Does RJ have enough juice left to handle Rush's minutes? - Stephen Dunn
The moment Brandon Rush came down awkwardly after being fouled by Zach Randolph in the first quarter of the Warriors game with the Grizzlies, the first concern for fans was obviously for Brandon's health this season and for any possible effect this injury could have on his career. Now that we've learned that Rush suffered a torn ACL that will indeed cause him to miss the rest of the season we'll see how coach Jackson and the Warriors respond, and who steps up in his absence.
The Warriors did a nice job of adding depth and rounding out the roster in the offseason. The additions of Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green helped to make this one of the deepest Warrior teams we've seen in ages if healthy. The "if healthy" is key here, because this Warriors team wasn't really expected to stay healthy. With Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut both having a significant injury history, and both coming off of ankle surgeries, Warriors fans were expecting to have to lean heavy on guys like Jack, Charles Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Landry if/when one of those two went down with another injury. Nobody could have predicted that Rush - arguably the best small forward on the team - would suffer a season ending injury in the home opener.
Now that we've all had a chance to recover from the emotional hangover that comes from seeing a fan favorite incur a very nasty injury, the obvious question is, what now? With Rush expected to be the team's sixth man, filling in for both Klay Thompson and Barnes, who steps up to fill the void, and how does Mark Jackson distribute the extra minutes? Well, here are some possible answers.
If opening night was any indication Mark Jackson may like the way that Barnes fits into the starting unit, but no guarantee of starting minutes came packaged with the job title. With a reliable option like Rush behind him, Barnes was likely to be eased into his NBA career minutes-wise despite being on the court for the opening tip. With Rush out you can expect to see Barnes on the floor for longer stretches, and definitely more crunch time minutes than he would have seen otherwise. Saturday's game against the Clippers was a good example, as he was in for most of the third quarter and came back for the final six minutes of the game, making some key contributions. Make no mistake, this is an opportunity for Barnes, and it's one I expect him to take advantage of.
Before Friday's game Jefferson was looking like the odd man out at the small forward spot, despite being by far the highest paid wing on the roster. He was going to see minutes, but nothing like the floor time he's been accustomed to over his 12 year career. Sure, the drop off in talent from Rush to RJ might not seem huge but there have been serious questions about whether or not Jefferson is experiencing a drop off of his own. You know, the kind that comes from being a 32 year old player in the NBA that built most of his success in the league off of his superior athleticism. Well, now he'll get his chance to prove the doubters wrong, but after watching him labor to dunk the ball in LA I'm not sure if his legs will be up for it.
One of the things people were excited about when the team acquired Jack was that this would enable Jackson to run a two PG line-up that would take some of the ball handling pressure off of Curry and allow him to work off the ball and come off screens for open jumpers. After watching the first three games it's apparent that Jackson was pretty excited about this line-up too. He's gone to it regularly, and found success with it. The added benefit to this two PG look is that with one less wing spot available you only need one of Klay Thompson, Barnes, or Jefferson on the court at a time. I expect Jackson to lean pretty heavily on this line-up until (and maybe even after) Barnes proves he's ready for prime time, or if it becomes clear that Father Time may have successfully hunted down and killed RJ's athleticism.
Bazemore has yet to see a minute of regular season NBA basketball, but many of those that got a good look at him in summer league still believe he may have something to contribute before the season is done. That something is top notch perimeter defense. I'm not sure when he'll see time on the court, but with one less man ahead of him in the depth chart, chances are that Bazemore will get his chance to prove he belongs in the league. Hopefully between now and then he'll continue to work on his offensive skills because at this point he's probably still a liability on that end of the floor.
Get well soon
This may have been a huge blow to the team emotionally, and certainly it's a significant loss of talent, but it's not one that the Warriors can't overcome. It will probably take contributions from all the guys mentioned above, and it certainly leaves the team vulnerable to future injuries, but the Warriors have already shown that they have the talent to beat the very best in the league when it all comes together, even without Rush. This could actually be the event that brings this team the kind of unity of purpose and focus that it takes to put together a winning season. They have the talent, and they might just do it #4BRush.