By this point in the 2015-16 NBA season, it's somewhat difficult to get too worried about Golden State Warriors injuries as long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are healthy enough to play.
Starting small forward Harrison Barnes missed a string of games right in the middle of the Warriors' historic winning streak — including a seven-game road trip — early in the season and has missed the most of any player on the team (16). Starting center Andrew Bogut was also out during the in streak and has missed a total of seven games this season. Reserves Leandro Barbosa (13) and Brandon Rush (9) have missed their fair share of games.
And yet, unless multiple players, Curry, or Green were out — or the team found itself at the end of a road trip on the back end of a back-to-back after a double overtime road win — injuries have not cost the Warriors many games. The team is deep enough to help them win; Curry and Green are good enough.
Nevertheless, the latest news about Festus Ezeli requiring exploratory surgery on his troublesome left knee is the first time this season when there is legitimate reason for long-term concern — if not necessarily panic — about an injury.
Of course, we've known about this injury for some time: Ezeli has missed the last five games after leaving the Warriors' win against the San Antonio Spurs on January 25 in the third quarter and not returning. And it's hard to argue that a long-term absence for Ezeli would be catastrophic, bringing an abrupt end to the team's title hopes — let's not start thinking about moving assets to replace Ezeli.
However, the fact that the fourth-year center needed an extended period to recover from a past knee surgery — he missed the entire 2013-14 season after surgery to reinforce ligaments in his right knee — is cause for a degree of concern about both when he'll be ready to return this season and what his long-term outlook is as he looks ahead to free agency.
Festus Ezeli underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean debris from left knee; is expected to return this season & be re-evaluated in 6 weeks.— GSWStats (@gswstats) February 9, 2016
As there's not much more to say about this exploratory surgery without being medical professionals, all we can really do is discuss how the Warriors will replace his 17.8 minutes per game for whatever period of time he's out. Matt Moore of CBS Sports has already summarized that impact of Ezeli's absence concisely.
This may seem like a minor issue considering the Warriors' ability to play smallball with Draymond Green at the five, and the presence of Andrew Bogut, and it hasn't stopped them from keeping pace toward breaking the record for wins in a season. However, Ezeli plays in kind of a mid-small-lineup configuration, able to finish off the lob for Draymond Green when teams blitz Stephen Curry. Losing Ezeli means one less shot blocker, one less guy to absorb minutes at the five, more minutes for Marreese Speights at center (which can be problematic defensively) and more minutes for the rest of the rotation, something the Warriors want to avoid.
Although Speights has had a relatively poor season, as described by Bobby Marks in his Warriors trade deadline guide for The Vertical, he has indeed seen his minutes increase in Ezeli's absence and played extremely well in Saturday's win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. There wasn't a whole lot written about Speights' season-high 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, but he was certainly a significant performer in the Warriors' first meeting against the Thunder, as described by Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chronicle.
Marreese Speights had 15 points off the bench, nearly outscoring Oklahoma City’s entire bench, which combined for 17 points...The Warriors used a 14-1 run midway through the second quarter to take a 60-40 lead on a pair of Speights free throws with 4:44 remaining. A possession earlier, he made a fall-away, shot-clock-beating three-pointer to garner the first half’s loudest ovation from a star-studded crowd.
Also noteworthy: Speights was a season-high +20 in that game, despite his well-known defensive deficiencies.
The key now is whether Speights can keep this up...and exactly how long the Warriors will really need him to fill those minutes.
Digging deeper into the impact of Ezeli's absence
- Andrew Johnson of Nylon Calculus took a look at the top 30 players in his "Player Tracking Plus Minus" last Thursday and the Warriors had six of them. Interestingly enough, Ezeli was one of them (in addition to Curry, Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson). Those numbers pretty much confirm what we know about Ezeli compared to Bogut: Ezeli is the more effective (scoring) offensive player and Bogut is the more effective defender.
- Ezeli's scoring effectiveness relative to Bogut is usually attributed to his mobility in transition and in 4-on-3 pick-and-roll half court situations created by Curry. Michael Rosenfeld of Vantage Sports highlighted just that by looking at "the top-five alley oop lobbers" in the league, which includes Green (#1) and Curry (#5). As documented in previous analyses, Green's favorite alley-oop target is Ezeli and Rosenfeld offers some brief clips of them connecting throughout the season in addition to breaking down how both Curry and Green get those alley oops.
