Why the Warriors are Deeper and Better This Year

Following the disaster that was blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors received the greatest of consolation prizes in free agent Kevin Durant. Yet despite the acquisition of one of the greatest players to ever hit the free agent market, numerous critics and pundits alike were critical of the Warriors for the supposed sacrifice they had to make when signing Durant to a max deal.

The primary criticism from sports commentators when assessing the Warriors’ prospects of winning a second World Title in three years was their depth. That by giving Durant max dollars to sign with the Warriors, the team had to sacrifice their cherished depth that many felt was one of the primary variables for the team’s success the previous two seasons.

It usually take a whole season before one could accurately assess a professional sports franchise’s roster, and whether the acquisitions made the previous off-season were a success or failure. With the Warriors owning the league’s best record for a third consecutive year, here’s a breakdown of the team’s current roster of new players as they start the playoffs the unequivocal favorite to with the World Championship. It’s this assessment that will prove not only that the Warriors drastically improved with the signing of Durant, but that their additional acquisitions made to fill out the roster actually improved the bench too.

Out: Harrison Barnes. In: Kevin Durant.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/5527864201" target="_blank">Kevin Durant</a>
Kevin Durant

This one’s obvious. Kevin Durant is a vast upgrade from Harrison Barnes. Any Warriors fan will tell you that while Barnes was a disappointment in last year’s postseason, he was phenomenal in the 2015 NBA Finals, playing a pivotal role in the Warriors’ first World Championship in 40 years. Barnes is always going to have a sentimental attachment to the Warriors and their fan base for being an integral part of the team’s championship and subsequent record-73 win season.

Durant is a whole other beast though. A former MVP and future Hall of Famer who needs a title to fill the one blemish on his otherwise-spectacular resume. And prior to the knee injury that has robbed him of nearly a quarter of this season’s games, Durant was having a phenomenal year.

Barnes, as the primary focus on his new team the Dallas Mavericks, is no slouch himself this year. As the primary scorer, Barnes is averaging nearly eight points more per game than what he averaged while he played for the Warriors, putting up 19.5 PPG compared to the 11.7 PPG he averaged last year with the Warriors. His rebounding and assist numbers stayed relatively constant while his field goal percentage this year is actually down from his 2014-2015 campaign on the championship Warriors team.

Durant, meanwhile, saw his scoring average dip slightly this year but nearly every other statistic has improved. Durant played 62 games this year and averaged 25.1 PPG, down from the 28.2 PPG he averaged last year and below his career 27.2 PPG average. Durant averaged slightly more rebounds this year compared to last at 8.3 RPG, and his assist numbers are actually slightly down, from 5.0 last year to 4.8 this year. Durant’s notable improvement however has been on the defensive end, where he averaged 1.6 BPG while he’s playing the four much more frequently than he did in OKC, and he’s doing so with much more effectiveness than Barnes did the previous years.

Advantage: Durant

Out: Andrew Bogut. In: Zaza Pachulia.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zaza_Pachulia_driving_to_basket_(cropped).jpg" target="_blank
Zaza Pachulia

Warriors fans are probably going to forever appreciate Andrew Bogut’s role on the 2015 championship team. Since the days of Joe Barry Carroll, the Warriors never had a truly legitimate center, and Bogut was an integral part of that championship team. Without him, who knows if the Warriors hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Warriors fans are not going to easily forget his absence due to injury in the 2014 playoffs that resulted in a first round loss to the L.A. Clippers, or missing the final two games of last year’s NBA Finals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bogut’s durability has been an issue throughout his career, and his absence in those two integral playoff moments prevented the Warriors from achieving even more. Still, he was a strong defensive presence and offensively he was a fantastic passer. In Steve Kerr’s offensive scheme, Bogut was often the facilitator who would set up the offense with his positioning and passing.

When the Warriors traded for Durant, Bogut’s contract made him a liability. The Warriors traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for future draft considerations and shortly after were incredibly fortunate in signing Zaza Pachulia, who had put up very impressive numbers the previous season for the Mavericks, for the veteran minimum.

Pachulia is a beast of a player. He seems to have caveman strength and gives the Warriors an interior toughness they may not have seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain. His brute strength gives the opposition fits and while his 5.8 RPG are below his career high of 9.4 RPG a year ago, he’s also playing over eight fewer minutes. And his passing skills are very similar to Bogut. He isn’t a great shot blocker, but he’s durable and incredibly tough.

While some may call the addition of the 6’11’’ Pachulia a draw compared to Bogut, I call it a clear improvement.

Advantage: Draw

Out: Festus Ezeli. In: JaVale McGee.

At the beginning of the season, this was one of the changes to the roster that seemed to support the narrative that the Warriors’ bench was weaker from the previous seasons. As the year has progressed however, it’s become apparent that with the addition of JaVale McGee, the Warriors have become a vastly improved team.

Festus Ezeli was a sentimental favorite to Warriors fans. A part of the infamous 2012 NBA draft that saw the Warriors draft Harrison Barnes, Ezeli, and Draymond Green, Ezeli was an integral part of the team every year he played.

In his rookie season, Ezeli was the starting center (replacing the injured Andrew Bogut) on a Warriors team that made it to the playoffs as a 6 seed and upset the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals. That Spurs series was the Warriors welcoming party in the NBA, in that they served notice to the rest of the league that greatness was approaching. The Warriors’ even won a game in San Antonio during that series, ending a losing streak there that dated back to 1997, and Ezeli was the starting center for that team.

