Around The League: Golden State Warriors

Year in review:

The Golden State Warriors started the season slowly under new head coach Mark Jackson – not what was expected after their owner made a promise the team would be back in the playoffs at the end of the season. The high point of the season came on March 13th, when they closed to within 3 games of .500 after 39 games. They won only 5 games the rest of the season, including 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the month of April.

Incidentally, March 13th, or thereabouts, was also when star point guard Stephen Curry decided to shut it down for the season due to a lingering ankle injury. Not long after that the Warriors decided to openly tank the rest of the season to prevent their first round draft pick from going to the Utah Jazz. The white flag was clearly waved when they traded long time fan favorite Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut, a player known to be sitting out the rest of the season with a back injury.

In all fairness, the experiment of an Ellis-Curry back court had run its course and shown it was never going to take the Warriors to the promised land (in this case, literally, the playoffs). Ellis and Curry are pretty close to basketball clones of one another. If you have basketball clones of LeBron James it isn’t a problem, but when you have clones of players like Curry and Ellis who are undersized and under-skilled on defense and need the ball in their hands to be effective on offense it is a problem. They also got a player in the trade who was a top-10 center before he suffered a horrific elbow injury a few season ago. Bogut’s style of play will fit in nicely with the Warriors. The question is whether Bogut can play at all due to his recent rash of injuries.

Off-season in review:

They finished the season tied for the seventh worst record in the league, but got lucky twice in the lead-up to the draft: they won the coin flip with Toronto to put them in the seven slot, and; the lottery did not promote any team slated to draft below them into the top-3. (If only the Wolves could have even that kind of luck, right?) Thanks to that the Warriors kept their draft pick instead of shipping it off to Utah – who had acquired the pick from New Jersey in the Deron Williams trade, who got it in the Marcus Williams trade. With the #7 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft the Golden State Warriors selected Harrison Barnes, small forward, out of North Carolina. They also added Festus Ezeli, center, out of Vanderbilt, and the NCAA Tournament’s "Mr. Triple Double", Draymond Green, small forward, out of Michigan State.

The salary cap is set at roughly $58M. The Warriors didn’t have the cap space necessary to add an impact player via free agency. They already had roughly $56.5M in salaries committed to 9 players for next season. After accounting for their rookies they were over the cap. They retained Brandon Rush at a Kahntract rate, and brought in Carl Landry for the mid-level exception. If you read that and concluded the Warriors didn’t get much better this off-season, I think you’re right.

Who is going?

Nate Robinson, Mikki Moore, Dominic McGuire, Chris Wright, and Mickell Gladness

Who is staying?

Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Richard Jefferson, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Andris Biedrins, Jeremy Tyler, Dorell Wright, Brandon Rush and Charles Jenkins

Who is coming?

Carl Landry, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Kent Bazemore, and Draymond Green

Avenues for improvement?

The Warriors have few assets of worth to offer other teams in trade. When healthy, Andrew Bogut is probably a top-10 center in the NBA. However, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since his horrific fall a couple years ago. Is another team going to be willing to take on the $27M he’s owed over the next two seasons with his legitimate health concerns?

David Lee is a poor man’s Kevin Love without the range on his jumper, but he’s not being paid like it. Instead he will be paid only about $5M less total over the next four seasons. Is any team going to want him enough at that price to part with anything of value to get him?

Richard Jefferson hit the down side of his career as soon as Jason Kidd was no longer playing with him. Is anyone going to offer them anything of value to pay Jefferson $21M over the next two seasons?

Andris Biedrins is owed $18M over the next two seasons. He’s woefully overpaid at half the price. I bet their GM gets more laughs than –George Carlin- -Richard Pryor- -Eddie Murphy- Will Ferrell when he calls other teams asking what they’ll offer for Andris Biedrins.

Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins are both rookies who have been fairly productive this season. If the past few drafts hadn’t stocked over half the league with their starting point guards for the foreseeable future, I could see a team trading for Charles Jenkins to be their starter. As it is though, he’s going to be relegated to a reserve role and almost no team is willing to part with much in order to get a bench player.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have to be considered the core which the team is attempting to build around. Given that, they can be crossed off the list of tradable assets.

