The Golden State Warriors have the foundational pieces to compete for a championship for at least the next half decade. With two fifths of the Warriors' starting lineup locked up into the 2018-19 season and superstar Stephen Curry set to secure a long-term deal with the squad in the summer of 2017, the only thing left is extending the contracts of Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.
As members of the 2012 NBA Draft class, Barnes and Ezeli were drafted 7th and 30th overall respectively. Barnes has made huge strides since his rookie campaign and started all 82 games this past season. Meanwhile, Ezeli missed the 2013-14 season due to a knee injury but rebounded nicely by providing key minutes behind starting center Andrew Bogut.
Barnes is only 23 years old and Ezeli is 25 years old. According to Wages of Wins, players typically peak around 25-26 and slowly decline as they approach 30. In this sense, Barnes and Ezeli should theoretically reach their optimal performance level in the next couple years — this is the ideal scenario.
While Bogut and Andre Iguodala can still provide key minutes down the stretch, they are both north of 30 years old and will likely see declines in minutes and production. The Warriors need to look no further as they already have the personnel to succeed these two core veterans in a seamless transition.
Paired together with Draymond Green and the Splash Brothers, Barnes and Ezeli can fill the voids of Bogut and Iguodala and put the league on notice long into the future.
Barnes is never going to be a 20-point scorer for Golden State and that is perfectly fine. The Warriors are already loaded in offensive ammunition with Curry and Klay Thompson serving as the main scoring options. However, Barnes can continue to strive by valuing quality over quantity as the third banana.
As a low usage wing, Barnes is the perfect fit in Golden State's offense. He runs the floor hard and can finish well in transition. When defenses overplay him, he does an excellent job of slashing to the basket. Upon first glance, Barnes' heatmap highlights his offensive prowess in the corner three and at the rim, both highly valued scoring locations in the modern era.
The following shot selection diagram vividly shows that Barnes is at his best when attacking the basket, converting at roughly 75% in 111 attempts. Furthermore, he was proficient from behind the arc and knocked down 42% of his catch-and-shoot three-pointer attempts according to NBA.com/Stats.
In just his first year learning Steve Kerr's offense, Barnes handled the ball well, turning it over only 0.9 times per game. This suggests that he is adept at his role and at playing within the system.
On the defensive side, Barnes is already a plus-defender Iguodala and can switch from positions one through four. He had a 1.23 Defensive Real Plus-Minus which was 12th best in the league via ESPN. Overall, the Warriors were slightly better in defensive efficiency when Barnes was on the floor (97.9) versus off the floor (98.7) per NBA.com/Stats. Those numbers would indicate that there is still room for improvement for Barnes defensively.
Most of all, there are some things that Barnes already has that cannot be taught. Defensively, Barnes showed in the Memphis series that he could go pound for pound with big man Zach Randolph. Given Barnes' athletic abilities and physical attributes similar to the mold of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, there is every reason to believe that Barnes can develop into a shutdown defender. Offensively, his athleticism and quick first-step has allowed him to get to the rim at will, a natural instinct of an attack-first mentality.
We're getting closer to the Barnes that Jerry West always promised us.
Ezeli averaged 13.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per 36 minutes in the 2014-15 playoffs according to Basketball-Reference.com. As a 6'11" behemoth, the center has the tools to assume the rim protector tag and anchor Golden State's defense in the future. Considering he has only had two years of NBA experience, Ezeli might still have some untapped potential in his tank.
In examining game film, Ezeli has held his own against some of the league's top centers at the highest stage.
In this high pick-and-roll sequence, Ezeli does a solid job of containing the ball handler (Pablo Prigioni) and recovering to his man (Dwight Howard). This play ultimately ends with an Ezeli block on Howard.
On offense, Ezeli uses his body to seal his man down in the low post for an easy entry pass. He has excellent low-post position on DeMarcus Cousins, with no foreseeable double-team looming. Once he receives the ball, Ezeli gathers himself and hits a jump hook over Cousins.
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Eligible for early extensions this fall, Barnes and Ezeli will receive massive raises from their current salaries. Zach Lowe of Grantland details that Barnes will certainly command DeMarre Carroll type of money while a 4-year, $40 million deal for Ezeli would not be a surprise.
If they enter restricted free agency next summer, Barnes and Ezeli will generate interest from rival teams but all signs point to the Warriors retaining them and keeping the team intact. After a successful year, both youngsters are capable of honing new skills and expanding their game to higher horizons. As the Warriors maintain roster continuity and grow together, there will be excitement in the Bay Area for years to come. With Barnes and Ezeli on board, Golden State's championship window has just opened.