How Superior Roster Depth Won the Golden State Warriors the NBA Title


After 40 years the Golden State Warriors have finally brought a NBA championship back to the Bay Area. On June 6th, the Warriors went into Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and won Game Six 105-97, taking the series 4-2 and winning the Larry O’ Brien trophy.

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The Warriors had to face a fierce battle from LeBron James, but were able to dethrone the King with one key ingredient the Cavs did not have. When thinking of a championship NBA team one might think about which team has more superstars, or which team’s starting five has more All-Stars.

What one might forget though, is the importance of a team’s bench.

The reason the Warriors were able to beat the Cavs is not because of the play of MVP Stephen Curry, it is not because of the play of All-Star Klay Thompson or All First-Team Defensive standout Draymond Green. The Warriors won the championship due to the depth of their bench.

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  • Looking at the Warriors’ team throughout the regular season, coach Steve Kerr used a rotation featuring six players who saw at least 20 minutes per game, and 12 players who saw at least ten minutes per game. Considering the fact that an NBA roster is only 15 players deep, being able to call on your twelfth man to play significant minutes is key for an NBA championship team.

    If one compares the Cavalier’s rotation to Golden State’s, it has some similarities with nine players averaging at least 20 minutes and twelve players who played at least ten minutes. The problem is that of the nine players who averaged at least 20 minutes, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Anderson Varejao all went down with injuries. Taking them out puts the Cavs in a dead heat with the Warriors in terms of rotational players during the regular season.

    So how is the Warrior’s depth superior to the Cavs?

    Looking at playoff minutes per game, the Warriors once again had six players who averaged 20+ minutes a game and eight who played at least 10+ minutes. The Cavaliers had eight players who averaged 20+ minutes a game and nine who averaged 10+ minutes. Once again, the Cavs were missing Love and Irving, dropping them down to six players with 20+ MPG and seven players with 10+ MPG.

    So, the Warriors had one more player. How is that “superior depth”?

    Out of the eight Warriors’ players who averaged at least 10+ minutes per game, three came off the bench. Notable players also include David Lee who averaged just 8.8 minutes per game, Festus Ezeli who averaged 9.1 minutes, and Marreese Speights who averaged 6.7 minutes per game.

    Of the Cavaliers’ seven players who averaged at least 10+ minutes per game, two came off the bench. Notable players also include Mike Miller who averaged 8.1 MPG.

    The Warriors had six viable options off the bench, with the three bench players averaging at least ten minutes and the three key bench pieces just below the cut line. The Cavaliers had just three viable options off the bench with the two bench players and Miller.

    Of the Warriors’ bench players, notable names include Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Ezeli, Lee, and Speights. Andre Iguodala was originally a staple off the bench, but after the Warriors decided to go small, he was thrust into the starting lineup, moving Bogut to the bench.

    In the playoffs alone:

    Livingston averaged 4.8 points, 1.9 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game with a 52.1 field goal percentage — the most of any point guard who played least ten games. He played in 20 games were he averaged 17.1 minutes per game

    Barbosa averaged 5.0 points, 0.8 assists, and 1.2 rebounds and shooting 44.6 percent per game. He played in all 20 games, averaging just 10.8 minutes per game.

    Bogut, who was originally a starter, averaged 4.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, fourth most in the playoffs among centers. He shot 56 perecent, playing in 19 games and averaging 23.2 minutes per game.

    Ezeli averaged 3.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks on 54.5% shooting. Ezeli appeared in 19 games but only averaged 9.1 minutes per game.

    Lee averaged 3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.2 blocks per game. He averaged 41 percent shooting in 12 games, and averaged just 8.8 minutes. Lee did shine in game three where he played 13 minutes, scoring 11 points and securing four rebounds on 100 percent shooting. And then again, in game four where he played 15 minutes and scored nine points to go along with five rebounds.

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    Speights, who was hurt for a majority of the playoffs, averaged 3.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 0.3 BPG, shooting .333 in 10 games while averaging just 6.7 MPG. Speights was a vital bench piece during the regular season.

    These numbers aren’t perfect, but each of these six guys were crucial during the Finals. Whenever one of the regulars needed rest, one could come in and keep the momentum going. They each stand out in their own ways and benefited the team as a whole, down the stretch.

    As for the Cavaliers bench pieces in the playoffs:

    J.R Smith averaged 12.5 points, 1.2 assists per game, and shot 47 percent from three. Overall, he shot 40.8 percent in 17 games averaging 30.9 minutes per game.

    James Jones averaged 4.3 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game. He shot 36.7 percent from three point range and 35.7 overall. He played in 19 games averaging 14.9 minutes per game.

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  • Miller averaged 1.1 points and shot 60 percent from the three point line. He played in eight games and averaged 8.1 minutes.

    Smith is one of the better bench pieces in the game. His three point shooting has been electric throughout the entire playoffs. He kind of flattened out towards the end, making boneheaded fouls. On offense he helped the team immensely off the bench, but playing 30.9 minutes per game puts just as much fatigue on him that the starters have.

    Jones and Miller average out to 34.5 years old. They were brought into Cleveland due to their three point shooting as well as their relationship with James. They both performed admirably off the bench, but at an their age, it is hard to count on them.

    James averaged 42 minutes per game during the Finals. A series going six games means he would’ve played approximately 252 minutes. At the level of production he is expected to put up, he is going to be fatigued, which was evident towards the end of the season.

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  • James didn’t go into the series alone though. He had players like Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, and the emerging Matthew Dellavedova playing beside him. The problem was that they also played 30+ minutes a game. With coach Blatt not being able to dig into a deeper bench, he was forced to play his starters more, thus taking a toll on the whole team.

    The Warriors were able to dig into their bench. Yes, Curry still averaged 39.2 MPG, but the rest of the team was able to take breathers while the bench stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. Golden State’s deep bench allowed them to stay rested and not get burned out toward the end of the season.

    The credit belongs to GM Bob Myers. His ability to bring in a solid starting five, but back it up with one of the best benches is what made him NBA Front Office Executive of the Year. This formula allows you to throw all the punches with your starting five, and instead of holding back with your second unit, keep throwing punches and keep pushing your hardest.

    It is hard to say if the Cavs would’ve won given their health and their depth problems. It is evident that 42.0 minutes a game was too much for LeBron and their players.

    In turn, it is tough to say whether the Warriors would’ve won if they didn’t have the depth they did. The starters did play a ton, but the bench also brought their A-game during the Finals.

    A strong bench is key to any team trying to win an NBA Championship. You can put the best starting five together, but once they get tired you better have a second unit who won’t falter under the pressure. This strategy is what ultimately won the 2015 NBA Championship for the Golden State Warriors.

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