Warriors need more from bench to compete with top-tier teams 

click to enlarge Jermaine O’Neal
  • jesse johnson/usa today sports file photo
  • The Warriors will need more out of Jermaine O’Neal, right, and the rest of the bench if they want to be true contenders.
Mark Jackson criticized his bench after the Warriors’ near-perfect win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

He expressed disappointment with their lack of discipline on defense, their inability to execute the offense and how they handled the basketball during garbage time in the fourth quarter.

“I’m not happy at all with it,” Jackson said. “They’ve got to [be] better.”

With the additions of Andre Iguodala and a healthy Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ starting five is capable of hanging with any team in the Western Conference right now. Through eight games, the Warriors (5-3) are outscoring opponents by 60 points when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Iguodala and Bogut are together on the floor.

But if Jackson’s squad is going to make the jump into the NBA’s top tier this season and compete for a conference title with teams such as the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, who are rolling into Oracle Arena tonight, Jackson’s bench will need to be better — much, much better.

While the Warriors are blowing teams away with their starting five, the bench is backsliding without free-agent departures Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, and Festus Ezeli, who is out with a knee injury. Harrison Barnes should be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, but if you take one starter off the court, the Warriors are only beating opponents by two points right now.

The lack of depth is most glaring in the post.

Last season, when Lee, the team’s first All-Star since 1997, went down with a hip flexor tear in the playoffs, the Warriors survived and advanced to the second round thanks to Landry and Ezeli.

The Warriors didn’t need the big men to replicate Lee’s offensive production to beat the Denver Nuggets. They just had to play solid defense, crash the boards and make smart decisions with the basketball.

But when Lee ran into foul trouble against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, the loss was insurmountable. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low, the Grizzlies outscored the Warriors 30-6 in the paint during the second half of a game the Warriors lost by 18 points.

Of course, the Warriors struggled to contain the Grizzlies’ inside game last year, too, but if they want to bang with the big boys, they need to be adding depth down low rather than thinning it out.

Right now, Jackson’s post options off the bench are limited with an aging Jermaine O’Neal, an undersized Draymond Green, an inexperienced Ognjen Kuzmic and an underskilled Marreese Speights.

If something happens to Bogut or Lee, the Warriors are in trouble.

The picture looks somewhat brighter in the backcourt with Toney Douglas, who’s currently injured but scored 21 points when Curry was sideline against the Spurs, and first-round pick Nemanja Nedovic, who has the potential to replace Jack’s production with some refinement.

Still, without Curry’s ability to draw the defense, the Warriors failed to score a basket in the final 2:23 against the Spurs, spoiling a stellar defensive performance.

Here’s the good news: Ezeli should rejoin the team in the spring and Nedovic could blossom into an explosive guard. But the Warriors can’t depend on their production this season, which means they might still be year or so away from taking the next step and competing for a Western Conference title.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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Paul Gackle

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