One of the most important lessons a young player in the NBA can learn is preparedness. Be ready to respond when your number is called. Be ready for that back-side pick you know is coming because you’ve seen the opponent’s game film. Be ready to catch and shoot because you know the defense is closing in on you quickly. The Warriors rookies don’t have the luxury of time to figure everything out, and that point’s accentuated with the team’s current injury issues.
Harrison Barnes has been the starting small forward since Opening Night, but Brandon Rush’s injury now leaves the rookie with a heavier load. Festus Ezeli faces a similar predicament. Thursday’s announcement that Andrew Bogut will be sidelined for the next seven to 10 days to strengthen his surgically repaired left ankle leaves the first-year center from Vanderbilt as the team’s starting center. There’s no question that this brings a challenge more than just adjusting to the NBA game, but it’s one that they are prepared for.
“Anything can happen at any moment,” Ezeli said after Thursday’s practice. “I’m ready. My role is the same on this team. I come in and I play with energy, I rebound and defend.”
Hear more from Ezeli, as well as Head Coach Mark Jackson and Andrew Bogut, in the video below, and be sure to check out the rest of the playlist for a look at NBA TV's Rooks, which features the Warriors rookies in several episodes.
There won’t be any easing in to this starting assignment for Ezeli, as he’ll be matched up with Dwight Howard in tonight’s game against the Lakers. Remember, he didn’t play organized basketball until about five years ago. Now, he’s preparing (there’s that word again) to go up against a perennial All-Star who many experts say is the best big man in the game today.
There will undoubtedly be growing pains, and maybe we see some of those tonight, but it’s not like these rookies are just being thrown into the fire. They have veterans to go to for guidance, not to mention a head coach who played 17 years in the league, and their skills aren’t half bad either. Barnes is making more of an impact in each game he plays, and on Wednesday he sunk a 3-pointer from the corner that helped seal the Warriors’ win over the Cavaliers. He had a season-high 14 points on Wednesday and he’s shooting 52.2 percent over the last three games. More contributions like that and he’ll make us forget that he’s just 20 years old.
“I feel very comfortable out there,” Barnes said after Thursday’s practice. “My coaches and teammates have expressed a lot of confidence in me.”
Likewise, the Warriors have shown that confidence in Ezeli. His stats won’t jump out at you but he does provide a presence in the paint and he’s certainly affected many more shots than his team-leading five blocks give him credit for. He’s earned one starting assignment already, against the Clippers when Bogut was held out of the back end of the back-to-back, and now he’ll start at least the next three games.
“We have some great rookies who are pros, more (professional) than veterans,” Jackson said after Wednesday’s win. “I think the main thing with them is to be patient and let them gain experience by winning, by losing and by having tough nights.”
There’s no doubt that experience is coming, but Dub Nation won’t mind if those “tough nights” are delayed for a little while.