In one of the few instances in my lifetime, we are coming off a season in which most things went right for the Golden State Warriors. The season started in typical fashion, with injuries to Brandon Rush and Andrew Bogut. However, some time around Thanksgiving, NBA observers started noticing something weird. The Warriors were playing defense! This actually continued throughout the year, with a few blips around the All-Star break, through smart gameplanning and effort. Contrary to the popular perception of the team as an offensive juggernaut, Golden State finished 14th in defense, but only 11th in offense, despite leading the league in 3 point percentage.
Part One: The Core
Stephen Curry (9.9 million in 2014). Curry averaged 23-4-7 while breaking the NBA record for three pointers in a season. He destroyed the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, and appeared to be on the verge of pushing the Spurs to the limit before re-re-re-re-tweaking his ankle. From the widespread attention these injuries have received you wouldn't know that he's played at least 74 games in 3 out of his 4 seasons, but his ankle problems are real. Assuming health, Curry is becoming a revolutionary offensive player. It is not hyperbole to say that Curry might be the best off the dribble three point shooter in NBA history, and he showed the ability to retain his efficiency while chucking almost 10 threes a game over the second half of the season. If he can improve his finishing around the rim, a healthy Curry will be the best point guard in the NBA in two or three years.
David Lee (13.9 million in 2014). How valuable is David Lee? It's an interesting question. He's an efficient scorer, an excellent passer, and one of the better rebounders in the league. He's also a bad defender, and the Warriors played really well in his absence during the playoffs. Much of that was due to hot shooting and matchups, and I can't imagine a team is better off playing Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green instead of Lee over an 82 game season. Still, I have to imagine the Warriors will listen to summer trade offers for the two time All-Star.
Andrew Bogut (14 million in 2014). In 2010, Andrew Bogut was one of the best players in the league. A multitude of injuries later, it is clear that player is not coming back. Giving the Warriors 25-30 minutes of solid defense and rebounding is far more valuable than Monta Ellis' contributions, though, and a healthy Bogut allows the Warriors newfound smallball lineups to survive defensively and on the glass. If it doesn't work out, he's already an expiring contract.
Klay Thompson (2.3 million in 2014). For the past year, the idea that Klay Thompson is a star in waiting has become something of a truism in NBA blogging circles. I..don't see it. He's a wonderful spot up shooter with the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions, but that's all he's shown so far. He doesn't create offense, he doesn't finish or draw fouls, and he isn't a plus defender yet. He had a PER of 12.7 this season, and 10.5 in the playoffs, despite shooting over 42% from three in those twelve games. As a cheap complementary piece, he fits nicely next to Curry. As a future franchise centerpiece, he's vastly overrated.
Harrison Barnes (2.9 million in 2014). Another young, talented, statistically unimpressive wing, the Black Falcon showed promise posting up Tony Parker during the Western Conference Semifinals. Barnes was unusually polished for a 20 year old rookie, but didn't show any elite skills, either. Most of the indicators of young potential don't show themselves in Barnes' statistical profile, either, as he didn't get to the line, force turnovers, or grab offensive rebounds. Some of this can be attributed to a lack of aggression, Barnes' biggest knock in college, or it could be that his athleticism has been overrated. Whatever the case, he will either drastically improve, making me look like an idiot, or settle into a career as a cerebral, well rounded, but unspectacular role player.
Part Two: The Free Agents
Jarrett Jack (UFA in 2014). The king of the mid-range and a "no no no no no YES" guy that coaches trust will be looking to join his sixth team since 2008 this summer. He can't play defense, and you don't want him starting on most contenders, but he's played himself into a bigger contract than the Warriors, already into the luxury tax, can probably afford to match.
Carl Landry (4 million player option in 2014). Landry (17 & 9 per 36, 60.5% TS) was the unheralded hero of the Warriors season, playing in every game except one with his trademark blend of hustle, offensive rebounds, tenacity, and hopelessly undersized defense. He has a 4 million player option, and he'll probably opt out for a bigger contract at 29.
Brandon Rush (4 million player option in 2014). A prototypical 3&D guy recovering from an ACL tear, Rush will probably opt in to secure a bigger contract for the 2014-15 season. If he returns to full health, he will be a valuable part of Golden State's wing rotation, adding another knockdown three point shooter off the bench while adding punch to the Warriors smallball lineups.
Part Three: The Albatrosses
Andris Biedrins (9 million ETO in 2014). Remember when this guy was good? This will be his last season in the league barring a drastic turnaround.
Richard Jefferson (11 million player option in 2014). Alex Dewey's muse is also (almost) done as a NBA player, cratering against San Antonio while Mark Jackson inexplicably glued Bogut to the bench during the Spurs' Game 1 comeback.
Part Four: The Young Guys
Festus Ezeli (1.1 million in 2014). A young defensive minded big who is incapable of making a shot, catching a pass, and not turning the ball over. Similar to Kwame Brown, that's a much more palatable outcome from the 30th pick in the draft than the 1st.
Draymond Green (0.9 million in 2014). He shot 32.7% this season. That is not a typo. He was an offensive offensive player this year. He is a good rebounder, and good defender for a rookie, so maybe there's hope if he can drag his percentages closer to basketball's Mendoza line.
Kent Bazemore (0.8 million in 2014). An undrafted free agent, Bazemore was more notable for the quality of his towel waving and bench celebrations than his play this year.
Malcolm Thomas (UFA in 2014). I've liked this guy since he was at SDSU. He hasn't received much burn in the NBA, but I think he could be a good defensive/hustle player.
Scott Machado (UFA in 2014). A pass first point guard that hasn't shown enough other skills to receive playing time through one season.
Part Five: The Future
The Warriors are at $75 million, counting player options for Carl Landry and Brandon Rush. Landry's new contract may increase that number, and a new contract for Jack would push that number close to 85 million. There is a buzz in the Bay Area about this team, but is it worth it to go deep into the tax for a 47 win team? The team's books are very clean for the 2014 summer, so that the Warriors don't need to worry about the repeater tax. On the other hand, new contracts for Landry and Jack would preclude max cap room in the summer of 2014.
The Warriors have no draft picks this year, and no room to make any moves, so, barring a major trade, this team will be back next year, banking on health and internal improvements from their young players. In this context, a trade of David Lee could make sense, in order to cheaply replenish the bench and dip under the tax.
If Curry continues his play from the second half of the season, the Warriors should remain a competitive team. To rise above the fifty win plateau in a difficult Western Conference, they will need to rely on Barnes or Thompson developing into the players scouts see them becoming, and a relatively healthy season from Andrew Bogut. The other avenue for improvement lies in three point shooting. The Warriors finished 1st in three point percentage, but only 13th in attempts. Embracing the three like Houston or New York could make their offense even more dangerous.
That said, I would not be surprised if Golden State takes a small step back next year, especially if Jack and/or Landry depart. The bottom of the playoff bracket may be even tougher with likely improvements in Minnesota, Houston, Portland, and Dallas. Players should be lining up to play with Curry in 2014 however, and the long term future finally looks bright in San Francisco.
Thanks to Sham Sports for the salary info.