The next season, Ezeli missed the entire year due to an offseason knee surgery that restored the structural integrity of his MCL and PCL. Bogut played that year but was injured prior to the start of the playoffs, and the Warriors didn’t have a legitimate starting center in their first round playoff series against the L.A. Clippers and lost in seven games. The two centers returned and were healthy in 2014-2015 as the Warriors won the World Championship.

Last season though, during the team’s improbable record-setting run to 73 wins, Ezeli missed six weeks of action due to arthroscopic knee surgery and never really was the same when he returned. Ezeli struggled in the playoffs, and when Bogut went down in the NBA Finals, Ezeli didn’t provide the impact the Warriors desperately needed. When the Portland Trail Blazers offered Ezeli a two-year, $15.1 million contract to play for them, the Warriors had no choice but to bid adieu.

Ezeli’s eventual replacement was McGee, a former starting center who had to actually audition during the preseason to make the team.

And McGee has impressed from the beginning.

McGee has given the Warriors the shot blocker they thought they’d lost when Bogut and Ezeli joined other clubs. And his ability to catch high passes and dunk the ball with force and authority rivals the tenacity of DeAndre Jordan when Chris Paul initiates Lob City. His teammates seem to love him too.

For the year, McGee averaged 6.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and .9 BPG per game, numbers that are slightly below his career averages of 7.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. When taken into account that McGee only played 9.6 MPG while his career average is 17.7 MPG, the numbers are very impressive. And if McGee were playing 36 minutes a game, based off his current numbers he would average 22.9 PPG, 11.9 RPG, and 3.3 BPG. Solid figures.

Advantage: McGee

Out: Leandro Barbosa. In: Ian Clark.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Clark_(basketball)#/media/File:Ian_Clark_2017.jpg" target="_blank">
Ian Clark

Barbosa, similar to nearly every other member of the Warriors who was on the 2015 championship roster, will forever have a place in the hearts of Warriors fans for his integral part on the team. Barbosa left for the riches of free agency, signing a contract worth nearly $4 million a year to reunite with his former team, the Phoenix Suns.

Ian Clark has been with the Warriors for nearly two years, but his role with the team this year has drastically increased in prominence, and Clark has delivered. Nearly every measurable statistic has improved for Clark, as this comparison of his stats the previous two years shows.

2015 – 2016: 66 GP, 8.8 MIN, 44.1% FG PCT, 35.7% 3 PT PCT, 1.0 REB, 1.0 AST, 3.6 PPG

2016 – 2017: 77 GP, 14.8 MIN, 48.7% FG PCT, 37.4% 3 PT PCT, 1.6 REB, 1.2 AST, 6.8 PPG

A drastic improvement in every important category.

Does Clark have the same positive locker room impact Barbosa had? Probably not. Clark is averaging more points per game this year than Barbosa did a year ago though, and is a bigger three point threat.

Advantage: Draw

Out: Marreese Speights. In: David West.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/David_west.jpg" target="_blank">David West</a>
David West

What the Warriors were probably missing the most in 2015-16 that they had on their championship team was a solid rebounder off the bench with a tough inside presence who could score easy buckets. David Lee was a drastically underrated part of the Warriors’ championship roster, and may have saved the NBA Finals series that year when the Warriors found themselves down 2-1 to the Cavaliers. It was Lee who relieved the team’s offensive struggles, and settled them down enough to win three straight games and gave the Warriors their first World Championship in 40 years.

The closest thing to Lee the Warriors had last year was Marreese Speights, a very serviceable big man who actually became a legitimate three point shooting threat. Speights didn’t have much of a post-up game though, and wasn’t the greatest rebounder either. The Warriors never really had a tough inside presence when Green wasn’t on the floor and Bogut got injured late in last year’s NBA Finals series.

That made David West’s signing all the more important this past off-season. At 36, West isn’t the dominant power forward he once was, but he still knows how to play a tough inside game. Ask most NBA players who they wouldn’t want to get physically tangled with, and West’s name is near the top of the list.

West’s passing improved drastically as a member of the Warriors too. While West never had the impact the Spurs hoped for when they signed him last year, the Warriors are welcoming his clutch low post scoring and rebounding.

Speights has the better individual numbers but given the Warriors have more than enough offense, the rebounding and tough interior presence West brings is exactly what they need.

Advantage: West

Out: Brandon Rush. In: Matt Barnes.

This is the least relevant of the team’s roster changes, with the exception being Barnes’ impact filling in at small forward while Kevin Durant was injured. Barnes was actually a fantastic pick up for the Warriors given he’s a high energy wing player who plays great defense and has a decent three point shot. Rush was great for the Warriors as a perimeter defender and became a three point threat, but Barnes, who was a member of the 2007-08 We Believe Warriors team, fit right in and gives them more size and toughness, two vital intangibles for the playoffs.

The Warriors probably would have tried to sign Barnes during the off-season but his asking price was above the vet minimum, which is all the Warriors are able to afford given the contracts issued to Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green, and Igoudala. When the Sacramento Kings waived him following the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Barnes was available and happily signed with the Warriors.

Advantage: Barnes

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