By Sam Sorkin @samsportfan23
While Golden State's exhibition games so far have measured one win and two losses, the preseason isn't really about focusing on wins and losses. Rather, these games are for ironing out kinks in the offense or defense, testing out how new additions mesh with those already with the team or how players adjust to new positions, and watching the development of young players competing for the last roster spots.
Golden State's first couple of preseason games have shown me certain important aspects that pertain to the Warriors and how they fare come the real games.
The Addition of Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has already shown he is a willing perimeter passer, either slashing or on the perimeter. Andre is someone who can score while attacking the rim and shoot the jumper, though shooting is not exactly his best skill. Iguodala can get out on the break and is dangerous in the open court. Having Iguodala on the floor means Golden State has a second creator who will take pressure off of Stephen Curry, as well as someone who can finish on the break. Iguodala averaged 5.4 assists last season for the Nuggets, and is one of the best all-around players in the league. His cutting is superb and can find players while on the move, a must for Mark Jackson's screen-heavy offense. In the Warriors' second preseason game (against the Kings), Iguodala had an especially deft pass, to a wide-open Curry in the corner, while cutting down the middle of the floor, something no other players on the roster can execute. In that game, Iguodala also passed up an open shot of his own for a Stephen Curry corner three, which, of course, he made. This ability and will to spread the ball around the floor will increase open shots for Curry, Klay Thompson (more on him later), and Harrison Barnes.
Iguodala has definitely displayed his worth defensively, as his active hands, athleticism and length have caused many deflections and steals, which in turn have led to fast-break chances and increased shots at the rim. In their first game against the Los Angeles B-squad, the Dubs had 29 fast-break points, many of which came off Los Angeles turnovers and defensive deflections.
Competition for the Final Starting Spot
The acquisition of the 2012 All-Star Iguodala would force either Barnes or Thompson, two young players who both were coming off breakout postseasons, to the bench; it seemed as though rising sophomore Harrison Barnes would become the team's new sixth man. However, this preseason Mark Jackson has experimented with lineups a bit, starting Barnes and having Thompson come off the bench in the first two preseason games.
However, what was a significant quandary for the Preacher was made easier by the wings' contributions through the first two games. Barnes had more turnovers (4) than field goals made (3) in game 1 in 29 minutes, whilst Thompson played decisively and showed improvement around the basket.
Last season, Thompson did much of his damage on three-pointers and jump shots, and when his jumper wasn't falling, the Washington State product would often be stagnant and unwilling to attack the basket - just 2.7 percent of Thompson's points in the regular season came from free throws, per NBA.com. The playoffs weren't much better; Thompson couldn't even manage one free throw per game. Yet insofar as the preseason goes, Thompson has shown significant improvement in this previous area of major concern, posting up smaller defenders and attacking the rim strongly and decisively.
While Barnes is dealing with a nagging foot injury that held him out of Tuesday's game at Utah and limited him to just six minutes on Monday, Klay is seizing this opportunity to show the staff that he deserves to be starting. He has shown an increased aggressiveness attacking the rim, an area of weakness last season, and has scored in all different varieties, from post-ups to fast-break dunks to the usual coming off of down screens. It is looking more and more likely that Mark Jackson's regular season lineup will include Thompson as the other wing starter with Iguodala, Curry, Bogut, and Lee firmly entrenched at their positions.
With Thompson, Golden State adds a proven outside shooter who has obviously shown an improved inside game as well. Golden State's whole offensive game is reliant on threes, as last year they led the league in three-point percentage and had the league's number one three point shooter in Stephen Curry, as well as number three in Thompson. Three point shots are worth more than two-pointers, and with Thompson and Curry starting, two of the league's best and most efficient three-point shooters, I believe Golden State will be that much more lethal on offense. Not to mention, Thompson is a better defender than Barnes. Barnes would be a better fit as a sixth man and as the number one option off the bench. Last season as a starter, Barnes was sometimes out of the loop offensively and stood around watching plays develop. However, in the playoffs after David Lee went down, Barnes became a bigger part of the offense and really made strides offensively, attacking smaller defenders at the rim, and taking advantages of mismatches galore. With his size and skill-set, Barnes would feast on second unit defenders, and that's what would make him better suited for the sixth man role.
With a healthy Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, Golden State should be much improved on defense this year, and reaching the top-ten in defensive efficiency (last season: 14th, per NBA.com) should be easily attained. Bogut has seemed faster and even more active on defense and rebounding; in just 17 minutes against the Lakers, he had 12 rebounds. He even is showing off the hustle, as I counted two or three times he dove on the floor for a loose ball, putting his body on the line as if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Already this preseason, Golden State players look more active, looking to deflect and steal balls to start a fast break. Off the bench, Toney Douglas has really harassed opposing guards all 94 feet of the court, causing deflections and turnovers from pressured second units. The new additions, Jermaine O'Neal and Marreese Speights, have also been active on the defensive end blocking and altering shots.
Golden State's roster is extremely deep, with at least two or three distinctive players at each spot, something that hasn't been the case with the Warriors in many years. Golden State's second unit, however, will be made up of all either new additions or players in different or increased roles, and this could lead to struggles on offense when in the game. Toney Douglas, signed to be the backup point guard, and Nemanja Nedovic, Golden State's first-round draftee, are not "pure" point guards; they are more attacking guards who aren't familiar with Golden State's offensive sets. Draymond Green, while he has been in the system for a year, still does not really have a set position or any offensive skills he can go to to create his own shot. The same goes for Kent Bazemore, who, while he dominated Summer League, will eventually realize that the regular season is much tougher than glorified offseason scrimmages. Harrison Barnes is really the only adequate shot-creator in the second unit, and defenses could key in on him as the only threat off the bench.
One of the reasons that a solid bench is so important to have is because of the uncertainty of the health of Golden State's two most important players, Curry and Bogut. They've both had issues over the past few seasons: Can Stephen Curry do what he did last year in playing a career high in games and minutes played? Is Andrew Bogut truly as healthy as he says he is? Golden State must work on their bench, that, while deep, needs to have a few different offensive threats to be taken seriously. We saw last year in the Eastern Conference Finals how important bench play was, and some say it was the factor that kept Indiana from going to the Finals. Golden State's bench needs to find ways to get good shots, and most significantly, points, when on the floor.
While it is only preseason, there are signs that the signings and improvement made in the offseason could have a substantial effect on how the team improves from last year. Golden State's all-around aggressiveness, on defense, attacking the basket, and hunting great shots, will be a staple of this team and could be the aspect not there last year that could push this year's team to new heights.