Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli Need to Step Up


The Golden State Warriors are 5-2.

One would think offense is behind their hot start, but these Warriors are a dedicated bunch on defense. Despite the team’s success, there are two players who were key in the Warriors’ 2013 postseason run who have yet to return to form: Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.

As rookies, Barnes and Ezeli proved they would be major factors in turning the Warriors organization into a playoff team.

Ezeli showed great ability in the paint to gobble up rebounds, block shots, and get the easy baskets on offense. Even though the numbers do not show the impact Ezeli brings to the team, he has a big body and often alters shots. These intangibles don’t show up in the box score, but you can bet Steve Kerr notices. His size and interior presence has aided the Warriors’ struggles on defense– primarily rebounding. When starting Center Andrew Bogut became active Ezeli moved to backup, instantly adding depth to a Warriors bench that has not always been deep in terms of size.

Oct 16, 2014; Des Moines, IA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward

Harrison Barnes

(40) looks to pass the basketball against the Denver Nuggets at Wells Fargo Arena. The Warriors beat the Nuggets 104-101. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Barnes showed he could penetrate the paint and get easy lay-ups while thrilling us with monster dunks that brought energy to the team. Although his regular season numbers did not change much between his rookie and sophomore season (averaged nine points and five rebounds a game), he displayed more talent and potential as a rookie than he did as a sophomore. He had high expectations for the 2013-2014 season after an impressive rookie campaign. In the 2013 NBA playoffs he averaged 16 points and six rebounds and recorded two double-doubles.

In the 2013-2014 season, however, Barnes struggled to find rhythm on either end of the court. He was inconsistent with his jump shot and struggled to get to the rim.

Barnes became a bench player after the Warriors signed small forward Andre Iguodala, and his future with the team became uncertain.

He has returned to the starting lineup but hasn’t lived up to his potential, averaging the pedestrian nine and five he did as a rookie. It’s time he stepped it up a notch.

October 29, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center

Festus Ezeli

(31) dunks the basketball against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On the other hand, Ezeli did not play last season due to off-season ligament reinforcement surgery on his right knee.

He was projected to return for the 2014 Playoffs, but setbacks during the recovery process robbed the seven-footer from realizing his dream.

Ezeli also missed the 2014 NBA Summer League with but was able to start in the Warriors’ seventh preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

This season, it’s time to shine for Barnes and Ezeli.

David Lee and Bogut have been consistently plagued with injuries the past two seasons, thus giving Ezeli and Barnes more playing time. Without Lee, the Warriors lose a 18-point, 10-rebound starter. Without Bogut , they not only lose a interior defender and interior passer, but a rebounder as well. Bogut has averaged about 10.5 boards per game over the past two seasons.

Given these circumstances, Barnes will need to regain the confidence he had during the 2013 playoffs in order to match the 16-18 points that the team would get from a healthy Lee. Heck, the Warriors would take something less; 10-12 points and 5-7 rebounds would work.

Ezeli plays limited minutes, but if he can get at least 6-10 rebounds in the 15-20 minutes he is allowed to play off the bench that will give Bogut time to rest, making his less susceptible to injury. Should Bogut get injured, Ezeli will have to step it up even more by playing more minutes and making himself a threat on the glass.

If Barnes and Ezeli improve, then the Warriors will be even stronger than they currently are.  When Lee reaches full health, the Warriors should use him as sixth man in attempt to keep Barnes’ confidence up. Should he struggle, Lee will be well-rested and ready to contribute at the high-level we’re accustomed to.

Not only will Barnes and Ezeli having bigger roles help the team, it will also prove to the coaches and front office they are worth keeping around after their contracts expire following the 2015-2016 season.

It’s a long season. Bogut and Lee will miss games due to injury, and Barnes and Ezeli must be there to pick up the slack.

Barnes will be spotlighted more than Ezeli because he’s shown talent and spats of dynamic play in his young career.

Either way, these two less-than-heralded players must thrive for the Warriors to contend this season.

Let’s hope they’re up to the task.