Was 2007 really that long ago when the Golden State Warriors took the NBA world by storm? With their run and gun style of basketball, orchestrated by coach Don Nelson, they had one of the more memorable moments in recent playoff history when they upset the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in six games in the first round of the NBA playoffs, being the third No. 8 seed ever to eliminate a No. 1 seed. Led by a healthy Baron Davis, a loveable headcase Stephen Jackson and emerging stars Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis the future was looking bright in the Bay Area. Even in their eventual second round loss to the Utah Jazz, Baron’s posterization of Andrei Kirilenko was one of the defining moments of the 2007 season.
In the five years since however, the Warriors have been plagued by questionable front office decisions, issues with ownership as Chris Cohan was one of the scummiest owners in recent history and turmoil within the organization and have not returned to the NBA playoffs. Don Nelson’s abrasive style of coaching soon wore on his players and he was fired prior to the 2010-2011 season. Keith Smart took over coaching duties for the Warriors for one year before being replaced by current coach Mark Jackson in June of 2011. While Jackson had worked as an analyst prior to coaching, part of why the Warriors upper management hired him is his outgoing personality and ability to relate to players. Jackson knows the NBA game and lifestyle very well, having played 17 years in the league with seven different teams.
The 2011-2012 season started off respectably enough for the Warriors, as they were 18-21 through 39 games and in playoff contention in the highly competitive Western Conference. However, the Warriors were faced with a unique situation. They owed the Utah Jazz a protected top seven pick from when they acquired Marcus Williams from the New Jersey Nets in 2008. The Jazz acquired the pick when they dealt Deron Williams in 2011.
I won’t traumatize Warriors fans any further by discussing this trade though they not out of the woods yet either, the draft pick is top 7 protected in 2013 and top 6 protected in 2014 so it is very likely the Jazz will end up with another first round draft choice.
With a deep draft class expected for 2012 and realizing that a playoff bid was unlikely, the Warriors decided to make a big move dealing Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the oft-injured but talented Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. Jackson was later dealt to San Antonio for Richard Jefferson and the 30th overall pick in the NBA draft this season who turned out to be Festus Ezeli from Vanderbilt.
Ezeli is a strong rebounder and defensive presence who improved significantly on offense in his last 2 years as a Commodore. He has impressive size and athleticism at 6’11, 255 pounds and can give the Warriors quality minutes as a backup center right away. As a senior, Ezeli averaged 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game in 23.2
More importantly however, the acquisition of Andrew Bogut signified a changing of the guard in Golden State. Bogut’s specialty when healthy is his defensive prowess and along with David Lee can fortify the Warriors front court. Mark Jackson when hired by Golden State promised to promote more of a defensive identity which Bogut will be expected to provide. In 2010-11, Bogut’s last relatively healthy season he averaged 12.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 65 games for the Bucks before a freak injury at the hands of Amar’e Stoudemire ended his season (depending on perspective) . Monta Ellis for his explosiveness on the offensive end of the court was never known for his effort on defense. He frequently took bad gambles for steals along with giving up size against opposing 2 guards on a nightly basis.
The Warriors plan to tank worked out to perfection, they went 5-22 the final 27 games of the season and drew the seventh selection in the NBA Draft lottery, much to the chagrin of the Jazz. They would select Harrison Barnes from the University of North Carolina with the pick.
Opinions on Barnes waver from a potential superstar to an overrated bust whose comparisons to Kobe Bryant are downright laughable. Harrison Barnes did not post overwhelming statistics in his 2 seasons at Chapel Hill but can flat out score and has an NBA body along with solid athleticism. He performed well in summer league, averaging 16.8 points and grabbing 5.6 rebounds over 5 games in Las Vegas and has the potential to be an impact player right away for the Warriors.
Along with drafting Barnes and Ezeli, the Warriors selected Draymond Green from Michigan State with the 35th overall pick of the NBA Draft. Green being a Tom Izzo-coached guy means he certainly does not lack toughness and is a jack-of-all trades, master of none type of player.
While he projects as a bit of a tweener at 6’7′ and 230 pounds, he has a strong basketball IQ and displays good versatility in his game. Draymond is a good passer and is a capable scorer as he showed at the college level. Green averaged 16.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a senior with the Spartans.
