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The Home Stretch

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The Warriors clinched a playoff berth by virtue of the Dallas Mavericks beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night and the players didn’t really celebrate, which is a good sign. The rest of the season will now become a tune-up. And while they surely want to maintain their first place position and home-court advantage for the playoffs, the Warriors do have some serious tuning up to do. For all intents and purposes, the Golden State Warriors have been a “two man plus” team this season, relying almost exclusively on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, plus a mix of mostly Draymond Green, some Marreese Speights, and a little Andrew Bogut. Despite what the average minutes played may say, this is a 15 man team, and for the Warriors to win a championship, they will need some production from the rest.

While in the past few playoff runs, the Warriors have always had a player busy blossoming. This year’s team features no true rookie starters and has a second-unit led by veterans whose best days are behind them with a couple of D-leaguers playing above their supposed talent level. There will be no real surprises for opponents in the playoffs, they know the Splash Brothers can take a game over at a moment’s notice, they know Draymond is a crucial cog in their switch-defense, and they know Golden State can’t really play big after Bogut. Where do these different makers come from then? They come from the team’s investments and the team’s leaders, so this is an OPEN CALL TO ANDRE IGUODALA, HARRISON BARNES, and a MYSTERY WARRIOR to STEP IT UP!

Andre Igoudala is the first player I hope will up his game come playoff time (and if the Atlanta Hawks game on March 18th was any indication, he will). When Iggy came to Oakland, he not only joined a long line of professional East Bay athletes with an easy nickname (see Miggy, Huddy, Chavy, etc.), he also joined a team on which he would not have to be the star, which he seemed to welcome. But we need some of that star back, if just for a little while. Prognosticators said Iggy’s legs might be done, his game was tired, his enthusiasm had waned; but he has played well enough to silence those critics under Mark Jackson. Maybe not enough to wow them, but enough to quiet them. Under Kerr, he has graciously moved to the bench and accepted the role of Second Unit Leader, but has struggled to catch fire with so little playing time. Iguodala needs to be an explosion off the bench. Iggy can be the Man even with Steph and Klay on the court and needs the playing time and situations as the season wears down to get into a rhythm. While Iguodala’s defense has been terrific, if unheralded, this season, his scoring and assists need to come up. If Iguodala can find his legs and allow the postseason desire to consume him, there is no team who can match-up with him, especially when he shares the court with Thompson, Green, or Barnes. Iguodala could lead the second unit and streak the floor with Livingston and Holliday a la Klay, Steph, and Draymond. Even better, he could force Kerr to play him and Barnes together in a truly sleek line-up that no team has the personnel to counter.

The main reason Iggy has not be playing much, however, is the development of Harrison Barnes. Barnes is not the same player he was as a rookie. That player was fearless, confident, and fresh, though flawed, selfish, and scoring oriented; this Barnes is pensive, hesitant, and well-scouted, though fundamentally sound and team oriented. Harrison struggled mightily last season as he faded from fresh face to second unit isolationist under Mark Jackson. I cannot imagine the pressure one faces when they are so good right away and then struggle to make the changes needed as the league adjusts to their game. Harrison is doing it and he’s doing it his way: quietly. His numbers have improved this season and his game has grown from last year to this year, even from fall to spring. It hasn’t been “fun” to watch but as a basketball connoisseur, I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Barnes has put on blinders this season, I believe at Kerr’s behest, and has focused on doing what’s asked of him and nothing else. Maybe it means being the decoy or setting the second screen; maybe it means holding the switch while someone else gets the steal; maybe it’s to box-out to ensure a teammate gets the rebound; maybe it’s all the stuff that never makes the highlight real or the stat sheet or gets the fans to cheer, but it is all the stuff that allows that fun stuff to happen. However, Harrison does still show flashes of un-guardable brilliance. When the rest of his game is flowing and he stops thinking or worrying, the ball seems to be putty in his hands as he acrobatically assaults the basket to slam it harder than anyone since Jason Richardson or deftly dish it out to a backdoor cutter. Harrison Barnes needs to make Steve Kerr’s head turn Bulls red as Kerr debates Iggy vs Barnes in various situations. In a perfect world, they’re both playing well enough to run together.

