Running sprints on the sideline, watching film, practicing plays off at the end of the court against air, miming post moves against a stationary object, and just praying that you'll earn that chance to check into a real live game. Those were assuredly instances and thoughts that slipped in and out of Festus Ezeli's mind as he sat, rehabbed, sat, rehabbed, sat, and rehabbed some more during a 15-month process. He played through a knee injury suffered in the season finale in 2012-13 against the Portland Trail Blazers. After what appeared to be minor offseason surgery, he ended up missing the entire 2013-14 and was questionable to even practice during this year's training camp. But through three games so far Ezeli has flashed the exact same bounce and defensive prowess he did during his rookie year.
Let's hop on the DeLorean.
I've noted those plays before but it's such a perfect encapsulation of his potential that revisiting under present circumstances is now a good thing, instead of a haunting look into the past. It's not just the ability and length to block shots but the quickness and second jump to contest and hedge and recover to opponents. Ezeli not only possesses defensive all the physical ability of a DeAndre Jordan but the mental intelligence to match. He's picked up Ron Adams' just as quickly. Ezeli's defense differs from Andrew Bogut's in that he can sprint out quicker and fall back to challenge shots around the rim. Although he isn't as impossible to move, he holds his ground well enough against most centers.
It's an extremely small sample size but here's a fun site to track how Ezeli fares in the paint this season.
Flash to the present.
The confidence to double and recover is an important aspect of Ezeli's game that he's seemingly recovered. Though it's probably not wise to double on the sideline when he's the rim protector, it signals that he feels quick enough to move laterally, not as simple as it sounds for a big man coming off serious knee injury.
Doesn't this look eerily similar to the way he recovered against the Indiana Pacers? Yes, yes it does. Welcome back, Festus. Don't leave us again.
He's still on a minutes restriction but from everything so far he's right back to where he was, as a more than capable backup center to Bogut. When David Lee returns, the team won't search for offense as much as they have in the past few games, which allows Ezeli to do what he does best. There's a couple hook shots going in here and there as well. I guess Warriors fans can have the cake and eat it too.