Posts Tagged ‘Festus Ezeli’

Ezeli return a big moment for Warriors

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If Festus Ezeli can stay healthy, the Warriors could have three 7-footers to protect the rim. (NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND – Under cover of the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series at the same time, with the Clippers resting Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and the Warriors sitting ill Andrew Bogut and using David Lee for 19 minutes, with everyone ready for the exhibition schedule to be over already, Tuesday night at Oracle Arena unsuspectingly turned meaningful.

Festus Ezeli played, newsworthy in itself given the length of his absence, and on his 25th birthday at that as an added layer to the celebratory mood of getting directions to the court. That he played well, though, was the thing, enough of a development to attach value to a sloppy preseason game, enough to prompt coach Steve Kerr to note that Ezeli “was really aggressive with what he did,” a sign that Ezeli was not shying away from contact inside.

Enough to nudge the jammed Western Conference playoff pack.

It was such a little thing — 11 minutes, just shy of the 12-minute limit imposed by the medical staff, 10 points, three rebounds, four baskets in five attempts, five fouls — and it was just one October outing with months ahead that really count — but it could become such a big thing. And now we’re talking developments.

The thin bench that was part of the Golden State downfall last season remains a concern the week before 2014-15 opens, projected point-guard backup Shaun Livingston may not be back from toe surgery when the season begins Wednesday in Sacramento, and Kerr is facing an Andre Iguodala-or-Harrison Barnes decision for the start at small forward. But if Ezeli can return to his former role of dependable second-string center, the Warriors have a key roster addition when they need it most.

That is obviously a big if. When Ezeli took the court with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter Tuesday, it was his first time in uniform in 17 months, since the Warriors were eliminated in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. No, it was, he said afterward, the first time in any five-on-five run since surgery on two ligaments in the right knee on June 12, 2013, cost Ezeli all last season and inflammation in the lower part of the same right leg took away much of the training camp and preseason that was supposed to be a fresh start.

But if he is healthy, if he can reclaim the 2012-13 form, if he can be depth behind Bogut, the little thing on a baseball night in the Bay Area can grow into something that could be worth enough wins to alter their place in the West. (A season ago, six victories separated four through nine, the difference between home-court advantage in the first round and the lottery.) If not, hello Ognjen Kuzmic and Marresse Speights.

“It’s big,” Kerr said. “Ezeli and Kuzmic. Kuz has really come along this training camp. We’ve given him a lot of time in the exhibition games and he’s performed well. If Festus can make strides… if he can come around physically and we can have three 7-footers who can all protect the rim, then I think we’re in pretty good shape. We would prefer to stay big most of the time. We like to have a rim-protector in there. With three guys, assuming we can count on all three, that protects us against us some injury and foul trouble and that kind of stuff.”

The source of optimism Tuesday night was Ezeli entering late in the first quarter, needing 68 seconds to block a shot by Jared Cunningham as the Clippers guard drove to the rim, another 55 seconds to hit an eight-foot jump hook from the left baseline, and 55 more seconds to finish a pick-and-roll by grabbing an Iguodala lob with both hands and flushing it through the net. The nervousness of making the return with family and friends in attendance as part of the birthday was replaced by a surge of confidence.

“That’s what people have been saying and people always talked about, how light we were at the center position and they didn’t feel we had enough depth there,” Ezeli said. “This team, we feel like we’re pretty decked. We have a pretty nice deck of cards on this team. But they felt like the center position was pretty light. But now, Kuzmic has been working his butt off. I’ve seen him work every day and I’ve been right there with him.

“The good thing about being out so long, I really don’t care what anybody thinks about me anymore. I don’t care because the people that write the articles… and the people that talk about me and put the other people down, nobody was there with me while I was doing my rehab. What they think doesn’t matter. It’s about what we as a team think about ourselves, and we think we’re pretty good and we have a lot of talent on this team. That’s all that matters.”

This will still be a process. Ezeli needs to improve his conditioning the same way all players coming back from extended layoffs do and needs to re-calibrate to the speed of the game — Kerr quickly pointed out that Ezeli picked up so many fouls in a short time against the Clippers “because the game is going to move too fast for him right now.” And it was just one night. Those are the reality checks.

On the other hand, the Warriors could have much-needed bench help and could end up with the important acquisition of a player who officially was always on the roster. Those are the bottom lines, for Golden State and the West.

