Check the standings, and you’ll see the Golden State Warriors with 40 wins, on pace for 51 wins and the sixth spot in the Western Conference. But ask any Warriors fan, and they’ll tell you exactly how disappointed they are.
The expectations for the Warriors were pretty high in the offseason. They were coming off a successful post-season with an upset over the third-seeded Nuggets, and a near-upset of San Antonio, who were a lay-up away from an NBA Championship. And they did it all without their All-Star power forward. Stephen Curry had his coming-out party, establishing himself within the NBA elite. Trade-acquisition Andrew Bogut dominated the paint, while Harrison Barnes filled in admirably as a small-ball four. The team was primed to take a leap, and to see the Warriors in the same spot one year later is disappointing and disheartening.
Bill Simmons of Grantland had the Warriors as fifth in the West. CBS Sports had them at sixth with 52-54 wins, and Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead thought the Warriors would be the first seed, reach the NBA Finals and lose to Miami in seven.
But there was reason to be cautious about Golden State as well. They lost key veterans like Carl Landry and replaced sixth-man candidate Jarrett Jack with Andre Iguodala and the other guys. Carl Landry was a legitimate post-scorer and rebounder, whose shoes Golden State hasn’t quite filled, and the Warriors have scrambled to patch up the hole Jack’s departure left (see Crawford, Jordan and Blake, Steve). Plus, the ankles and health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut were concerns as well, as injury-prone leaders of the offense and defense, but at least the Warriors didn’t need to worry about them this season. Even still, people understood that such dramatic changes in the lineup meant an adjustment period, and their one-man answer to the departing free-agents has already missed a dozen games.
Make no mistake; the Warriors are better this season, just not in the way we expected. The Warriors are on pace for more wins, Curry has established himself as the premier point-guard with Paul, Rondo, Rose and Westbrook nursing injuries, and David Lee has recovered from his torn groin. But Barnes and Iguodala have taken a step back, with Barnes struggling to fill-in as the sixth man, and Iguodala not proving to be a legitimate second star.
The offense has disappointed, true, because they never reached the three-point juggernaut level they were during the playoffs. But their offensive rating has improved slightly from 106.4 to 106.9, and their pace has gone from 94.5 to 96.2. Nothing Earth-shattering, but it’s a mistake to say the Warriors took a step back on offense. They simply haven’t taken the leap expected.
But while the offense has been slightly disappointing, the defense has been elite. Mark Jackson has always talked of creating a “defense-first” culture with his Warriors, and they’ve responded with becoming the third best defense in the league (at 99.3 points per 100 possessions, behind Indiana and Chicago). Andrew Bogut has supplied his usual elite rim-protection, holding down opponents to 44.7% shooting in the paint. He plays with the requisite toughness and smarts, and with some much-needed dirty play when the referees aren’t looking. Iguodala has taken to shutting down opposing wings, and Thompson, Green, and Barnes all had strong defensive campaigns. But the real Warrior here has been David Lee, who has also held opponents to a remarkable 48.6% shooting in the paint, and a much-improved 102 defensive rating. While he’s no Bogut, Lee has become a better pick-and-roll defender, and a stronger presence in the low post.
Some Warriors have been disappointing (Iguodala, Barnes), while others have been brilliant (Lee, Bogut, Curry). The Warriors are better than they were last season, but not as good as we thought they were going to be. Let’s just hope the Warriors find their consistency by the playoffs.
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