NBA 2019-20: Golden State Warriors and their dilemma at center
The Golden State Warriors rewrote the rules for NBA teams, in terms of the notion of not being able to win championships shooting threes, playing small, and not having a dominant big man. Some slightly overlooked aspects of their dominance were their passing and ball movement, and their amazing ability to switch and defend at all five positions.
Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson provided the bulk of their offensive firepower. But the backbone of the team, the emotional leader, the initiator of their offense AND defense, has been Draymond Green. His offense is respectable, but his ability to guard all five positions and his ability to play as a “point center” and create opportunities for their shooters has been crucial to the Warriors’ three rings in five years (and devastating to the opposition).
Much like the Chicago Bulls’ run in the ‘90s, the Warriors did not have one singular dominant center, but instead deployed a number of different players and looks at the position. It was a center-by-committee approach.
In each of the Warriors’ championship seasons, here is an approximation of the rotation at the center position:
2015: Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, David Lee
2017: Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, James Michael McAdoo
2018: JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Damian Jones
Last season, the center position was divided between Damian Jones, Kevon Looney, DeMarcus Cousins, and Andrew Bogut. But for last year and each year of the championship run, Draymond Green usually finished as the center in their “death lineup”.
This season, the Warriors have gotten noticeably younger and seemingly less deep across their roster. Besides Draymond Green’s amazing rebounding and defensive acumen at a now-listed 6'5, Kevin Durant’s length and shot-blocking ability was also able to offset their lack of size or post presence. But Durant, who is likely out for the season with an Achilles’ injury, went to Brooklyn. Cousins went to the Lakers (where is he out with a torn ACL), Jones signed with the Hawks, and Bogut went back to Australia.
Kevon Looney re-signed with the Warriors, and they also signed Willie Cauley-Stein as a free agent. However, Cauley-Stein is out through at least October with a foot strain, and Looney has a hamstring injury and is being held out of contact drills.
Rookie Alen Smailagic is also out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury. So the active depth chart at center is currently down to Omari Spellman, Marquese Chriss, and Draymond Green, all who are listed power forwards. Another rookie, Eric Paschall, who is a natural forward at 6'8, will also see time at the center position, according to Steve Kerr.
In their preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, their dilemma in the paint was noticeable. Anthony Davis scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in only 18 minutes; it was practically a lob-fest for AD. Additionally, centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard combined for 19 points and 22 rebounds.
The Western Conference has gotten bigger, deeper, and more versatile. Steve Kerr and the Warriors have recognized that they have to address their hole in the middle while Cauley-Stein, Looney, and Smailagic are on the mend. The Warriors recently held workouts with 32-year-old former No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet, who has not played in the NBA since 2014.
The Warriors also signed 6-foot-10 undrafted rookie center Kavion Pippen, nephew of Scottie Pippen, to a non-guaranteed deal. This is a new era for the Warriors, but even with the changes, they still have a solid core of Curry, Thompson, and Green, along with the acquisition of All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell. When their two primary centers come back, we will get a good indication of whether the Warriors will remain legitimate contenders in a dramatically improved and competitive West.