Why the Warriors are True Title Contenders
Until last season, Golden State Warriors fans have had very little to cheer for over the past two decades. Since the end of the first Don Nelson-led “Run TMC” era in the early 1990s, the Warriors had made the playoffs just once before last season. Although the 2007 Warriors team did provide us with some outstanding moments (specifically defeating the top seed Mavericks in the first round and then the Baron Davis throw down over Andrei Kirilenko in the second round), even that team only snuck into the playoffs as an eight seed.
The culture of the franchise seemed to change, though, when the Warriors brought on General Manager Bob Myers and Head Coach Mark Jackson in 2011. Despite just a 23-43 record in their first year with the team, Myers seems to have found players that fit perfectly together and Jackson has gotten them all to buy into his system.
After a 47-35 campaign last season, the Warriors won a playoff series and pushed the eventual Western Conference Champion Spurs to an extremely competitive six-game series in the second round. Carrying the momentum from last year’s playoffs into this season, the Warriors currently sit at 24-14 (18-4 with their full starting lineup), having won 10 out of their last 11 games including marquee wins at Denver, at Atlanta and at Miami, and are now ranked seventh in the numberFire Power Rankings. Here are just a few reasons why this Dubs team is different than years past and needs to be taken seriously as a true title contender.
When the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry out of Davidson College in 2009, everyone knew he was an absolute lights-out shooter. But after the All-Star break and into last year’s playoffs, Curry emerged as a true superstar. Averaging 26 points, 7.4 assists and 4 rebounds with a True Shooting Percentage of 62% (including 46.1% from three-point range) during the second half of last season, Curry really stepped up as the Warriors leader and go-to guy. Additionally, Curry played outstandingly during the Warriors’ playoff run last season, averaging 23.4 points, 8.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. During that playoff run, Curry continually hit clutch shots, made the right passes, and was a true floor general; something the Warriors lacked since Baron Davis.
So far this season, Curry has continued his torrent pace from the second half of last season, averaging 23.1 points, 9.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Despite leading the league in turnovers, Curry has still been one of the most efficient players with a 10.8 nERD. Curry ranks seventh in the numberFire player power rankings and is still evolving as a true point guard. With his ability to shoot the ball (more on that later), continued improvement as a passer, and willingness to take (and make) the big shot, Curry is the type of player that can put his team on his back and carry them to the next level.
For years, the Warriors were a fun team to watch because they played an up-tempo, exciting offense featuring guys like Baron Davis and Monta Ellis, but were never contenders because they didn't play defense. When Mark Jackson became head coach, he vowed to change the defensive culture in Golden State, and boy has he.
Right now, the Warriors are fourth in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency Rating at 100.8, nearly six points better than last season (106.02) and nine points higher than two seasons ago (109.66) when Jackson took over as head coach. While a lot of this improvement can be attributed to a focus on defense by the coaching staff, much of the Dubs defensive success is due to the front office stock-piling versatile defenders who can guard more than one position.
Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala (all players brought in by Bob Myers) are all extremely talented defenders who can guard opposing players at multiple positions. With multiple guys able to guard the opposing team’s best player, the Warriors seldom need to worry about making substitutions based on specific matchups or having one of their premiere players worn down by the end of the game from defending LeBron James or Kevin Durant all game.
These hybrid defensive players have had a huge impact on the Warriors’ team defense, but the difference this year has really come from the anchor of the defense, Andrew Bogut (another Bob Myers guy). Bogut has been nothing short of incredible for the Warriors this season, ranking in the top 10 in Defensive Rebound Percentage (29.4%), Total Rebound Percentage (20.6%), Individual Defensive Rating (95) and Defensive Wins Shared (2.3). Bogut has struggled with injuries in the past, but if he can stay healthy this defense should continue to be one of the league’s best for the remainder of the season.
Coming off of a season where they hit 483 three-point shots as a tandem - more than any other duo in NBA history - Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are once again among the league leaders in three-point shooting. Other than Damian Lillard with 119, no other player in the league has made more three-point shots than Thompson, who ranks second with 115, or Curry who ranks third with 110.
Although Thompson and Curry are among the league leaders in three-point shots attempted, both have been very efficient from beyond the arc the past two seasons. Last season, both Thompson (40.1%) and Curry (45.3%) shot the ball extremely efficiently from downtown, and although Curry’s three-point percentage is down from last season, both of the Splash Brothers have shot the ball at a high percentage this season (38.9% and 41.4% respectively) despite a greater focus on them from opposing defenders.
As good as the Splash Brothers have been this season, they haven’t even been the most efficient three-point shooters on the Warriors. With Curry and Thompson attracting so much defensive attention, Andre Iguodala is having a career year from long-range, shooting 47.6% from three-point range, 8.2% higher than his previous career high. With Harrison Barnes also shooting a very strong 42.9% and Draymond Green shooting 33.8% from three-point range, the Dubs are loaded with players who stretch the floor.
What does this mean? Well, for one, it helps open up the middle of the court for guys like David Lee and Andrew Bogut to work down low. But more importantly, it means that if the Warriors shooters get hot, no lead is safe.
Going into the playoffs last season, the Warriors only had three players on their roster who had won a playoff series (Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins). And only Jefferson had won more than one playoff series. This year’s Warriors return seven players from last season’s playoff roster, including five players who are 25 years old or younger. While the Warriors are still a young team, with an average age of 25.8 years old, last year’s playoff run gave the team invaluable postseason experience and showed them what it takes to make a title run.
With Richard Jefferson underachieving for the Warriors, the Dubs brought in Andre Iguodala to replace him at small forward. Iguodala plays a very similar style to Jefferson but, unlike Jefferson, is still in his athletic prime. AI has been to the playoffs six times and held a true leadership role nearly every one of those seasons. Iguodala has a history of being the best player on winning teams, guarding the opponent’s best player as well as taking and making the big shot - just ask the Atlanta Hawks. With the Warriors’ young guns such as Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Green learning from last season and AI’s experience and leadership, the Warriors will feel more comfortable in close playoff games than ever and could make a serious run at the NBA title.