After weeks of confusing ups and downs and plenty of underachieving, the Golden State Warriors are finally starting to hit their stride. With the amount of talent in the Dubs’ starting five and the offseason departure of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, it was no surprise that Golden State’s bench was a little lackluster by comparison. But thanks to the acquisition of Steve Blake and a few guys getting healthy, it’s not shocking that the Warriors’ recent success coincides with Golden State’s reserves playing their best basketball of the season.
After Klay Thompson‘s clutch game-winner in Indiana on Tuesday and an easy road victory against the Boston Celtics last night, the Warriors have now won seven of their last nine games since the All-Star break (with the losses coming to the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors, two teams vying for the No. 3 spot in the East who have won a combined 15 of their last 20 games). But what’s been most impressive is how balanced the Warriors’ offensive attack has been since Blake arrived.
Since the All-Star break, there have only been nine performances of 20+ points, yet the Dubs have gone 7-2 in those nine games. Whereas Stephen Curry was relied on to drop 25-35 points per game near the beginning of the season for the Warriors to get wins, now the balanced scoring of the Dubs is catching teams off guard. Curry had a triple-double in New York and put up 34 points in a losing effort to the Raptors, yes, but he hasn’t had to carry the load for the Warriors offensively as much as before.
It’s been a collective team effort that’s helped ease the pressure. A healthy David Lee is back to scoring buckets in the paint. Klay Thompson has put up 25 points in two of his last four games. Even Andre Iguodala has chipped in to some degree on the offensive end, reaching double figures last night for the first time since Feb. 20. But if you’re looking for the biggest reason Curry’s been able to take it a little bit easier lately, you need look no further than Golden State’s vastly improved bench.
Blake is really the key to the whole equation. Though he’s only averaging 4.4 points per game since the Dubs acquired him, he’s also doing a tremendous job setting up his often offensively inept teammates up for good looks (3.6 assists per game, which is a decent amount for a guy who only averages 19.8 minutes per game). More importantly though, Blake serves as a ball handler for the reserves, which means Jordan Crawford is no longer playing out of position as a backup point guard.
With Crawford able to play off the ball, his offensive production has increased. He’s still a bit of a gunner and the Warriors should still expect to ride the highs and lows of his game, but he’s also scored in double figures in five games since All-Star Weekend. Moving on to Jermaine O’Neal, it’s hard to swallow how many crunch time minutes Mark Jackson is giving him right now, but the veteran has provided decent interior defense and is averaging 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game since the break.
Marreese Speights has still been largely hit or miss, but even Harrison Barnes is starting to get in on the act. Barnes struggled last night and finished with just three points on 1-of-8 shooting, but he had reached double figures off the bench in four of his prior five games. Meanwhile, Barnes’ fellow 2011 NBA draft pick Draymond Green hasn’t been getting a lot of credit despite doing a ton of things all over the floor. He doesn’t blow you away in any one category, but his defense, his rebounding, his occasional offensive production and his knack for filling the stat sheet in limited minutes makes him a valuable and versatile asset.
In their last nine games, the Warriors’ reserves are averaging almost 39 points per game, a significant improvement from the 24 points per game the Dubs’ bench was averaging just a few weeks ago (a mark that was 29th in the NBA, for reference). The Warriors will still need Curry to go off in the playoffs for them to knock off one of the West’s top four seeds. Klay Thompson can’t disappear, Andre Iguodala needs to knock in a few threes and both David Lee and Andrew Bogut need to stay healthy. But if the Dubs can consistently get this kind of production from their bench, Golden State will be extremely tough to deal with in the first round.