As a long-suffering Warriors fan, I don’t do predictions. If you are relatively new to the team or you only go back as far as the “We Believe” years, you probably won’t understand, but here are two lessons I have learned: 1) The glasses are always rose-colored in October; and 2) the season begins way too close to Halloween. Given all of the moving pieces – injuries, cap issues, teams moving in and out of contention, makes it hard for me to look at the Warriors and give a number of wins with any confidence.
Here’s what I’d like to see from every player on the roster, ranking them in the order of importance:
- Andrew Bogut. It’s arguable whether it’s Steph or Bogut at the top of the list here but since we’ve had Curry and really haven’t had the Big Aussie, I’m ranking him first. It was fun watching the game in Sacramento the other night to see him and the aggressive DeMarcus Cousins go at each other. They pretty much had their own little scrum in the paint while everyone else played basketball. At one point the refs called a double-foul and the two of them cracked up. It was just another reminder of the difference-maker that Bogut is. A touch of nasty with the floor command that a true franchise-type big man brings to the table. If he delivers 65+ games and double-digit rebounds, and over 2 blocks and assists per game, they are an upper-echelon team.
- Steph Curry. There is a general idea out there that Steph fundamentally changed as a player during the 54-point outburst at MSG on February 27 last year. Suddenly a good player and great shooter became a force to be reckoned with. He kept it up through the playoffs until his body was unable to take anymore. So if that’s case, what’s next? A summer of not having to rehab a balky ankle gave us a good idea. The Curry I’ve seen in pre-season looks bigger and stronger and every bit as capable of taking over a game as the post-MSG Curry looked. To me the defining aspect of a great player starts with being able to create his own shot and Steph has started to do that. A stronger frame will allow him to enter the paint with impunity and finish or go to the free throw line, where he is money. We are also seeing some emotion and fire and that bodes well for the future (and is also a part of the free throw equation). Add in the renewed energy on the defensive side and you have a complete player and a true team leader for a team capable of making an extended playoff run.
- Andre Iguodala. Earlier in his career there were rumors of a trade with the 76ers that would have swapped Ellis for Iguodala, something I would have done in a heartbeat. Truth be told that while I enjoyed any number of moments by The Mississippi Missile, I was never that big a fan. Watching A.I. at long last in a Dub’s uniform, I can see why he was so willing to come to the blue and gold. His athleticism, court awareness and defense are a joy to watch and the way he meshes with this team is obvious. One of the questions in the transition from last year was about the chemistry and if it would be the same and I imagine that it might be even better. This team is capable of so much if people just do their jobs and he allows that to happen at any number of positions. Plus, as a fantasy guy he’s someone I want as he’s going to fill out a stat sheet.
- Klay Thompson. Very excited to see what Klay does this year as he has a real opportunity to take his game to the next level, like Steph, by learning how isher. The tendency to settle and then rush the penetration was what led to the phenomenon of ‘Klay-ups.’ He’s got the body and the mental toughness to do so much on the offensive side. Some will come with experience and some of that should come from more fluid ball-movement. It very well might be that he becomes the 6th man and they start Barnes and I think that might be the ideal role for him. He seems to be fine with that and while he might not start I can see him finishing (along with Steph, Barnes, A.I., and Bogut).
- Harrison Barnes. As I said above, I’d like to see Barnes start and finish. If the foot injury is not a big deal and the playoffs were not a mirage (don’t think so) then the Warriors pose a ton of matchup problems for any defense. I also think that given his tendency to be invisible for large stretches of games that starting fits him better. Where is the upside on his ability? That remains to be seen but I for one think he’s got growing to do. The outside stroke is pretty, he’s the most telegenic finisher they have and he has the body and the mindset to be an elite defender.
- David Lee. I have this vision of Lee having one of his defensive moments – he over-helps leaving somebody with a layup or dunk and Bogut goes nuts. Lee’s motor is sometimes his worst quality as it causes him to do what he does not need to do. He’s big enough and agile enough to at least be a bother and you don’t rebound like he does without some skill but he needs to play with discipline. Defensive lapses aside I love watching him play. Left hand, right hand, soft and smooth. Great feet on offense (shouldn’t that translate at some point to the other side of the ball?), extending his shot to who knows where. The corner three is a possibility. Also a wonderful teammate (see chemistry).
- Draymond Green. Does everything and anything asked and often times before you are even sure what that is. He should provide impactful and effective moments as long as they come in short minutes. Green has earned the trust of the coaching staff and the fans. I also really enjoy his work ethic and believe that will continue to influence the team in a positive way. The Swiss-army knife that good teams all need.
- Toney Douglas. A little bit scary shooting the ball but his on the ball defense is fun to watch. Capable handle as long as he’s not the only guy bringing the ball up and a great fit in any number of scenarios.
- Marreese Speights. How many minutes does he get and at what position? Assuming the Warriors choose to go small at times, he’ll be playing some center. If he falls in love with the 15 footer does Jackson yank him? I love his toughness and attitude and he’s definitely another part of the GSW transition to a team that nobody likes to play. His biggest fault in my mind is that he’s filling enormous shoes in taking over for Carl Landry who will be missed. Loved Landry’s game and personality and he was such a good fit for the Dubs.
- Jermaine O’Neal. Nice to see that the big guy still has some game left. If he can be the bridge to Ezili and not foul too much he’s a perfect fit. Another tough, strong defender who’ll keep the paint clean and leave rebounds for Lee and Barnes. With some health, he’ll knock down some baseline jumpers.
- Kent Bazemore. Which Bazemore shows up in the regular season? The summer league guy that tries too hard to do too much or the nice rotation fit that gets to showcase his athleticism and defense? If he can just relax into the game and do what he does then he’ll be fine. If not he’s going to get more minutes in Santa Cruz that he and the Dubs will like.
- Festus Ezili. Just come back healthy big guy! It’s a shame the surgery happened when it did because I had some high hopes for Big Festus. He’s a smart and athletic enough guy to parlay his playing time from last year into something more and it would have been fun (will be fun?) to see a tandem like Bogut and Ezili protect the rim.
- Nemanja Nedovic. It was only through the radio but I was impressed by Nedovic at the point in the GSW’s last pre-season game. If the poise he showed in running the team wasn’t solely due to the fact that it was the last preseason game of the year then the Dubs might have their back-up point guard. He’s an athlete so the question becomes if he can shoot enough to keep teams honest.
- Ognjen Kuzmic. He’s got an NBA body for sure but only time will tell. For a guy who is probably not going to spend much time on the active 12, he speaks to the Warriors’ depth if nothing else.
- Dewayne Dedmon. Hoping that he gets through waivers and stays as the 15th guy. Another NBA body with tremendous upside and a remarkable story well worth seeking if you are not familiar.
The one question is how much the loss of Mike Malone hurts the day-to-day game planning. Is Darren Ermon ready to step up? Am I the only one who thinks that Lindsey Hunter was a nice add-on? Given the depth of the roster, and last year’s success, the expectations will be high for coach Mark Jackson and the Warriors this year. My thinking is he’s going to be fine.
All-star game for Steph and Bogut, lots of love from the league, an apology (to Bogut) from Charles Barkley.
A top-four seed should mean at least advancing to the second round and depending on the matchup a conference finals appearance. I know I’m doing what I said I shouldn’t do (make predictions) but it’s hard to type this much and not end up here right? Is this a championship team? Probably not, but the fact that it’s even a conversation says more about how far this team has traveled than anything else.
Zach Lowe on Bogut:
Warriors Aficionado David Barnes has suffered through many years of Golden State Warriors disappointments. As you may have detected, David is quite excited about this season’s Warrior team.