Golden State Warriors Should Give Ognjen Kuzmic a Chance


The Golden State Warriors are off to franchise-best 26-5 start this season, but they have had issues maintaining a healthy Andrew Bogut and a healthy Festus Ezeli. With both Bogut and Ezeli out, coach Steve Kerr has given the reins at the five-spot to backup center/power forward Marreese Speights and David Lee.

Although Golden State has fared just fine going 8-3 without Bogut  (3-1 without Ezeli), two of those losses came against teams that have a lot of size in the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Warriors had Ezeli for the Memphis game, but he was only able to play 13 minutes. The Warriors were also without Lee that night, leaving only Speights and Ognjen Kuzmic left in terms of big bodies. However, Kuzmic did not play that night, only Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Speights came off the bench against Memphis.

Dec 16, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) drives against Golden State Warriors forward Marreese Speights (5) at FedExForum. Grizzlies defeated the Warriors 105-98. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This was a game where having a large man in the paint would have been good to have, with 7-footer Marc Gasol and the 6’10” Zach Randolph on the glass all night. Gasol and Randolph are just two of the bigs on a Memphis team who has only two players under the height of 6-3.

The “slam brothers,” Randolph and Gasol, combined for 41 points and 17 rebounds that night due to lack of rim protection. The Warriors also allowed 50 points in the paint on 48.9 percent shooting in the paint.

Similarly in the Clippers game on Christmas night, the Warriors struggled containing the size DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Combined, Griffin and Jordan had 32 points and 25 rebounds. It was a poor shooting night overall for both teams, but the Clippers still shot 62.1 percent in the paint that night on 18-of-29 shooting. The Warriors were also out rebounded 50-44 with 11 of the Clippers’ 50 rebounds being offensive rebounds.

Dec 6, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol (16) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

This was game without both Bogut and Ezeli, due to the ankle injury that Ezeli suffered in the Warriors’ previous game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Once again, Kerr chose to stick with Speights and Lee instead of playing Kuzmic. Kuzmic, eventually came in to play two minutes and got one rebound and one assist.

Without Bogut or Ezeli’s presence down low, teams pound the glass, because they know Speights and Lee are not defensive geniuses.

Not having Bogut takes away the Warriors’ biggest rebounders and interior passer. Bogut averages roughly nine rebounds and three assists per game.

Without Bogut protecting the rim, the Warriors have allowed 504 points in the paint, with 166 of those 504 being allowed without both Bogut and Ezeli. The Warriors have also allowed 133 offensive rebounds since losing their starting center to a knee injury. Although Ezeli’s numbers don’t show what a difference he makes, just having the presence of a seven-footer can change players’ shots or make players think twice about going in the lane.

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It is clear that the Warriors need a big body. Even though Speights and Lee can provide sufficient scoring numbers, they lack in size, defense and rebounding ability.

This leaves the question, should Kerr start giving Kuzmic more minutes?

The answer is yes, Kerr should give Kuzmic more minutes, because he is a 7’1″, 251-pound center that can grab as many rebounds as Bogut and provide much need size in the paint. In 30 games with the Warriors’ D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, Kuzmic averaged 6.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, one assist and about two blocks per game.

Kuzmic has not seen a lot of time in the NBA in his two years within the Warriors organization, playing in just 34 games for 158 minutes. However, his D-League numbers show that he has a lot of potential. Cummatlively with Santa Cruz, Kuzmic has 349 rebounds, 52 blocks, 29 steals and 25 assists.

In nine minutes in Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Kuzmic had six points on 2-for-2 shooting, grabbed two rebounds, one steal and one assist. Kuzmic also played 12 minutes in the Minnesota Timberwolves game and had four points, two assists and one rebound. These numbers are not as impressive as his D-League numbers. However, should the Warriors give him a chance, Kuzmic can adapt and provide his team with a much-needed big man.

Why not give him a shot? Kuzmic could be the unlikely breakout player the Warriors have been searching for in a center. He could be a productive contributor off the bench while Bogut and Ezeli get healthy again. Kerr could maybe even keep him in the rotation when Ezeli returns, since Ezeli has minute restrictions, and it would take some pressure off of Speights.

Kerr should give Kuzmic 10-15 minutes off the bench, and if he performs well, bump up his minutes against weaker teams and maintain his 10-15 mins against the good teams. If he does poorly, then the Warriors will just have to stick it out with Speights and Lee.

Just getting Kuzmic playing time would be essential for the future should health be an issue for the Warriors’ bigs come playoff time. Having a third big can take the Warriors up just one more notch.

Next: Warriors Need One More Big