At one point this offseason, it appeared almost certain that Kevin Love would be a Golden State Warrior. The holdup was whether Klay Thompson would be in the deal, but it was presumed with the dearth of other suitors that the deal with Minnesota would eventually be done. Ultimately, whether the Warriors would have relented on Thompson or not became irrelevant when LeBron James signed with Cleveland, suddenly rendering the Cavaliers a more desirable franchise for Love–and one that possessed much better trade assets than the Warriors.
So, an offseason of turmoil ultimately resulted in some of the least personnel turnover in the league for Golden State. With head coach Steve Kerr replacing the deposed Mark Jackson, the question is what will and can be different for a squad that garnered the sixth seed in the West and lost a bitter seven-game series to the Los Angeles Clippers a season ago?
Five Guys Think
It will be interesting to see what kind of head coach Steve Kerr will be, particularly since his first opportunity has afforded him a lot of toys with which to play. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are the deadliest three-point shooting tandem in the league, and they shouldn’t be any less exciting than they have been the last couple of seasons. Defensively, standout veterans like Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut hopefully will anchor a more stalwart D than we’ve seen in the recent past. If Kerr succeeds, the Warriors will remain in the postseason conversation, but if mismanaged, the Warriors are the kind of team that could fall off a little. They’re aren’t likely to miss the playoffs, but upstart teams will be clawing at them. That combined with the new coach should make for some intrigue in the Bay Area this year.
2nd Place – Pacific Divisoin
With the versatile Shaun Livingston added to their already impressive core, the Golden State Warriors may be closer to competing for winning all of the marbles than anyone thinks. If Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala were all able to play 75 games alongside Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the Warriors had one of the most talented starting fives in the entire league last year. With Livingston, Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes and Brandon Rush on the bench, the team does have a concern with size off the bench, but that is an issue that can be addressed with a late signing or two or a trade at deadline time. For the Warriors, what it all hinges on is Steve Kerr. Kerr is universally regarded as a brilliant basketball mind, but how well he handles the transition to the bench will obviously make all the difference in the world for the Warriors. If Jason Kidd serves as an example, the Warriors are in good hands. This is one of the more compelling story lines heading into the season, though, since the man that Kerr is replacing—Mark Jackson—was mostly loved by his locker room and his star players. Still, at the end of the day, it is difficult to believe that with Cury and Thompson, a healthy Warriors teams would not be among the cream in the conference, even if not first out in the Pacific.
2nd place – Pacific Division
– Moke Hamilton
Two decisions made by the team’s front office during the summer will ultimately shape the future direction of the franchise – for better or worse. The first decision was to fire head coach Mark Jackson due to philosophical issues and hire Steve Kerr for the position. Kerr has no head coaching experience but meshes better with the team’s management structure. The second decision was the club’s refusal to include shooting guard Klay Thompson in a potential trade for All-Star forward Kevin Love. Those are two huge decisions with their own set of ramifications – positive and negative. The playoffs are a certainty for Golden State, but the team made those two decisions with grander visions in mind. It will be interesting to see if they can get over the hump.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Lang Greene
Warriors fans have a lot to be excited about entering this season. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are incredibly talented and are coming off of an excellent FIBA World Cup experience. New head coach Steve Kerr should come in and be more creative than Mark Jackson on the offensive end. The additions of Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush and Leandro Barbosa among others should improve their depth. David Lee and Andrew Bogut should enter the season healthy, and will hopefully stay that way. Golden State has all of the pieces to be a top-tier team in the West. Expectations will be high, especially since the team decided to part ways with Jackson due to behind-the-scenes drama, but the Warriors should be able to live up to them.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Alex Kennedy
When I think of the Golden State Warriors, the first thing that comes to mind is professionalism, because this is a team that has a lot to be frustrated about with their front office. Mark Jackson had the ear of that locker room. They loved him, played hard for him and did not want to see him go. Yet, because of differences with ownership and management, Jackson was replaced with a first-time head coach (at any level) in Steve Kerr. Then, after flirting with the idea of trading Andrew Bogut to create room for Dwight Howard last summer, much to Bogut’s distaste, they also shopped Klay Thompson this summer in hopes of acquiring Kevin Love. While they publicly denied it on plenty of occasions, Thompson knows that there were members of that front office willing to trade him, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that carries over to contract negotiations. A team loving their front office has never been a necessity for success – in fact disliking them could fuel it – but I can’t help but wonder what the mental state of the team is like, and how close they are to having some of those frustrations pour over onto the floor. Until they do, this is one of the best teams in the West on paper.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Yannis Koutroupis
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry. Curry made headlines when he called himself a better offensive player than LeBron James, but he might well be close. No player in NBA history has combined Curry’s accuracy and volume from beyond the arc, and he changes entire defensive schemes with his shooting ability. Defenders guarding the screener in pick and roll must have their heels on the three-point line to prevent a three, pushing them far out of their comfort zone and opening up the floor for everyone else.