One Team, One Stat: Warriors Go From Worst To First On The Glass

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Golden State Warriors, who are looking to build on just their second trip to the playoffs in the last 19 years.

The basics
GSW Rank
W-L 47-35 10
Pace 96.8 4
OffRtg 104.2 10
DefRtg 102.6 13
NetRtg +1.7 11

The stat

75.5 percent - The Warriors’ defensive rebounding percentage last season, a mark that led the league.

The context

One of the most amazing stats of last season was that the Warriors led the league in defensive rebounding percentage after five straight seasons of ranking dead last. They didn’t just go from worst to first, they went from worst to worst to worst to worst to worst to first.

In fact, before last season, Golden State ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage in 12 of the prior 13 seasons, under nine different coaches. Just that part is amazing itself.

Somehow, they managed to turn it completely around last season, when the rebounding improvement helped the Warriors improve from 27th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to 13th. Better 3-point defense also played a part…

Warriors defense, last two seasons

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA/FGA Rank
2011-12 48.0% 17 36.5% 28 69.1% 30 15.5% 14 .318 27
2012-13 47.3% 11 34.7% 7 75.5% 1 13.8% 28 .282 22

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions

One thing that was different was the way the Warriors defended pick-and-rolls. In Mark Jackson‘s first season, the big man defending the screener came out pretty high to stop the ball-handler. It wasn’t a hard hedge like the Heat or the Pelicans employ, but it took the bigs far away from the basket…

20131019_gsw_11-12

Last season, the Warrior bigs sagged into the paint more on pick-and-rolls…

20131019_gsw_12-13

That kept them closer to the basket and helped David Lee increase his defensive rebounding percentage from 20.0 percent to 24.5 percent. Also, ’12-13 Festus Ezeli (16.6 percent) had a better defensive rebounding percentage than ’11-12 Ekpe Udoh (11.9 percent) and ’12-13 Andrew Bogut (23.5 percent) was better than ’11-12 Andris Biedrins (20.0 percent). So was ’12-13 Andris Biedrins (24.6 percent).

Another result of the change in pick-and-roll coverage was that Warriors opponents took 28.0 percent of their shots from mid-range, up from 26.5 percent in ’11-12. Those are the shots you want to force.

The Warriors also got better rebounding numbers from their guards and wings. And one thing you’ll notice from these clips from an April 9 game against the Wolves is how the Golden State guards crash the glass to often put five guys in the paint when the ball is coming off the rim…


The Wolves, who were an above-average offensive rebounding team, missed 57 shots in that game and grabbed just six offensive boards.

We learned from the Spurs last season that contesting shots is much more important than rebounding, but the Warriors had to get better on the glass. When your opponent gets an offensive rebound, it’s more likely to score than it was on the initial possession.

You would think that sending five guys to the glass would hurt the Warriors’ transition offense. But they ranked ninth with 14.7 fast break points per game (up from 13.0 in ’11-12) and fifth with 2.13 fast break points per steal (up from 1.63). Stephen Curry ranked fourth in individual fast break points, while Klay Thompson ranked 19th, with both guys doing a lot of their damage from the perimeter. Curry had almost 100 more fast break points from outside the paint than any other player in the league…

Most fast break points from outside the paint

Player FBPs Outside paint
Stephen Curry 364 222
Kyle Korver 142 125
Russell Westbrook 463 120
Klay Thompson 260 119
O.J. Mayo 324 111

A healthy Bogut and the addition of Andre Iguodala should improve the Golden State defense even more. In particular, Iguodala will help force more turnovers and, as one of the best finishers in the league, will also make the running game more potent.

If the Warriors can match a Top 10 offense with a Top 10 defense, they can count themselves as serious contender in the Western Conference this season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

David Lee Encouraged By Recovery

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HANG TIME WEST – The injury that quickly swung from season-ending to day-to-day in the playoffs has now gone from a one-time distressing finding to now a very encouraging outcome.

The torn hip muscle suffered in the playoff opener at Denver was worse than anyone thought, David Lee reported Wednesday. And, the recovery is going so well that he feels better than a year ago at this time, Lee also revealed.

So goes the roller-coaster return from the injured right hip flexor and the subsequent surgery, with implications for the Warriors and the entire Western Conference if Golden State turns potential into reality and pushes into the top tier of playoff teams.

From being declared done for the season when he went down in the first-round opener at Denver to playing in the clinching Game 6 and then again four more times in the West semifinals against the Spurs.