Other notable off-season acquisitions the Golden State Warriors made include acquiring Jarrett Jack from the New Orleans Hornets, a deal in which they sent Dorell Wright to the Philadelphia 76ers in an effort to clear minutes for Harrison Barnes. Jack is a quality point guard who put together a nice stat line last season while with the Hornets, averaging 15.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds a game in 34 minutes. He provides a nice contingency plan in case Stephen Curry continues to deal with ankle issues.
Carl Landry was also signed to a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal and he should provide scoring off the bench for the Warriors. While Landry is an undersized power forward, he has a solid mid-range game and is adept at drawing fouls. He scored 12.5 points and grabbed 5.2 rebounds a game in an injury plagued season with the New Orleans Hornets.
Kent Bazemore, an undrafted swingman from Old Dominion was also signed to a 2-year contract. Bazemore is a defensive ace, being awarded the Lefty Driesell Award for being the top defensive player in the country in 2011 and was the two time Colonial Athletic Association defensive player of the year in 2011 and 2012.
Projected Starting Lineup for Warriors:
C – Andrew Bogut
PF – David Lee
SF- Harrison Barnes/Richard Jefferson
SG – Klay Thompson/Jarrett Jack
PG- Stephen Curry
I personally would go with the youth movement and start Barnes and Thompson, who fellow staff writer Mike Hallihan cites as one of his break out candidates for the 2012-13 season but Mark Jackson may elect to bring them off the bench in favor of having more of a veteran presence with Jefferson and Jack in the lineup. Either way, the Warriors like usual will not lack offensive punch this season. Curry when healthy is one of the premier shooters in the league and is an adept playmaker, averaging better than 5 assists in each of his first three seasons.
David Lee is a nightly double-double threat who averaged 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a game last season, him and Curry have great chemistry together on the pick and roll and he has range out to 18 feet. Bogut when healthy is a low post threat who will along with Lee form a nice front court.
Klay Thompson as I mentioned in a previous article is an up and coming stud who averaged 18.1 points in 29 games as a starter last season. Harrison Barnes was at times a dominant scorer at UNC and these two along with Curry form a prolific trio from the perimeter.
The Warriors have accumulated some nice depth as well, Richard Jefferson has seen better days and has an obnoxious contract but is an effective defensive player who fits Mark Jackson’s new ideology. Jefferson has greatly improved his 3 point shot from earlier in his career, shooting 42.1% from downtown last season. Jarrett Jack provides a nice insurance policy for Golden State if Stephen Curry continues to deal with injuries and Landry can provide instant offense off the bench at the power forward spot.
Brandon Rush was resigned and played well for the Warriors off the bench last season. Rush averaged 9.8 points and 3.9 rebounds a game while shooting 45.2% from 3 point range. He is also an above average defender with good athleticism.
Andris Biedrins should have been amnestied by now but Golden State stupidly used the amnesty clause on Charlie Bell last season who had a much friendlier contract. Bad contract withstanding, Biedrins is still a solid rebounder and is only 26 years old so there is a tiny glimmer of hope that he can get it together somehow.
The Warriors are on the hook for 18 million dollars more for 2 seasons (with a player option for 2013-2014 which he will surely use) so they are hoping Andris can put together a nice season as well. He averaged 1.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in limited action last season.
Charles Jenkins, a combo guard who played well in spurts last season and young big man Jeremy Tyler also return to the Warriors.
With Bogut’s defensive reputation, I fully expect the Warriors to be improved in that end of the court. The Warriors have consistently been amongst the worst defensive teams for the past ten years. True to form, in 2011-2012 Golden State allowed 101.2 points per game which ranked 28th in the NBA for defense. Mark Jackson is beginning to change the culture in Golden State and with more defense-oriented guys on the team, the Warriors should become a more respectable team on that end of the court.
What must be an encouraging sign for Warriors fans is that the bottom of the Western Conference is wide open, teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Thunder, Grizzlies, Nuggets and Spurs should have no problem locking down playoff seeds. However, the Dallas Mavericks are experiencing significant turnaround on their roster, the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves much like the Warriors are young teams on the rise but with many unknowns and other teams such as the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets project to be worse in 2012-2013.
I think a 7 or 8 seed out West is a realistic goal for the Warriors, of course this is contingent on Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry staying healthy which is far from a given. Bogut has experienced some bad luck with some of his injuries and Curry is an injury concern as he only played in 26 games last season. If these two players can escape the injury bug, the Golden State Warriors will be a team to be reckoned with.