Yes, in my perfect playoff world, its Steph, Klay, Iggy, Green/Barnes, and Bogut ALL day. A six man rotation that would stymie most teams for at least four of seven games, but probably wouldn’t last for the duration of the Second Season (what players call the NBA playoffs). They will need more players than the aforementioned six and they’ll need to be players from whom we didn’t expect it (other than the fact that they’re mentioned here and get paid millions of dollars to do what’s being described). You know Bogut will raise his intensity level to dangerous and you’ll have your fingers crossed that such intensity won’t injure him until the playoffs are over. That’s one player who you know won’t suffer from trying to do more than he has all season. And that there is a fine line, for there are some players who don’t need to overextend themselves, such as Justin Holliday and Marreese Speights. Holliday has been a gem, he’s playing better than most would expect and every positive he does is an unexpected bonus. He needs to play like this as he takes his three’s and plays his D; every contribution he makes is already awesome. Any mistakes he makes could be costly and given his current level of NBA experience, I think Golden State is getting the most they could hope for from Holliday…at least to this point. Sorry Marreese, you too buddy. Your shot from 12-20 feet is amazing, your rebounding is solid, and your D is bigger than your size suggests it could be, but please don’t try to be more. You’re spectacular as is and are the reason we won so many games. You can take full credit for a few of those as your shooting sparked a few wins that would have been losses. Keep at it, we’ll need it, just like Justin. In fact, James McAdoo kind of belongs here as well, another good minute guy who just needs to keep giving good minutes. None of you should forsake what got the team this far and know you’ll have your moments when these skills will make you shine.

That leaves Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush, and Shaun Livingston in the backcourt. In the front court, there is David Lee and Festus Ezeli. My easy choice for playoff catalyst is Barbosa because he has always been a wild card. They’ve gotten mostly crap from him this season, so I feel like he’s due for some great games that hasn’t just regressed to being a bad player all the time. I don’t know what he would do, except get hot defensively and get a bunch of easy transition buckets while swinging momentum to the Warrior’s way. I’d take that one quarter a game any day. Livingston has been better than I expected but worse than advertised. He’s just a tall point guard. He missed the revolution by a few seasons. And wher he could’ve been another Penny in the 90’s, he looks awkward with the Warriors. He’s not even the best “tall point guard” on the team. Iggy’s power forward is better than Livingston’s point guard impersonation and without the ball and getting to order the offense about, Livingston struggles to find his role. However, when he does get to run the show, he does pretty well. He makes Steph a two guard and plays phenomenal defense. Maybe Brandon Rush will surprise everyone and play some meaningful minutes, but I can’t imagine they’d be during a Warrior game.

As for the front court, David Lee can provide offense and rebounding, the latter of which the Warriors will need. The only problem is that Avi Lee can’t play D, which is why I’m calling him Avi. Until he can “D” up, Avi Lee doesn’t deserve the D’s in his name. I don’t know which coach can help him; I don’t know if a white boy who grew up playing Catholic school basketball can play NBA Defense. But I do know that his lack of defensive efficiency is what prevents his scoring and rebounding from being on the court. Festus “For-The-Rest-Us” Ezeli is my biggest hope to be the Mystery Warrior to step up. If he could give Golden State five minutes each half of Bogut-like defense, the Warriors will be champions. Ten minutes a game is all we really need from most of these players.

Ten high level minutes from Livingston, Barbosa, Lee, Speights, Holliday, and McAdoo each game would be a world of difference. I’m sure that’s what makes it so tough to be the non-stars on the Warriors, because they really only get about 10 minutes a game to show their stuff. But those few minutes matter, they matter as much or more than the 48 minutes of amazing that Steph and Klay provide because it’s those ten minutes that could be the difference in the playoffs. So PLEASE will Mr. Andre Iguodala and Mr. Harrison Barnes please step it up and will a Mystery Warrior (or two) join them? It will take more than Klay’s skinny and Steph’s skinnier arms to lift that big ol’ championship trophy in June.

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