Editor's note: Grant Liffmann is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
When analyzing the makeup of the Warriors' roster, it is important to remember that there is not a traditional clear delineation when it comes to their "bench." They are built incredibly top heavy, with five All-Star caliber players dominating not only the starting unit, but the lineups after that.
What is commonly called the "second unit" (which normally is comprised of bench players to start the second and fourth quarter), the Warriors instead employ only two bench players alongside three starters. The team relies on the scoring and playmaking of their star players, while simultaneously depending on their bench players to fill in the gaps in very specific roles in order to support the stars.
That is why it is counter-intuitive to judge the Warriors' bench based on traditional statistical indicators such as points, rebounds or assists. Instead, it is important for the Warriors' role players to be as efficient and effective as possible in their limited minutes, both offensively and defensively.
However, a few of the Warriors' key role players have been slumping, and the numbers are not pretty.
Let's take a look at Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie.
Looney's greatest attribute has been his consistency throughout the season. Sure that is not the sexiest word, "consistent", but it has kept him in Steve Kerr's most trusted rotations. Over the first 53 games played this season, Looney responded to an increase in workload with solid production.
He averaged 21 minutes per game, scoring seven points, grabbing six rebounds, and making shots at a highly efficient 62 percent. When Damian Jones went down with injury, he filled in admirably as the starting center and once DeMarcus Cousins returned, he briefly returned to his consistent play off the bench.
But recently his numbers have taken a dive, and with that, so has his playing time. Over the last nine games, Looney is playing about 14 minutes per game, scoring about two points, grabbing four rebounds and shooting 42 percent.
Meanwhile, Jordan Bell has emerged as a high-energy addition to the rotation and lately, he has started subbing into the game in spots we have typically seen Looney throughout most of the season. Boogie's minutes have also increased as his conditioning has improved, taking away from Looney's role as well.
The Warriors are counting on Looney returning to form in time for the playoffs, as they will need him to defend teams that rely heavily on ball screens and pick and roll situations such as Houston and Oklahoma City.
We have already chronicled how Jonas Jerebko's playing time has decreased with Cousins' return, but in truth, his effectiveness had faltered a bit before Boogie's comeback. Over his first 33 games played this season, Jerebko was fantastic off the bench, attacking the glass and playing with grit the Warriors had missed with the departures of players like Zaza Pachulia and David West. He also was a much needed three-point threat for the team, shooting 39 percent from deep.
But over the last 24 games, his shot has been inconsistent, making under 28 percent from long range. Jerebko has thrived off of the attention that Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson draw, putting himself in position to space the floor and keep his hands ready to shoot.
In turn, his ability to be a deep threat kept defenses honest, allowing driving lanes for the Warriors' big scorers. But as his shooting became unreliable, so has his impact on the offense.
The teammate that is in competition for Jerebko's minutes, Alfonzo McKinnie, has also struggled with his shot. In his first 18 games played this season, McKinnie made an outstanding 46 percent of his three-point field goals. Following an injury, "Zo" has not returned to form, hitting only 23 percent of his shots from deep over the last 34 games played.
For both McKinnie and Jerebko, these slumps are no longer small sample sizes. Perhaps they are having some trouble with their mechanics or adjusting to the mental hurdles of new roles and competition for minutes. But the Warriors will need one, or both, of them to find their shooting stroke so that they can extend the depth of their team and rotations for playoffs.
In the end, the Warriors do not rely on their "bench" like other teams. In fact, the word to properly describe the accumulation of their role players would be "depth." A deeper team helps the star players remain fresh and productive. It is up to role players such as Looney, Jerebko and McKinnie to find their groove again so the Warriors can make yet another long playoff run.