"Sure they added Durant but they sacrificed their depth."
This is something you probably heard a coworker say at the beginning of the season, and if you spend any time on social media you undoubtedly saw something similar on there from various fans and bloggers.
Were they right? I'm not so sure.
By the numbers
First of all let's compare the top eight bench units in +/- this season to their respective numbers from last season.
Not only does the Warriors’ bench boast the second best +/- in the league this season, but they have also surpassed last year’s bench unit in that regard.
For more on the numbers check out this infographic that I've created.
The key players
It's true that Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston aren't getting any younger and have shown some signs of slowing down. However, they are both still key pieces in the Warriors’ roster. Iguodala appears to be back on form after a slightly rough start to the season; the former finals MVP is still a high caliber defender and playmaker. Livingston on the other hand is having a great season on both sides of the floor, taking advantage of smaller guards on offense and using his length and veteran savvy to hold his own defensively.
The real surprise for the bench has undoubtedly been JaVale McGee. Originally thought to be an average role player who could come off the bench and fill in some gaps for the Warriors’ big man rotation, he has completely surpassed expectations.
McGee appears to have found the perfect system for his talents. For years he was perceived as an athletically gifted klutz with below average fundamentals. Since moving to the bay, however, he has forged a symbiotic relationship with this team. He provides the team with some well needed size, length and shot blocking. Defensively and offensively he is capable of keeping up with the Warriors break-neck pace.
McGee also gives the Warriors some sort of presence inside with his highlight dunks and alley oops. The Warriors have given him a chance to shine (albeit in a lesser role), and despite him having a few mishaps, he hasn't had nearly the same volume of bonehead plays as we've seen in the past. This system makes him look good, and in turn he fills some holes on both sides of the floor that could have proven difficult to plug otherwise.
The NBA's per minute leader in plus-minus right now is...JaVale McGee— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) February 12, 2017
The honorable mentions here have to go to Patrick McCaw and David West. If it wasn't for injuries, there's a good chance that West would be the best back up big on this team (at least statistically). McCaw is slowly improving every day as well and even got some minutes over Ian Clark recently.
However, Ian Clark is unquestionably that fourth man in the bench unit when you consider that he's played the 8th most minutes this season of any Warrior. Clark is by all means the Warriors’ answer for an offensive spark.
Will "strength in numbers" work moving forward?
Despite the Warriors bench this year being significantly better than most would like to admit, it's worth remembering that a lot of the statistics are skewed as the bench rarely plays together without at least one of the core four being on the floor with them.
In the short term, if Coach Kerr opts for a regular season-esque rotation in the playoffs like he did last year, the Warriors now have enough talent at the top to make up for any bench woes. Hopefully he will opt for a more traditional nine man playoff rotation (a man can dream right?).
In the long term, unfortunately this is all temporary. With the cap continuing to rise and both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry due for big contracts, the odds are the Warriors won't be able to retain this bench.
Iguodala and Livingston are the main concern. It's unlikely the Warriors will be able to match the offers they will receive from other teams. If they're not willing to take significant pay cuts, the Warriors may have to choose which one to keep. While the future for the bench is quite bright given the young talent, I'm not sure McCaw and Clark are ready to step into those roles.
Although the future may be uncertain one thing is for sure; the Warriors bench has outperformed the expectations of most and in the meantime they will probably continue to do so.