Question: The Warriors have played three preseason games and are off to a 3-0 start, with wins against the Lakers, Jazz and Maccabi Haifa. Rookie center Festus Ezeli has started and played well in all three games. It’s hard to apply meaningful analysis to preseason results or statistics, but does Ezeli’s performance bode well for the future?
Answer: While it’s true that preseason results tell us very little about how a team will perform during the regular season, there are times when individual performances can give some insight into a player’s potential. It’s not a perfect science, primarily because teams play their starters about half the game and because coaches are trying out rotations, and offensive and defensive sets that they might not use during the season. With that disclaimer out of the way, the Warriors have to be impressed with the play of Ezeli. I recently wrote a blog entry questioning which player would be able to step up when starting center Andrew Bogut is unavailable. At the time, I wrote the following about Ezeli:
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.
After the first three games, Ezeli has exceeded my expectations. He’s started all three games and is playing 26.6 minutes per game. He’s averaged 9.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and is shooting 86 percent (12 for 14) from the field and 60 percent (3 of 5) from the free-throw line. I wrote earlier that Ezeli’s offense is limited to wide-open dunks, but so far he’s shown more, even stepping out and hitting a couple of 12-foot jumpers. He’s shown some nice touch close to the rim and is rebounding well. Ezeli, who has drawn praise from coach Mark Jackson during training camp, looks to be the backup center and a viable option in the starting lineup when Bogut is unavailable.