Up first is Kelenna Azubuike. After finding Kelenna in the NBDL, Mullin and the Warriors inked him to a deal with a player option on the 2nd year to become a restricted free agent. Well he played well enough to opt out of that 2nd year and look for more money. This summer he signed a 3 year, $9 million deal with the Clippers, only to have it matched by the Warriors. I'm glad the Warriors matched, at the very least he's a useful bench player. With Monta out for awhile, you might just have a $3 million per year starter.
2007-2008 Season Recap
When looking back on Kelenna's season, two things stood out in my mind for the good things that he brought to the team. The first was his excellent play as a starter to begin the season as Jax's substitute. Remember, he started over Monta for the first 12 games of the season. During that time, he showed his ability to score and rebound well for his shooting guard / small forward position. Even though the team started out 5-7 in those games, Kaz showed he could be counted on for contributions. The second was his ability to frustrate Kobe's offense with his defense in the back to back Laker games in March. He didn't shut Kobe down. Far from it because Kobe still had 30+, double digit boards, and nearly a triple double in both games. But Kaz showed that he could get Kobe to take tough shots and not allow Kobe to get to the spots on the floor that he wants to. In the 2 games, Kobe shot 24-60 (40%). It wasn't a great defensive performance, but it was noteworthy because without Kaz making it tough on Kobe to score, both of those games are blowouts, not the nailbiters they turned into. Those weren't his only bright spots, but definitely 2 of the more memorable parts of his season.
As far as the rest of his game, he's certainly a solid player. I like him as one of the first few guys off the bench because of his ability to give the team a little boost when he gets in the game. He's not spectacular at any one thing, but
After the strong start last year, I was hoping for it to continue but for whatever reason, his production and then playing time fell off. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with Monta's emergence as a guy deserving of 40 minutes per game. But the 3 workhorses, Baron, Monta and Jax needed a breather as they were each playing close to 40 minutes, oftentimes more, and there just wasn't anyone on the team who could consistently give those guys a rest. I'm sure it was a combination of Nellie just riding his guys until the wheels fell off (and they did) and Kelenna's inability to demand more minutes that kept his production down.
His perimeter defense was off and on. Sometimes he'd be a revolving door and sometimes he'd lock someone up. I never knew what to expect from him there. What I did know what that I knew that I'd get hustle, rebounding, and a good shooting game from him. He always played within his abilities and never tried to force too much though there were times where I'd wish he was more aggressive on offense. He's got crazy athletic ability and just needs to figure out how to use it.
Fresh off a new contract, Kelenna finally has some financial peace of mind. Now, with Monta out of the rotation, Kelenna will have some playing time peace of mind. As long as he doesn't completely stink up the court, he's going to get another chance to earn some big minutes. If he can repeat what he did in those first 12 games of last year, I have a feeling it'll continue throughout the year rather than just the beginning. If that happens, the Warriors got themselves a bargain at just $3 million per year.
With his first full year under his belt and now another full offseason to get ready for the upcoming year, I expect some nice improvements in his game and I think he could have a breakout year. He must improve his ballhandling skills. With an increase in minutes and without a true point guard, he's going to handle the ball more which means he'll have more responsibility on the court to make things happen. I feel the Warriors used to watch Baron on offense rather than work to get good shots. This year all of that will change. Ball movement and activity on offense will be key. He's going to need to take the ball to the bucket hard as well as stroke it from the perimeter. Consistency is key for Kaz.