He didn’t play much — one post-injury minute versus the Nuggets and then three, eight, 12 and 12 minutes against San Antonio, respectively — but even the limited action came with Lee acknowledging at the time that he could do more damage to the hip by playing with the torn muscle. When the All-Star power forward had surgery in May, he said, doctors found the injury to be worse than originally thought.

In the Wednesday update for a group of reporters, though, Lee said he is fully recovered, in the best shape of his career and that the core of his body is strong as ever.

“I feel no ill effects whatsoever,” Lee said, as reported by Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group. “I actually feel a lot better moving around than I did even last year at this time.”

Lee’s health would have been an important early-season storyline for the Warriors no matter what, but is particularly relevant amid the new uncertainty surrounding the frontline. His 2012-13 backup, Carl Landry, left as a free agent; starting center Andrew Bogut is trying to prove he can get to 100 percent after a series of ankle problems; and No. 2 center Festus Ezeli is expected to be out until midseason with a knee injury. Marreese Speights was signed to be the third big man, and Jermaine O’Neal came in via free agency as well. Coach Mark Jackson will have options to play small.

“We still have a long way to go,” Lee said. “But, if you looked at where we came from three years ago, some of the questions were, ‘Why would you come here? They’ve had one playoff team in the last 150 years.’ Looking where we are now and having these conversations, it’s very exciting.”

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Spurs-Grizzlies Means No Apologies


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SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan sat down heavily and breathed a sigh of someone who had just been asked to lift the back end of a school bus off the ground.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” he said. “Sorry.”

But the playoffs mean never having to say you’re sorry.

So when the Spurs and Grizzlies open the Western Conference finals on Sunday night, there will be no apologies offered.

Only elbows and hips, pushes and shoves, pulls and grabs and tugs and slaps and takedowns that could turn seven games into one gigantic bruise.

Having already dealt with the front-line size of the Lakers Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and the aggressive play of the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli, the Spurs realized it was all just a warmup to the tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, for whom grit and grind is more than a slogan.

“If you thought (the Golden State series) was physical, it’s going to turn up about 10 notches,” Duncan said.

It’s possible the Spurs might still have a few black and blue marks left over from their run-in with the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. San Antonio entered that series as the prohibitive favorite and wound up becoming only the second No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 8 seed in a best-of-seven series.

By the time the series was over, the Spurs were as bludgeoned as they were beaten by Memphis’ inside game. Duncan, who played with a sprained ankle, and Manu Ginobili, who played with a fractured elbow, were exhausted and exposed.

Now though, the Spurs are feeling like a team that is much more equipped to deal with the Grizzlies’ size and force, having added Tiago Splitter to their starting lineup and Boris Diaw to their bench.

“It’s going to be a big-man series,” Duncan said. “I think the size definitely helps us. We’re a different team than when we faced them a couple years ago.”

The 6-foot-11 Splitter was a rookie in 2011 and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not feel confident using him two seasons ago, choosing to go with 6-9 veteran Antonio McDyess in his final NBA season. Splitter played just 51 minutes in the entire season and did not set foot onto the court until Game 4.

“Of course, you always want to play, because you believe that you can help,” Splitter said. “That’s the part of you that is the competitor. But that is the past and now I feel good.”

In the four regular season meetings this season, Splitter averaged 10.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and was able to stand his ground against the low-post relentlessness of Randolph.

“Its just nonstop fighting,” Splitter said. “He’s a warrior over there with the rebounding and positioning.”

The experience two years ago gave the Spurs a head start on the rest of the league in recognizing the Grizzlies as powerful, growing championship contenders.

“I’ve seen them as a major threat for years now,” Duncan said. “Obviously, they beat us in the first round when we were the top seed. They’ve been a very solid team, a very good team. They have always played us really tough. We respect them and their capabilities and we’re not surprised they’re here.”

Popovich rates the Grizzlies with Miami and Indiana as the top defensive teams in the league. But the Spurs themselves turned around the battle against the Warriors and put the clamps on the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with a defensive job that was aggressive, thorough and a throwback to their old championship ways and days.

Now it’s toe-to-toe, elbow-to-elbow, hip-check to bump-and-grind with the Grizzlies at a time when the 37-year-old Duncan can see the finish line.

“This run this year is extremely special to me,” he said. “People continue to count us out, year in and year out, and we continue to make runs deep into the playoffs. This is a special one.”

And certainly no reason to say you’re sorry.

