Warriors center Andrew Bogut, still healing from his surgically repaired ankle, has not been cleared for 5-on-5 basketball action and will be on the sidelines when training camp starts Tuesday. Bogut’s stated goal is to be ready for the first regular season game, Oct. 31 at the Phoenix Suns. Will he play in any preseason games? He left open the possibility during Monday’s media day, but also stressed that he will err on the side of caution. Bogut’s temporary absence makes clear the Warriors’ lack of depth in the post. Who should start and get the majority of the minutes at the center position when Bogut is unavailable?
Take away Bogut and the Warriors have three other centers on the roster — veteran Andris Biedrins, sophomore Jeremy Tyler and rookie Festus Ezeli.
Once one of the Warriors’ best young players, Biedrins’ game has significantly declined the past three seasons. Last year, Biedrins (7-foot, 242 pounds) averaged career lows in points (1.7) and rebounds (3.7) while playing the fewest minutes per game (15.7) since 2005, his second season in the NBA. The eight-year veteran has also been criticized recently by both his head coach and general manager because he didn’t show up for involuntary workouts in September, workouts that 14 of his teammates attended. It wasn’t a slight, according to Biedrins. He was working out in Latvia and on his own in Santa Barbara, the same routine he’s had for most of his NBA career. If he’s in shape and has improved his confidence (especially on offense and at the free-throw line), he could fill some of the minutes. Given recent history, it’s unrealistic to expect Biedrins to play more than 25 minutes per game, even if Bogut is injured. He hasn’t averaged more than 24 minutes per game during the past three seasons.
Tyler played sparingly in his rookie season until the last month, when he averaged 24.7 minutes per game. During that time, Tyler (6-10, 260) averaged 8.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and nearly a steal and a block. He was also turnover-prone, giving the ball away more than three times each game and was not an efficient player on offense, shooting 41 percent from the field and 58 percent from the free-throw line. Tyler was also a terrible defensive player last season. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger and 82games.com, opposing centers had a 23.6 PER last season when guarded by Tyler. That basically means every center morphed into Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum when playing against Tyler. That said, Tyler is young and doesn’t foul a lot, so he could be given Bogut’s minutes. In that scenario, the Warriors would just have to expect mediocre offense and porous defense from the center position.
Drafted with the 30th selection last summer, Ezeli projects as a big center (6-11, 255) who can block shots and defend the post. He also projects as a foul machine, especially during his rookie season. On offense, he’s a project. Get him the ball wide open underneath the basket and he can dunk it; that’s about it. Ezeli would be a nice option to give limited minutes and see what he can do and how he develops. But center is a difficult position to learn in the NBA and the Warriors would be better suited limiting Ezeli’s learning experiences to practices and garbage minutes, or in the NBDL.
The other option available to the Warriors is to go small by sliding David Lee to center and starting Carl Landry at power forward. This would be a brutally ineffective defensive frontcourt, but Lee and Landry are both very talented offensive players and would put pressure on the other team’s defense.
The truth is that none of these options are viable for a team that hopes to contend for a playoff spot. The Warriors need to keep their fingers crossed that Bogut will be healthy and in the lineup on Oct. 31 and hope that he stays there all season. The alternatives are not attractive.