With the signing of Andre Iguodala, the Warriors broke the 50-game win barrier for the first time in 20 years. The Iguodala acquisition helped the Warriors become a top 5 defense in the NBA, and improve 4 wins upon the previous season. It was not without a cost however.
In acquiring Iguodala, the Warriors had to let key bench catalysts, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, walk in free agency in the summer of 2013. Without Jack and Landry, the Warriors sunk to 26th in scoring off the bench, last in FG% off the bench with one of the worst +/- differentials in the entire NBA.
First signing, Shaun Livingston addresses the back up PG role, the Warriors struggled to fill all year. The Warriors tried Toney Douglas, Kent Bazemore, Nemanja Nedovic, Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake at various points last season. None of them were able to effectively steady the ship when Stephen Curry was on the bench. The result was either leads disintegrating or Jackson being forced to sub Curry back in early and run him into the ground. Livingston is a proven veteran guard, capable of initiating an offense and scoring from specific locations. Livingston also brings versatility on the defensive end.
The Warriors also signed Brandon Rush for a second stint with the team. Rush only played 418 minutes (38 games) for the Utah Jazz while spending more than half the year recovering from his November 2012 ACL injury with the Warriors. Rush apparently had a work out so impressive, Bob Myers walked out after 10 minutes and immediately re-signed him. It’s hard to say what the Warriors will get in 2014-15 from Brandon Rush, but anything similar to how he played pre-injury will be a welcome addition. The Warriors 2013-14 bench shot 32.3% from 3-point range. Rush’s previous two seasons saw him shoot 43.4% from 3 point range. If Rush can return to form, he’ll be a welcome back-up to Klay Thompson.
Beyond those two signings, the Warriors return a healthy, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green. The Warriors’ hope is with a new offensive season, Barnes can bounce back from a disappointing 2013-14 and be more productive like he was in the 2013 playoffs. Ezeli will be a welcome defensive presence and rim protector the Warriors lacked last season behind Bogut. A big bonus for the Warriors will be if Green can build upon his 2014 second half where he shot 44.2%, 38.6% from 3pt range. Green of course, brings a variety of skills regardless of his shooting. Green’s defense, screen setting, passing and rebounding all contribute to winning basketball, however, staying a consistent threat to score is the key to keeping him on the floor. Last season from December 1st to the All-Star break, Green only shot 35.8% making it difficult to leave him on the floor for extended stretches.
So has the bench improved?
It has improved defensively. Ezeli is an upgrade to O’Neal in terms of rim protection. Shaun Livingston is one of the more versatile defensive guards, capable of guarding 1-3s. Draymond Green is already a defensive force who should only continue to improve. Barnes has shown stretches of good defense and at only 22 he should only improve. And Rush if healthy, has the size and strength to guard his position effective in ways Crawford couldn’t.
Has it improved offensively? Most likely not by much. Livingston adds a consistent ball-handler, which is more than could be said for the bench players last year. The spacing, however, is still poor. Only Brandon Rush has proven he can make threes at above a league average rate, and that was before his long spell injured. What’s more troubling than the spacing is the Warriors have lost their two highest per-minute scorers, Jermaine O’Neal and Jordan Crawford, from last years offensively devoid bench. While being a good ball handler, post up option and mid-range shooter, Livingston scores at a low rate. In fact, every bench Warrior falls into the category of a low use-age rate scorer. There are no Jarrett Jacks on this bench to come in and spark a team with their scoring.
Assuming no other major changes are made, the Warriors have slightly upgraded their bench via defense, and have added an effective ball-handler to steady the turnover problems, but still lack any real scoring punch. Kerr would be wise to not utilize hockey subs like Jackson did in 2013-14. Those hockey subs led to an offensive rating of 93.4 (lower than worst offense in NBA last year) and can often be pointed to as reasons the Warriors lost games. To avoid prolonged periods with no scoring, Kerr is most likely going to have to keep one of Curry, Klay Thompson or David Lee on the floor at all times, or at least until a bench scorer is added.