So... we're doing this thing where we rank the players, but we're doing it "Survivor" style, eliminating one player per poll, until we've decided who is the most valuable to the Warriors in 2016 and beyond. Once a player is eliminated, they shouldn't be counted as a reason to choose the next player. For example, whether or not Jason Thompson's presence lessens the value of Andrew Bogut in real life shouldn't be taken into account once Jason Thompson has been voted out in this little exercise.
We're referring to the players as "assets", to remind voters to consider age, salary, injuries, production, and potential as well as value to the team (as either a player or trade piece) when making their selections.
The world ended on October 21st, 1989.
In the Bay Area, most of us were still talking about the Loma Prieta earthquake that had rocked the region that week. It happened 20 minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the World Series between the A's and Giants. It's easy to see why we didn't notice.
The Warriors were coming off a pretty good year. Run TMC was about to begin, and so was the birth of Nellie ball. Don Nelson, who usually coached pretty solid defensive teams before that, looked at the roster's big men and recognized that Manute Bol, Uwe Blab, and Jim Petersen were often bigger liabilities than assets. Tom Tolbert's noble contributions could only be described as pedestrian, at best, and the coach decided to start lineups including Tolbert or even Rod Higgins in the post rather than force minutes to Mike Smrek and John Shasky.
The team would miss the playoffs that year.
The media labelled Nellie a mad scientist, and maybe he was. Not for playing Rod Higgins over Chris Welp; his hands were pretty much tied there. His "wacky" lineups had a lot of success for the Warriors after that, and it's hard to say that not playing Paul Mokeski more was the reason those teams never made it past the semifinals. However, that's not what we're here to discuss right now, because Nellie's impact in this tale comes from the plea he uttered before the season started, a sentiment echoed by a young Bob Myers and every other fan that looked at the emptiness of the Warriors post game.
"Please give us a big man."
Far away, in Benin City, Nigeria, a boy was born. Chukwuma and Patricia named him Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndulue, but most people call him Festus Ezeli.
The students at Vanderbilt University tried to tell us, but we didn't listen. "Skynet", they called him, after the artificial intelligence from James Cameron's Terminator series. We thought it was a cool nickname; a play on words referring to his strength and wingspan and potential as an imposing rim protector.
We didn't know what would happen if we plugged him into the Warriors mainframe. Ezeli missed most of Kerr's inaugural season, including training camp. We saw Harrison Barnes become a bonafide NBA starter playing with the team's first unit, fortifying the bench with Andre Iguodala's unmatched savvy and versatility. We saw Andre playing as strong as ever in the Finals, rested and healthy to take on Lebron James while the Cavs blamed their own injury woes for the emptiness on their ring fingers.
The raw numbers say Festus plays 19.7 minutes per game, has started 11 of 22, and averages about 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. What they don't say is what the young scholars at Vanderbilt were trying to tell us. The rate stats, per 36's of 15 points, 12 boards, 2.7 blocks on .574 TS%, get a little closer, but they still miss.
We see the lobs, a former wrinkle that's escalated into a staple in the team's offensive repertoire with dunks that seem to destroy the soul of whichever unlucky big man is tasked to defend him on the roll. We see the blocks, Ezeli's nightly reminder that this is not a "small" basketball team. We see the way his opponents crumple off his picks. Still, as good as that all sounds, that doesn't sound like Armageddon.
The destruction described when the Vanderbilt alum named him Skynet is realized when you look at the overall impact. At the time I wrote this article, Andrew Bogut has missed 7 games already, and plays 19.6 minutes per night when he is available. Bogut's still a monster, and he's 30th overall in the league in RPM. That's good for 7th in the league at his position. It's also well behind Festus, who comes in as the 3rd rated center and 14th overall player in the league by the same measure.
In the Terminator, Skynet's true intentions went unnoticed until it was too late. Most years, having a top 15 center is a good thing for your roster. Statistically, having a top ten center would make you better than average at the position. Heck, for those of us that rooted for the 1989-90 Warriors, having a top 45 center would be a pretty good thing. This team fields TWO of the league's top 10 centers, and we're still talking about small ball.
The Warriors are 22-0 and playing in a different league than the rest of the NBA. They're ruining their opponents by about 15 points a night, and no one even plays 35 minutes a game. That's Armageddon. That's scorched earth destruction.
Don't look now, because it's too late.
Here's where we stand in our series:
16) Chris Babb (41%)
15) Brandon Rush (68%)
14) Ian Clark (68%)
13) Jason Thompson (34%)
12) Leandro Barbosa (36%)
11) James Michael McAdoo (41%)
10) Marreese Speights (35%)
9) Harrison Barnes (47%)
8) Kevon Looney (52%)
7) Shaun Livingston (61%)
6) Festus Ezeli (49%)
On to the next selection!
So, we're in the top five now! If you had to lose one of the remaining players forever, which one would it be? Hit the poll and tell us why in the comments!