OAKLAND -– The most persistent concern voiced by Warriors fans over the summer was related to the team’s bench, which was hit hard as part of the process to sign superstar forward Kevin Durant.
Did we lose too much? Will it be good enough? What about all the lost experience?
No longer in existence is the bench so often cited by coach Steve Kerr as an essential component of the team’s 140-24 record the past two seasons. Gone are Mo Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli, a group that combined personality, production and roughly 30 years of experience to allow desired rest for the starters.
But Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, the two most indispensible players off bench, are back. And their presence, along with the addition of veteran big man David West, is enough to convince the Warriors the bench, while very different, will be more than just OK.
“I think our second unit will be better, actually,” Iguodala said Wednesday.
“I think a couple people have either said or written that our bench is going to be not necessarily suspect but weaker than last year,” Kerr said. “We’ve got every reason to believe we can play the same way, with strength in numbers and play a lot of people.”
Any anxiety can be traced back to the lack of experience behind Iguodala, Livingston and West. Clark has played in 119 games and James Michael McAdoo only 56. Kevon Looney is a virtual rookie. Patrick McCaw is a rookie. Another rookie, center Damian Jones, will be out indefinitely as he recovers from pectoral surgery.
Only Anderson Varejao brings true experience from the far end of the bench – unless veteran big man JaVale McGee, invited to camp with no guarantees, makes the team.
Kerr has indicated his playing rotation schemes will change this season, with starters staggered to the point where at least one and often two will share the court with three or four reserves.
The coach seems undaunted by the prospect of going deep into his reserves.
“I’m anticipating Zaza (Pachulia) and KD (Kevin Durant) will start,” Kerr said, “so you now start talking about Shaun Livingston, Andre, David West, Ian Clark, who played big minutes for us last year. Patrick McCaw has been showing us great stuff. JaVale could make our team and play a role. McAdoo . . . we’ve got a lot of guys, so we’re comfortable with that.”
Much of Iguodala’s faith stems from the experience gained by Clark and McAdoo, as well as the belief the bench the new bench will be superior on defense. Though Ezeli usually held his own, Speights, Barbosa and Rush were not known for defense.
“Ian Clark is playing with a lot of confidence right now, coming into his own and it feels like he belongs in the NBA now,” Iguodala said. “He’s got some more confidence; I think he’s missed one shot in the first two days. So we’re looking forward to him being a great spot-up shooter who can create.
“And David West is really smart. He’s going to make life easier for Shaun Livingston and myself defensively.”
The ingredients may be there. Defensive coordinator Ron Adams has a lot to work with. But the new bench, particularly positions eight through 12, remains a mystery until put into practice.