That leaves Dorell Wright and Brandon Rush. Wright will have an expiring contract of a little over $4M. Given the dearth of wing talent in a lot of NBA cities he could have some value, but probably not enough to bring in an upgrade over Bogut, Lee, or Jefferson. As for Rush, I don’t see why another team would be willing to part with much value to the Warriors in order to acquire him – I would value him at roughly the equivalent of Chase Budinger at this point, but with a $4M price tag and a player option for 2013.

Any improvement the Warriors see next season will have to come from within. Injuries played a role in derailing the 2011-12 season for Golden State, but pretty much every team suffered injuries last season. The Warriors also have a young backcourt with plenty of potential to blossom into one of the top-5 offensive tandems in the NBA.

In the best case scenario, with everyone completely healthy and back to pre-injury form next season, with their backcourt making significant progress towards stardom over the summer, with Harrison Barnes living up to his pre-college hype, and a full training camp resulting in the team jelling, they could be "the-team-nobody-wants-to-see" in the first round of the playoffs next year.

In the worst case scenario, with Bogut and Curry never fully recovering from off-season surgery, with little improvement from their young players, with Barnes fulfilling his CH ordained (based on advanced statistical analysis of his college production) position as Wes Johnson 2.0, and with Mark Jackson "losing" the team during an early losing streak, they could end up looking at a guaranteed top-5 pick in next year’s draft.

As is most often the case, reality will likely fall somewhere in between those extremes. Thompson will probably continue to impress during his sophomore campaign. Bogut will probably not regain his pre-injury form. Curry will probably look like his old self again – meaning he’ll have yet another solid season derailed by his faulty ankles. Lee will do what Lee does. Barnes will show flashes of being good amidst a sea of humdrum performances. And another season will go by without the Warriors having anything to show for it except for one less year to go before they can finally get out from under those horrendous contracts.

For what it’s worth, the construction of this team appears fairly sound. Bogut is a back-to-the-basket Center who passes fairly well out of the post. He is a defensive backstop and collects rebounds fairly well. He’s no longer the player he was, but he still remains fairly efficient with a usage rate around 20.

David Lee is a high usage (26) player who rebounds well. He can knock down a mid-range jumper or do the dirty work on the glass and get to the line. He’s a nice complement to Bogut in a lot of ways. What he doesn’t do is protect the rim defensively, but that’s what Bogut does best.

Stephen Curry carries a fairly high Ast% (32.3). He has a high usage rate (24), but remains fairly efficient in spite of it. He’s best with the ball in his hands on offense, but he’s not completely devoid of value without it.

Klay Thompson has come on strong ever since Curry was shut down for the season. He’s another high usage shooter (26.4), but I think we’ve seen enough of him running around screens for catch and shoot opportunities to say that he works to get his shot without the ball. If he didn’t work so hard without the ball he would probably be as poor a fit with Curry as Ellis was, but that’s not the case.

Harrison Barnes (or Richard Jefferson, for that matter) is a guy who can slash to the basket or knock down an open jumper from time to time. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, which is a good thing because the offense works best when running through Bogut or Curry and he’s probably the fifth option on the court anyway.

While the 2011-12 season might be an aberration, I tend to believe that Brandon Rush has finally found his place on the court – in the corner behind the 3-pt line. Rush is a low usage (15.3) player who shot over 44% from behind the arc this season. With the rest of the guys on this team Rush is a perfect complement offensively. He’s also not bad on the defensive end of the court either.

Of course, this Warriors team is a little difficult to figure out when we take into consideration their seemingly open desire to lose games for about half the season. I’m not completely convinced they would have done all that much better had they been fully invested in winning throughout the entire season. However, I am convinced the tanking they performed over the second half of the season has done Klay Thompson a world of good by allowing him meaningful in-game experience to grow as a player; playing time he was not receiving until the team had already decided the season was a lost cause.

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