The Golden State Warriors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years.
Smart drafting has played a major part in the Warriors’ ascent to the top of the NBA.
While they have been applauded for home run draft picks in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a huge part of their team came from the 2012 NBA Draft, which gave them three picks they used on Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green.
To get one of those picks, the Warriors shamelessly tanked the second half of the 2011-12 season. The pick was “top-seven protected,” meaning it would have gone to the Utah Jazz if it landed outside the top-seven. The Warriors benched their best players and went 5-22 over the final 27 games to finish 23-43 for the year. By doing so, they finished with the 7th-worst record in the NBA and ended up getting the 7th-overall pick in the lottery, holding onto their pick by the slimmest of margins.
Golden State’s efforts paid off. They used the No. 7 pick on Barnes. They also had the 30th pick, which they used on Ezeli, and the 35th pick, a second-rounder, which they used on Green. Three years later, all three players have played a part in their championship run.
Draymond Green (35th-overall pick)
Despite being the last of their three 2012 picks, Green has had a profound effect on the Warriors, becoming one of their most indispensable players.
Green allows the Warriors to function unlike many other teams in the NBA. At 6’7″, he’s the size of a traditional wing player, but usually plays power forward next to Andrew Bogut. Green’s shooting ability, ball-handling, and passing stretches the floor for the Warriors, and allows them to scramble opponents as defences chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson off the ball. Green has fuelled the NBA’s desire to find more “playmaking 4s,” Grantland’s Zach Lowe noted.
Green’s versatility is key on defence as he’s one of only a handful of players that can reasonably guard all five positions. He can function as a wing defender, switch onto point guards on screens, and can handle big men in the post. Green was able to handle the 6’10” Dwight Howard in the post and keyed the Warriors’ small-ball chess match with the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
As a second-round pick, Green hasn’t earned $US1 million in a season yet. That will change this summer when he enters restricted free agency, where many people feel he’ll be offered a max contract. The Warriors will have to empty their pockets to retain Green, but he’s too vital to let walk.
Harrison Barnes (7th-overall pick)
The Warriors’ more quiet breakout player this season has been Barnes. After two unremarkable seasons, Barnes averaged career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and rebounds per game with a career-low in turnovers per game.
Though Barnes is one of the quieter contributors on the Warriors — he doesn’t get the recognition of Curry, Thompson, Green, Bogut, or Andre Iguodala — his presence is still important. He’s another long-armed nimble defender that helps the Warriors handle switches at every position, and he’s a capable enough scorer that he can feed off the attention defences are giving Curry, Thompson, and Green.
Steve Kerr took a gamble by making Barnes a starter over Iguodala this season and it paid off. Barnes has become a good enough player that he can handle starters minutes and enhance the team’s depth even more by allowing them to bring Iguodala in as a sixth man.
Festus Ezeli (30th-overall pick)
Ezeli isn’t quite on the level of Green or Barnes, but he’s a bit of an unsung bench player. As a raw big man when he was drafted, Ezeli hardly played his rookie year until the playoffs where he was thrown into the fire because of an injury to Bogut. He spent 2013-14 in the D-League before being brought back this season when he’s made strides.
Ezeli’s basic stats don’t necessarily show his improvement, but using Basketball-Reference’s per-36-minute stats, it’s clear Ezeli has developed as a player. Per 36 minutes on the floor, Ezeli averaged more points, more rebounds, more free throws, and he shot better from the field and the free throw line this season than his rookie year.
Ezeli has once again had to play spot minutes in the playoffs because of an injury to backup center Marreese Speights.
That the Warriors have drafted well helps give them a huge advantage over the rest of the league. Eventually, all good players get paid, and one day the Warriors will lose a player being offered a bigger contract from a different team. In the meantime, Golden State has built one of the best foundations in the NBA, and they will be able to keep it together for a long time.
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