Top Defensive Player: Andrew Bogut. While Curry is the most irreplaceable player in the Warriors’ lineup, Bogut is a close second. His absence during the Clippers series proved how indispensable he truly is, as L.A. played volleyball on the offensive backboards and got to the rim with impunity at times. Bogut generally hangs back on the pick and roll, but with Klay Thompson generally guarding the other team’s point guard it is an effective strategy because his length bothers a potential midrange jumper from behind. Bogut is one of the league’s greatest deterrents at the rim and picks up David Lee on the defensive backboards as well. If he is not healthy for the playoffs, the Warriors almost certainly cannot win a round.
Top Playmaker: My esteemed editors cautioned against picking the same player for more than one category, but one cannot credibly slight Curry by passing him over here. He averaged 8.5 assists per game a year ago, easily a career high. Curry was the sole engine that powered the Warriors offense, and the team has become very dependent of Curry. They scored at a rate that would have led the league with him on the floor last year, 109.7 points per 100 possessions. With him off the floor they were a miserable 15.9 points/100 worse. Curry has developed into one of the league’s most spectacular passers, whipping one-handed lasers with either hand off the pick and roll to shooters on the weak side, dropping dimes to the roll man, or connecting on alley oops with Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. The next step for Curry is to reduce his turnovers. He turned the ball over on 16 percent of his possessions during the year, well above the league average. These were a particular problem in the playoffs, as Chris Paul (admittedly one of the league’s best thiefs) often had Curry’s hook passes timed out.
Top Clutch Player: On December 9, 2013, I wrote a post outlining Curry’s struggles as a primary option in the clutch to that point in his career. I theorized that it was not because Curry was somehow “unclutch,” but because he was more dependent upon defensive lapses to score than other superstars. Therefore, it was harder for him when teams really locked in during crunchtime. Two days later, he hit the game-winner against the Mavericks and never looked back. He had two other game-winners against the Celtics and the Mavericks (again), a game-tying shot in the last few seconds against Houston, and late heroics against Miami in a game LeBron James ultimately won with a crazy three. Overall he was a very solid 5-11 on field goal attempts in the last 10 seconds when tied or trailing by up to three points, a situation in which the league shoots much worse than on normal attempts. The 11 attempts was second in the league behind Damian Lillard. He added two assists and two more free throws in such situations. So much for my theory.
The Unheralded Player: Draymond Green. This space had long been Iguodala’s province, and he would again be a worthy choice as he ranked third in Real Plus/Minus in 2013-14 despite pedestrian traditional statistics. But Iguodala makes eight figures. Green is now on the third year of a rookie minimum contract that may be the best value in the league now that Chandler Parsons has signed a maximum deal. The Michigan State product possesses even more defensive versatility than Iguodala because of his ability to guard power players in addition to smalls. To improve even further, Green must become more consistent from three-point range. If he can speed his release and up his accuracy to establish his chops as a pick-and-pop threat from beyond the arc as a four man, he could supplant David Lee as the closer if not the starter.
Best New Addition: The three additions to the roster as of this writing were Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush, and Leandro Barbosa. The latter two are essentially replacement-level players at this point, although Rush could conceivably return to his roots as an effective three and D wing if he can slim down a bit from last year as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. So the choice here is obviously Livingston, inked to the full mid-level exception. He is the latest in the Warriors’ revolving door at backup point guard, a position that killed them last year. The hope is Livingston can distribute the ball when Curry is not in the game and play on the wing when he is, providing the Warriors with yet another rangy perimeter defender. Ironically for a team that is theoretically trying to get away from isolations, Livingston is perhaps the league’s best postup guard. Unfortunately, he is a miserable shooter outside of 15-feet, and shooting is a weakness for Golden State outside of Curry and Thompson.
