The 2012-13 Golden State Warriors won 47 games and finished sixth in the Western Conference, the franchise's most successful season in two decades.
While much of the media praise bestowed upon the team was in regards to its head coach Mark Jackson, its incredible backcourt trio of Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson and its ability to outhustle and out-grit opponents, maybe the biggest reason that Golden State was so deadly last year went largely overlooked.
The Warriors had the best power forward production in the NBA last season, and it wasn't that close.
David Lee was the second-highest scoring power forward in the league, averaging 18.5 points. Meanwhile, backup Carl Landry's 10.8 PPG was the 19th-highest total at the position, despite his only playing for 23.2 minutes a night.
Lee also led all power forwards with 11.2 rebounds a night, while Landry was 20th with 6.0 RPG.
With Lee appearing in 79 games and Landry in 81, there was hardly a moment throughout the year in which the Warriors were without one of the two on the floor.
Having the one of the absolute best starting PFs and backup PFs on the court at all times created terrible mismatches for Golden State opponents.
While teams would exploit the Los Angeles Clippers when they sat Blake Griffin, the Portland Trail Blazers when they sat LaMarcus Aldridge or the Indiana Pacers when they sat David West, there was rarely a night in which the Warriors wouldn't have a guy on the court who could score inside, knock down a mid-range jumper, grab an offensive rebound, get to the line and knock down free throws.
The two had an average PER of 18.4 and accounted for 15.3 win shares.
It's safe to say that the absence of Landry would have likely kept Golden State out of the playoffs. No Lee and the Dubs would be a losing team, and neither would mean another top-10 lottery pick.
Landry left Oakland via free agency, although it's not as if general manager Bob Myers made a real attempt to re-sign him. With the opportunity to bring in Andre Iguodala for $12 million a year, matching Sacramento's $7 million per season offer to Landry would have been ludicrous.
Why fans and writers alike are calling for Lee's departure, however, is mind boggling.
Keeping the PF Position Elite
Luckily, the Warriors front office consists of patient, rational basketball geniuses rather than quick-to-react pundits.
Rather than dismantling the strongest position on the team, Myers has done his best to cancel out Landry's departure.
He first brought in Marreese Speights on July 8, signing him to a three-year, $9 million deal. The next day, Jermaine O'Neal was signed to a one-year, $2 million contract.
The addition of these two veterans—along with the Iguodala acquisition that will allow second-year players Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green to slide over to the 4 more often—will not give the Warriors exactly what they had in Landry last year, but it will give the team a more versatile, deep and potentially better power forward rotation in 2013-14.
In 2012-13, Lee became the first Golden State All-Star since 1997, easily leading the league in double-doubles and bringing hustle, unselfishness and leadership that was infectious across the team.
One unfortunate injury is all it took for most people to instantly forget about all of that.
Barnes slid to the 4 during the playoffs and thrived in Lee's absence, but while that small, athletic lineup was too much for the Denver Nuggets' wings to handle, the San Antonio Spurs did not allow the Warriors to go small, forcing Landry to start and taking advantage of it.
This is precisely why the Dubs need Lee. Some opponents will struggle on some nights against a small, fast, shooting lineup, but others will feast on that lack of size. And over the course of 82 games, sprinting up and down the court will lead to fatigue late, while relying on hot shooting will lead to inconsistent results.
A typical game for Lee consists 20 points on over 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and three assists.
It makes sense how people take this for granted; he's so consistent that it's hard to imagine him not being there. A streakier player like Thompson is more appreciated because their bad nights highlight how valuable their good ones are.
The emergence of Barnes and Green as stretch power forwards will cut into Lee's minutes, and Iguodala will take shots away from him. Make no mistake though; he'll be an integral part of Golden State's success in 2013-14, and his presence will be necessary for a title run.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
77 GP, 32.3 MPG, 15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 53.1 FG%, 81.0 FT%
While Speights came to Oakland at a much cheaper price than Landry commanded, he is not a substantially lesser player.
He can hit the mid-range jumper better than Landry (48 percent from mid-range last season compared to Landry's 38), crash the boards more efficiently (9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes career versus Landry's 7.8) and block more shots (1.2 blocks per 36 minutes against Landry's 0.7).
Of course, there are several areas in which Landry is superior to Speights. The Warriors will be losing inside scoring (2.4 baskets at the rim on 70.8 percent shooting for Landry compared to 1.8 buckets on 58.3 percent efficiency for Speights), the ability to get to the line (career 5.6 FT attempts per game for Landry; 4.0 for Speights) and man-to-man defensive abilities.
On top of that, Speights' advantages over Landry are partially due to his smaller minute dosages. Landry played 23.2 MPG last season while Speights appeared for only 16.5 minutes a night, thus boosting his energy for crashing the boards and blocking shots.
More minutes for Speights would also highlight his foul issues—he committed as many as Landry (2.3 per game) despite seven fewer minutes.
With Barnes, Green and O'Neal suddenly in the power forward picture, however, the Warriors wouldn't have had 23.2 MPG for Landry anyway. Speights is a 16 MPG type of player, and that's just what Golden State needs from him.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
80 GP, 15.8 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 48.2 FG%, 75.9 FT%
Combining Lee's minute projections with Speights', there would be no minutes left at power forward.
To extrapolate how much PF Barnes will play this season, the amount of time Lee and Speights will spend at center must first be estimated.
Andrew Bogut should play about 26 MPG, while O'Neal will provide about 13 at the center position. This leaves nine minute to be filled by Lee and Speights, which in turn leaves nine minutes for Barnes, Green and O'Neal at PF.
However, they will see large minute spikes should injuries occur to any other C/PF.
Barnes will likely get the bulk of these minutes. Considering how much trouble Jack, Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Bogut gave Denver last postseason, the thought of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Bogut is just terrifying.
During certain games, this lineup will be featured heavily, even as a go-to group down the stretch. Other nights, Barnes will play his minutes exclusively at small forward.
Considering the unfortunate likelihood of at least some injury to Bogut or O'Neal, Barnes should average about 10 minutes at power forward.
Note: projected stats for Barnes, Green and O'Neal are for entire game, not just minutes spent at PF.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
82 GP, 28.9 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 45.6 FG%, 36.4 3PT%, 79.1 FT%
There will be plenty of nights in which Green does not appear at PF. His lack of size (6'7") makes him incapable of guarding bigger power forwards, while his mediocre offensive game doesn't make him the deadly stretch 4 that Barnes is.
Green does have some things going for him as a PF option, though. He's a very good defender at his size and can guard athletic guys and stretch guys better than Barnes.
He also lost 15 pounds of fat and added muscle during the offseason, which should improve his offensive game.
There will certainly be nights that the second-year player gets significant power forward minutes, and like Barnes, he'll see extended time there should any injuries occur. Expect him to end up averaging about six minutes of PF time a game.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
78 GP, 14.1 MPG, 4.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 43.2 FG%, 34.0 3PT%, 80.7 FT%
Lee will start and usually close games at power forward. Speights will be the first guy off the bench most nights and Green will be the second. Barnes will slide to the position when the team is looking for offense and mismatches.
O'Neal will gobble up any minutes that remain.
While the 34-year-old will primarily play center, he is a natural PF and is the only such one on the team with great size, strong defensive abilities and extensive experience.
Until Festus Ezeli returns, O'Neal should only see action at power forward for a play here and there, particularly when a stop, blocked shot or rebound is at a premium.
Once Ezeli returns, O'Neal will see less time at center and more time at the 4—but don't expect him to ever play heavy minutes at the position.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
60 GP, 15.2 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 46.9 FG%, 74.1 FT%
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com and HoopData.com.
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