Warriors’ Defense Shoots Lights Out, Too

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SAN ANTONIO – This is not merely about Stephen Curry looking like the deadeye love child of Annie Oakley and William Tell one night and Klay Thompson turning into a heat-seeking missile the next.

It’s about shooting, yes, because it’s what they do. Shooting from the gaps and shooting over outstretched arms. Shooting a running, one-footed 3-pointer with the dour expression of an English butler on your face and shooting a fallaway heave in front of the opponents’ bench to beat the third quarter horn. Shooting late in the shot clock to bail out a possession gone wrong and shooting early in the shot clock because, well, you just feel like it.

It’s also about pressuring the ball out front, squeezing the penetrators into the lane, cutting off the paths on the baseline and protecting the rim as if it were the Holy Grail.

While all of the postgame highlights and most of the headlines about their first victory in San Antonio since the Mexican flag flew over Texas will concentrate on Thompson’s deep ball barrage, the Warriors got this Western Conference semifinal series to 1-1 because they played ferocious, high-energy, unforgiving defense.

It’s like finding out that Kate Upton can cook, too.

“Our shooters, Steph and Klay, are amazing,” said center Andrew Bogut, “but we like to think our defense is consistent.”

It consistently chased Spurs point guard Tony Parker. When Thompson wasn’t pushing the limits of credulity with his 8-for-9 shooting from behind the arc and his ridiculous 29-point first half, he was the one sinking his teeth into Parker.

“I told him at halftime, that is in the discussion of one of the greatest halves ever,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. “Not only what he did offensively, but what he did defensively. If you slow it down and see the multiple plays and the attention to detail defensively, he is playing a future Hall of Famer and he’s making him work for everything.”

That’s been the difference in the first two games so far — the Spurs keep looking like they’re laboring for everything on offense and the Warriors might as well be cruising the court on roller skates. (more…)

Warriors’ Ezeli To See Lots Of Time


HANG TIME WEST –
Still no word on whether Andrew Bogut will be in the starting lineup opening night, whether he will return to action Wednesday at Phoenix with limited minutes off the bench or whether he will be out entirely as the recovery from a fractured ankle goes much longer than he or the Warriors anticipated. He received a positive update from the doctor and moved into five-on-five work in practice, and that is all that is known.

This is about to become about Festus Ezeli one way or another. If Bogut does start at center, it certainly won’t be with starter’s minutes for a while, and a lesser or non-existent role means leaning on Ezeli more than anyone imagined. The outset of a highly anticipated season, a run of talented centers immediately in front of them, and a rookie who arrived as the last pick of the first round has to be a difference maker.

The chance for Ezeli to make a slow transition into the NBA world disappeared as the timeline on Bogut’s recovery was constantly being pushed back, from expecting to be ready for training camp to planning to play in at least a few exhibition games to the current prognosis that it is very possible he will miss regular-season games. And not just the usual assortment of regular-season games. Before the end of the first full week of games, Golden State will have faced the Suns (Marcin Gortat), Grizzlies (Marc Gasol), Kings (DeMarcus Cousins) and Lakers (Dwight Howard), along with the defensive presence of DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers. Ezeli has to be ready now, whether Bogut is in uniform or not.

(more…)

Summer Treats Warriors Nicely

HANG TIME WEST – It would have been a big deal no matter what. Many of the Western Conference teams at the bottom of the 2012 postseason pack or those trying to push into the playoffs have improved, and so Golden State had to get better as well just to keep up.

But it’s a bigger deal than just that with the belief, stated just before the draft, that a rookie general manager with zero track record in a front office needed a good first impression. Bob Myers, new as a personnel boss, pretty new in any management role after years as a prominent agent, needed some quick credibility in a market that has grown increasingly, and understandably, frustrated by letdown.

He got it.

The Warriors did well in the draft by adding Harrison Barnes at No. 7 as the possible starting small forward, Festus Ezeli at 30 for a need at backup center, and Draymond Green in the second round for his forward versatility and experience as a four-year player at Michigan State. They needed a backup power forward and signed Carl Landry. They needed a backup point guard and traded for Jarrett Jack. They re-signed Brandon Rush.

It was not the perfect summer – they were aiming for Dion Waiters in the draft, but he went fourth to the Cavaliers, and no addition to significantly help heal the defense. (In-season arrival Andrew Bogut can be considered the new addition in that regard.) But it has been a good one. (more…)