Growing Presence In Oaktown Pivot

A Daily Babble Production

It is assuredly a good thing that pronunciation doesn't count in print.  Because I'm still not entirely sure how to say the name of today's subject (though I think I'm starting to grasp it in his fifth year in the league).

But no matter whether you call him BEE-drich, BEE-uh-dridge, BEE-drins or anything else, the Warriors center Andris Biedrins looks better than ever to start the new season.

The 22-year-old from Latvia has steadily increased his production since arriving in 2004. He averaged a near-double-double over the last two seasons, putting up 9.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in 2006-07 and 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season, all the while having his minutes and role constantly in flux.

We knew Biedrins could rebound and that he could defend a bit, and he is off to a fast start in both those areas in 2008-09.  A 22-rebound performance helped inflate his rebounding average to 13.8 per game over a small sample size, but he has not come down with less than 11 boards in any of his five contests this year.  While he could rotate a bit better defensively, he is blocking 1.6 shots per game. 

But we've seen those facets of Biedrins' game before.  What has really been impressive so far is how he has stepped up his offensive performance in lieu of the likes of the departed Baron Davis and injured-suspended Monta Ellis (and last night, Corey Maggette as well).  Not only is Biedrins taking more shots than ever before, he looks far more comfortable and versatile with the ball in his hands. 

He had his worst shooting night of the season so far last night against Denver (6-for-14 is his only sub-50 percent effort), and it was still easy to see that he has put the work in to make himself more of a threat.  Biedrins looked at ease putting the ball on the floor at the elbows and attacking the rim, particularly with his dominant left hand, and his stride to the basket looked quicker than in the past.  He also showed some touch on a couple of nice back-to-the-bucket spin moves in the low post, both leaning away from and going toward the tin.  Finally, after the announcers spent much of the second half imploring Denver's defense to force Biedrins to use his right hand for once, the center cruised in from the wing to give Nene an off-hand facial (plus a foul) to put an exclamation point on a Warriors victory.

There is no doubt quite a way to go in this young campaign, and whether Andris Biedrins can keep up his increased production levels remains to be seen.  But the fifth-year center looks more at ease than ever before putting the ball on the floor and making sound passes and decisions from both the high post and the low block, and his scoring abilities seem to have attained a new level of potency.  His foul shot is still the line drive eyesore it always was, but here's guessing Don Nelson and the Warriors can live with that given the new level at which their big man is playing.

*   *   *

Just one more quick note on last night's Denver-Golden State game: We would be remiss to discuss it at all without mention of the contributions of three players from Golden State's bench.  Nellie gave Kelenna Azubuike, C.J. Watson and Brandan Wright all the chance to start the second half because they were the ones to spark the team back into the game from an early 18-point deficit in the first half.  Wright played the game of his young career, posting 18 points (7-for-9 from the field), 13 rebounds (6 offensive) and three blocks.  Azubuike and Watson were both highly active in attacking the rim all night, going for 22 and 14 points respectively.  With Marco Belinelli's two points on the books as well, the Golden State bench actually outscored its starters, 56-55. 

Azubuike, Watson and Wright were plus-21, plus-20 and plus-24 respectively, and the three players gave their team an enormous energy lift with Corey Maggette out and Stephen Jackson struggling early (though he finished with 29 points).  Job well done, Oaktown reserves.

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