It’s no secret that the bench has been the biggest weakness for the Golden State Warriors this season. The Dubs’ reserves average just 24.2 points per game, putting them at 29th in the league in bench production (ahead of only the Portland Trail Blazers’ sad excuse for a bench). For reference, Harrison Barnes alone averaged 16.1 points per game by himself in the playoffs last season. So yes, bench production was an issue for this team.
However, the Warriors’ reserves are showing signs of life during Golden State’s current three-game win streak. With the addition of Steve Blake and the recent return of Jermaine O’Neal, the Dubs’ backups haven’t exactly blown anyone away with their production, but the small sample size gives plenty of hope for the future.
In two games for the Warriors, Blake has scored just nine points and doled out six assists. But he’s also only averaging 17 minutes per game in his first games as a Warrior and he’s knocked down three 3s. But taking too much from that small sample size would be a mistake, since the biggest indicator that trading for Blake was a good move is that he simply passes the eye test. He’s struggled a bit with his shot two games in (33 percent), but other than that, Blake’s given this team what it needs off the bench: energy, smart play with the ball, a threat from the perimeter and the ability to create better looks for a group of reserves that has had problems putting the ball in the hole.
As for O’Neal, technically he hasn’t been coming off the bench recently with Andrew Bogut out. But once Golden State’s gigantic Aussie makes his way back to the court, the Warriors will be comforted to know that O’Neal is still an incredibly capable reserve. In just his third game back from a wrist injury, O’Neal had a monster night against the Brooklyn Nets to make up for the absence of Bogut and David Lee. Tallying 23 points and 13 rebounds in 34 minutes, he looked like Indiana Pacers Jermaine O’Neal and proved that on any given night, he’s capable of stepping up when healthy.
Like O’Neal, Draymond Green was technically a starter in Golden State’s last game but the Warriors certainly liked to see him put up 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in extended minutes. Green’s 5-for-16 shooting night wasn’t ideal, but he made the most of his night by getting to the free throw line 10 times and playing quality defense the whole night. At this point, it’s not far-fetched to say that Golden State’s second-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is currently a better player than their first-round pick.
That brings us to Harrison Barnes, the aforementioned first-round selection who continues to struggle during his sophomore campaign. In his last three games Barnes is averaging five points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Even worse, Mark Jackson reduced his minutes during that stretch from his regular 28.8 minutes on the season to 22.7. Barnes will need to be a bigger factor come playoff time, but no one can fault Jackson for shortening his minutes since he’s shot 4-for-17 in those last three games.
As for Jordan Crawford, he’s continued to be classic Steezus by being wildly inconsistent with his production and uncomfortably consistent with his poor shot selection. However, despite shooting 35.7 percent from the floor during the Warriors’ current win streak, Crawford has reached double figures in two of those three games while committing only two turnovers total. Bringing in Blake has relieved Crawford of too many ball handling duties, which allows him to focus on what he does best: jack up a ton of shots.
All in all, the Golden State Warriors’ bench is still a work in progress. A couple of good games out of O’Neal and Green don’t guarantee the reserves have turned things around, even if Blake will be a sneaky, great pickup moving forward. The Dubs still have plenty of areas for improvement with their bench, but these current nagging injuries to Bogut and Lee could actually be helpful down the road with every extra minute the reserves get.