– Nate Duncan
Who We Like
1. Klay Thompson: It has certainly been a newsworthy summer for Thompson. The Warriors refused to surrender him for Love, after which he was a stalwart for a dominant Team USA at the World Cup. With the inflated market for wing players at the moment, a solid defensive wing with Thompson’s shooting gravity will likely merit a maximum contract in the summer of 2015 if he is not extended before the season. But it should also be noted that Thompson only managed a 14.2 PER last season because he does nothing but shoot jumpers on offense. To really be live up to a max contact, Thompson must improve his abilities to operate in the pick and roll, finish at the basket, get to the foul line and rebound. He made strides in some of these areas during the latter third of the season in 2013-14, so the hope is that can continue.
2. David Lee: Lee has long been maligned for his poor defense, including in a famous presentation at the Sloan Conference in 2013. But Lee really improved defensively a season ago, losing weight and getting in better cardio condition to execute in pick and roll and help defense. He even improved his defense at the rim. The problem as Lee ages is he really lacks the athleticism and strength to score against top defenders, and he was not a particularly effective option against the Clippers’ athletic frontcourt. His jump shot strangely abandoned him last year, although he has been working to improve it this summer and even add a modicum of three-point range.While many have called for Green to start ahead of him (and maybe he should), Lee will remain an essential part of a team as clearly the second-best offensive player unless Thompson improves.
3. Andre Iguodala: Iguodala (don’t call him Iggy, he rightfully dislikes the terrible moniker) signed a four-year, $48 million contract last summer in a transaction that also cost the Warriors two first-rounders. That seems a pretty penny for a player with a 13.7 PER and 13 percent usage rate, but as noted the Warriors consistently played far better with the Arizona product on the floor, even after adjusting for the quality of his teammates and the opposition. While he has slowed a bit as an individual stopper, Iguodala is still a masterful help defender who excels at moving the ball on offense and never takes bad shots. For last year, at least, he was worth his contract. Hopefully for the Warriors, he maintains that in his age-30 season.
4. Steve Kerr: Kerr was lured away from the clutches of Phil Jackson’s Knicks with what seemed an astronomical 5-year, $22 million contract for someone who had never coached before. Such is Kerr’s reputation around the league. After the constant palace intrigue of the Mark Jackson era, Kerr should be a breath of fresh air for Warriors fans and the front office. He will need to win over a locker room in which Jackson was largely (though not entirely) popular, but few have doubts that a man of Kerr’s esteem can accomplish it as long as the Warriors play well.
5. The Assistant Coaches: Kerr’s transition as a first-time head coach will be eased by perhaps the best assistant coaching staff in the NBA. Renowned defensive teacher Ron Adams was Tom Thibodeau’s right-hand man in Chicago before moving on to Boston last year. There, he performed a similar role for first-year head coach Brad Stevens, an experience which should help with Kerr’s first year as well. Adams helped Boston to a mid-pack finish in defense that was borderline miraculous considering their limited frontcourt talent on that end. Alvin Gentry has extensive head coaching experience, most recently as Kerr’s coach when he was the GM in Phoenix from 2008-10. Gentry annually presided over some of the league’s best offenses before moving on as Doc Rivers’ lead assistant with the Clippers a season ago.
– Nate Duncan
The Warriors have started to get their due as one of the best defenses in the league, ranking third last year by giving up only 99.9 points per 100 possessions per NBA.com. The Warriors have perhaps the most defensive talent in the league, as Bogut, Iguodala, and Thompson are all among the best at their positions. Green is likewise one of the most versatile defenders, one of the few who can legitimately say they guarded every position effectively throughout the season. Barnes is a solid individual defender who should continue to improve in his third season. Livingston is good. And while Curry and Lee lack the athleticism to truly excel, in 2013-14 they both improved their conditioning and execution of the defensive scheme, which should remain similar under the tutelage of Adams. This year, the Warriors and Bulls are the two leading candidates to pace the league on defense.