The Stephen Curry experience rolls on
- You've probably read plenty about Stephen Curry's 51-point performance in the Warriors' sort of weird win against the Washington Wizards — if not, please check Hugo Kitano's recap entitled, "Steph Curry is a god among men" or Apricot's breakdown of all 11 threes from that game. But I'd also submit that Noah Frank's piece at WTOP.com comparing the show Curry puts on to The Jimi Hendrix Experience is one of the more thoughtful things written about this season that generally defies words.
- Michael Lee of The Vertical also wrote a nice piece about Curry's trip to D.C. and his somewhat surreal relationship with President Barack Obama, who the Warriors met with on Thursday. You can check out our coverage of that day here and here, but Lee's article offers some nice context for the visit.
- Simply because I like Shaun Livingston and want everyone who doubts his value to like him too, here's a quote from him as told to AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today after that 51-point game against the Wizards: "It's a blessing [playing with Curry]," Livingston said. "Obviously, he covers up a lot of holes that we may have. As a team that's built around him, I think that we work well together. There's a good mesh, good continuity, and good chemistry."
- Did you catch the part about Stephen Curry scoring 25 points in the first quarter against Washington? No. Oh.
Most 25-point quarters this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 4, 2016
Stephen Curry 3
Klay Thompson 1
Reggie Jackson 1
- Because it seems like people *cough* Soulja Boy *cough* are really reaching to find a soundtrack for Curry's insane season, I offer new music from Oakland A's prospect B.J. Boyd — Alex Hall of Athletics Nation posted it as a FanShot and I highly recommend that it get some recs to assume its proper place on our front page since Soulja Boy's song was instantly popular.
- For no reason at all, really:
Steph Curry pic.twitter.com/RAer2cQEOW— Black People Tweets (@UrbanCraziness) February 5, 2016
Draymond Green's true impact on the Warriors
- Most numbers you'll see clearly show that Stephen Curry is the MVP of the league and, thus, the MVP of the Warriors. But if you want to make the case for Draymond Green's MVP candidacy, J.A. Adande's article from last Wednesday about how Green is the emotional leader of this Warriors team is a must-read — Green offers intangibles that perfectly complement Curry as co-leader of the team rather than sidekick and it's difficult to just ignore that even as Curry has blown up this season.
According to multiyear Real +/-, the Warriors have the two best players in the league in Steph Curry and Draymond Green— Jeremias Engelmann (@JerryEngelmann) February 8, 2016
- For those casual fans who don't know about Green's versatility, I think it will be pretty cool to see how he does in the NBA All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge — an event I normally don't even bother to watch — this Saturday. Green will be one of four "big men" participating in the eight-man field, as described by Sean Highkin of NBC Sports.
Odds & ends
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman described why the Thunder's loss to the Warriors on Saturday night was actually inspiring because they were able to remain competitive throughout the game with a variety of lineups. I might disagree that the Thunder were competitive for the entire game — there was a point when the Thunder were down big — but overall, yes, the Thunder are tough and were tied at 104 late in the game.
- I'm never sure why people debate whether the Warriors are a jump shooting team when TNT's Charles Barkley says it...but I loved Stephen Curry's response to Zach Lowe about the matter: "Oh, yeah. I'm comfortable with that, too, no matter what Charles [Barkley] says. We're comfortable because of the way that we get our jumpers. We move the ball. We have guys that can make shots. We're a jump shot-making team. We have the talent, and we find different ways to get guys open." Lowe also gets Curry's thoughts on the rumors about Kevin Durant coming to the Bay Area.
- Requisite link about the Durant rumors from an Oklahoma perspective.
- In related news, this made me chuckle.
When Steph Curry ends your career so you gotta find new work pic.twitter.com/LRoRszxGNb— Joe Buettner (@Joe_Buettner) February 8, 2016
More from the Twittersphere
The second half of #OKCatGSW was the most fun I've had watching the NBA this year. The airport bar in SF was out of control.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) February 7, 2016
Easy observation: Bay Area markedly more excited for last night's game than tonight's.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) February 7, 2016
Barnes, Bogut, Curry, Green, Thompson (#33) surprisingly "bad" as well— Jeremias Engelmann (@JerryEngelmann) February 8, 2016
Obviously, there are other links out there worth reading/viewing — I bookmarked way more than this and just picked some of the reads that really stood out in retrospect. If there are others you think are worthy of our attention, drop them in the comments below, create a FanShot, or write up a FanPost if you have a longer commentary to make. And if you see someone else's...FanCreation...that you believe deserves more attention, give it a rec to recommend it for the front page.