With a little bit of tinkering over the past couple of months, the Warriors’ bench has gone from bad to, let’s just say, a lot better. Earlier this season, Golden State’s second unit either wasted leads or turned minor deficits into considerable hurdles for the first unit.
But lately, the Warriors’ subs have been instrumental in a handful of wins.
Steve Blake, acquired from the Lakers shortly before the trade deadline, has been an ideal steadying hand.
Jermaine O’Neal, a fossil by NBA standards, has turned back the clock more than anyone had any right to think he could and second-year forward Draymond Green already is earning a legitimate defensive reputation.
Jordan Crawford, whom the Warriors traded for in January, is painful to watch at times with his herky-jerky, itching-to-shoot style. But there have been games when he’s strung together buckets at just the right time.
And we haven’t even mentioned Harrison Barnes, who started 81 games as a rookie, and is now coming off the bench behind Andre Iguodala.
The problem is that the Warriors’ bench seems to be coming around just when coaches normally begin tightening their rotations for the postseason. "Eight-and-a-half" is a number you often hear this time of year, referring to the number of players who usually see the court in the playoffs.
One of coach Mark Jackson’s challenges in the playoffs will be to figure out who’s going to play and for how many minutes. We figured we’d give him a hand.
Stephen Curry: He’s averaging 36-plus minutes per game this season, and his workload should begin to get a little bit heavier. Curry is Golden State’s most important player, and he has to be on the floor plenty. You could make a case Curry should play 42-44 minutes or so per game in the postseason, and rest him only with a big lead or big deficit.
Klay Thompson: It’s hard to imagine Thompson not getting his minutes (35.9) in the playoffs. Jackson has a reputation for sticking with Thompson during his driest of dry spells. In a perfect world, you could identify those nights Thompson doesn’t have it going and limit his playing time. However, Thompson can go from hot to cold, good to bad in the snap of a finger. He’s going to play like he always plays—and should.
David Lee: There’s a small segment of fans who believe Lee is holding the team back, mostly because of his poor defense. Perhaps, but Lee’s offense is integral to the team’s identity. Lee’s not a great post defender and he might be even worse against stretch 4s, struggling to get out to them at the three-point line. Against perimeter-shooting power forwards, maybe Jackson should consider Green. Jackson will likely have to make some tough decisions and use Lee less in the playoffs.
Andre Iguodala: Simply put, he’s too valuable of a tool for his minutes to decrease when the games are most important. It’s the playoffs, so why wouldn’t you have your best defender (perimeter, at least) in as often as possible? Not to mention, Golden State is going to need Iguodala to handle the ball in certain situations. In other words, he’s going to play plenty.
Harrison Barnes: As a rookie, he played the role of stretch 4 to perfection in the playoffs when Lee was out with an injury. Against both the Nuggets and Spurs, there were times when Barnes gave the Warriors a legitimate No. 2 scoring option. Barnes averaged 16.1 points per game in 12 playoff games a year ago—after averaging 9.2 for the regular season—and scored 19 points or more in half of them. Still Barnes is averaging 28 minutes per game this season, despite what many would say was a disappointing second year. And who’s he taking minutes from? Iguodala? Lee? Even Green at this point? Barnes may have to live with a reduction in minutes in the playoffs.
Andrew Bogut: The Warriors need Bogut on the floor to be at their defensive best. But late in games, he’s a liability at the offensive end, and he could be the object of intentional fouling. Here’s the other thing with Bogut; it’s not like you can play him big minutes game in and game out in the playoffs, so expect his minutes to fluctuate but to settle in about where they are for this season (26.8).
Steve Blake: There is a school of thought that Jackson will use Blake in much the same way he used Jarrett Jack a year ago, that being a lot. Playing Blake at the point allows you to move Curry off the ball and it makes the team significantly more sure-handed in the process. Bottom line is Blake should also be on the floor late in close games. He’s that smart and steady. Expect Blake to have a bigger role in the playoffs.
Draymond Green: He’s turned himself into a valuable role player, but he’s certainly not a perfect player. Still, Green is a significantly better defensive player than Lee, plus he’s got the ability to guard some small forwards. Green is averaging 21 minutes per game this season. It’s tough to see any way that both Lee and Green play in the postseason as much as they have in the regular season. Chances are, both Lee and Green will get less playing time in the postseason. And it doesn’t help that Blake will impact those minutes when/if Golden State goes small.
Jermaine O’Neal: Don’t expect O’Neal’s role to be consistent. For one, it will be too difficult to ensure him minutes game in and game out, which is probably good for everyone in the long run given O’Neal’s age (35). Secondly, he’s proven during the course of the year he’s best in specific situations and matchups. Here and there and no more.
Jordan Crawford and Marreese Speights: Odd men out. Simply put, Crawford and Speights have been too inconsistent to be relied on in the postseason. Now, if a game gets out of hand, that’s another story. But when the games are competitive, can’t see them playing.