– Nate Duncan
For a team that ostensibly had the best-shooting backcourt in NBA history per Jackson,* Golden State’s 12th-ranked offense was a massive disappointment. Jackson, the player for whom the league instituted the rarely-called five second backdown rule, was much-derided for his stagnant isolation-heavy coaching style and desire to attack mismatches as he once did in his playing days. As a result, the Warriors threw the second-least passes per possession in the league last year, per NBA.com’s SportVu data.
Early indications from summer league are that Kerr will strive for the opposite, and institute a motion-heavy hybrid of the triangle offense and the Spurs system.* Those offenses are both famous for helping less talented players find shots on system plays rather than relying on individuals to create an advantage. In theory, this will be a particular boon when Curry is out of the game. The Warriors scored three points per 100 possessions less than the league-worst Sixers without Curry on the floor, so improving the bench offense is essential. Indeed, this one aspect could make the difference in attaining a coveted top-four playoff seed. Until we see the effects of Kerr’s system, this remains a relative weakness for the Warriors.
– Nate Duncan
The Salary Cap
The Warriors locked in a hard cap of $80.8 million when they signed guard Shaune Livingston via the team’s $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception. Golden State has 13 fully guaranteed players, along with five hoping to battle out for the team remaining roster spots. Aaron Craft, James McAdoo, Mitchell Watt and Justin Holiday each have $35k guarantees – all candidates to join the Santa Cruz Warriors as affiliate players in the D-League. Leandro Barbosa just inked with the team on a deal that isn’t fully locked in, with guarantees (if any) to be determined. Golden State used their Bi-Annual Exception last summer on Jermaine O’Neal, who may still be a candidate to return. The team has a pair of small traded player exceptions ($1.2 million and $789k, with some room to work with under the $76.8 million luxury tax threshold. The Warriors will presumably stay below the tax, without nearing the hard cap – barring an unexpected and unlikely trade opportunity. Klay Thompson is eligible for an extension (until Halloween), otherwise he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer.
– Eric Pincus
The old guys avoid a step back, and the young guys improve. Everyone stays healthy all year. The defense holds up under Kerr, while the ball movement gets much better as players like Bogut and Iguodala become more involved in the offense and the bench finds it easier going. Curry takes another step as he moves into his prime by increasing his free throw rate and reducing his turnovers. Thompson builds on his improvement passing and dribbling to become a true secondary pick and roll playmaker.
Curry appears over his injury concerns and Thompson never gets hurt, but Bogut, Lee, and Iguodala all miss 20 games. The Warriors regret not going after backup centers like Ekpe Udoh, Miroslav Raduljica, or Gustavo Ayon, as Festus Ezeli proves he is more of a third center even when healthy. Livingston’s toe injury lingers into the season, and minimum signings Rush and Barbosa prove why they were available for the minimum.
– Nate Duncan
The Burning Question
What can make this team better than last year?
The most obvious answer is Kerr, but he will have a challenge ahead of him. Other teams are litmus tests for how much coaching can affect defense, but Kerr’s hiring will provide the same on offense for a team many believe has way too much talent to finish 12th in the league. But defense is generally more susceptible to coaching improvement than offense, which depends more on individual talent. After this year, we will have a good idea of whether the Warriors’ offensive struggles were due to Jackson, or the offensive talent being overrated. Was Iguodala reduced to spot-up shooting and a tiny usage rate because that’s all he has left, or because of the system? Did Thompson fail to score efficiently despite his obvious talent as a shooter because he lacks the ability to create efficient scoring opportunities, or because he was constantly isolating for long twos? Can Andrew Bogut function as more than just a garbageman at the rim, or did his 2010 elbow injury permanently excise scoring from his game? Does Harrison Barnes lack the natural shake to be an effective scorer, or was he used improperly? Was the bench ineffective because of a lack of talent, or because the scheme did not get them enough easy looks?
Aside from the impact of the coaching change, a key question is whether expected improvements from the younger guys (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Green) can exceed declines and/or injuries to the older guys (Iguodala, Lee, and Bogut). With positive answers to these questions, the Warriors are a darkhorse contender to come out of the West.
– Nate Duncan
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