can be successful with a shorter jump shot or a closer opportunity for one of his teammates.
Barnes has been one of the biggest disappointments for the Warriors this season. He created unrealistic expectations coming into the season with his dominant play in last season’s playoffs.
The scenario completely changed from being a starter who could rotate between both forward positions to coming off the bench. There was no familiarity and no repetition with his new position.
Barnes hasn't shown the desire to really challenge this season, as he accepted his backup position behind Andre Iguodala. The only time he consistently shined was when he replaced Iguodala and was familiar with the starting role.
Barnes has the skill level, but he needs to bring the energy and the motor to every game, no matter what situation he encounters. If he doesn't produce, Barnes will not make it to the next level and will be similar to Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Antawn Jamison in their times with the Warriors.
Barnes needs to show Coach Jackson that he is focused and here to play. This is his time to reinvent himself and display that skill level on a consistent basis, like in the video below.
Until that happens, Coach Jackson can’t depend on him the same way that he did last postseason.
Green is the hard-working, second-year player that does all of the little things right. He is the guy who can defend a point guard one possession, then slide over to handle the center on the next and still be successful.
He can play both forward positions with ease and always uses the extra effort to make a play. Oh, he is also not afraid of anyone, either.
He has an extremely high basketball IQ, a motor that doesn't stop and invaluable skills. He is everything a coach or general manager would want in a player, but Green isn't getting the high-profile love.
Green’s statistics have improved significantly over last season, as his average playing time has increased from 13.4 minutes per game to 20.5. His current line is 5.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 1.7 APG, compared to 2.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG and 0.7 APG of last season.
Those numbers don’t accurately describe the whole piece to the puzzle. He brings so much more to the table in just 20 minutes.
Green has also increased his shooting percentages, steals (1.2 versus 0.5) and blocks (0.8 versus 0.3). He has learned how to hit the clutch three-pointer and remain a defensive force on the floor.
The cases for the three most integral parts of the bench have been made. Each player has contributed enough to be worthy of the spot.
However, one player on the list has the least amount of minuses and puts out the hardest effort each game. That is Draymond Green.
Here is an example of understanding where he is on the floor and how to maximize his utility.
Green will be used by coach Jackson in a variety of scenarios to keep the Warriors rolling after a couple of slip-ups. Green’s intensity speaks for itself, and he is more than willing to accept the responsibility of being a leader.