Key players: Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut. When Klay Thompson shoots well, the Golden State Warriors win. It’s almost that simple. Curry and Lee are about as consistent on the offensive end as any high-scoring duo in the NBA, but Klay Thompson is a shooter, and a young shooter at that. At age 23, and in his second NBA season, Thompson’s long-range shooting has determined the fate of many Golden State games this year. In wins, Thompson shoots 44% from distance, dropping in 17.9 points per game, compared with 33% in losses, accounting for a scoring average of 13.9. Thompson’s season, like the Warriors, has had its mountainous peaks and its desolate valleys. The valleys came in November and again in February (29% and 32% from the arc) while the peaks were sustained through the deep winter months, putting up a mark of 45% in December, 40% in January, and back up to 44% in March.
With the exception of Jarrett Jack, the Warriors are not a drive-and-kick team, and rarely draw double teams, which puts pressure on Curry and Thompson to take threes whenever they have open space. While this works for Steph because he is arguably the best pure shooter in the NBA (hop here for SI‘s Chris Ballard’s excellent Steph Curry profile, and the importance of Jarrett Jack’s play-making as a complement to Curry’s game.), Thompson could benefit from a wing player with penetrating ability. Despite his occasional flashes, Harrison Barnes is nowhere near ready to play the minutes he’s been forced into because of Brandon Rush’s absence. Mark Jackson has to find a way to run Thompson off of Bogut picks and get him space in the half-court, similarly to how Garnett was consistently able to open up shooting space for Ray Allen during Boston’s playoff runs. Thompson doesn’t have Allen’s innate maneuverability, but has the size to ward off smaller two-guards.
On the other side of the ball, Andrew Bogut is a force under the basket, and his presence will be especially critical against Denver’s penetrating ability. Bogut’s length and his Gasol-like ability to stretch out and avoid jumping for up-fakes drives would-be lane-slashers crazy. If Bogut can keep his stamina, and avoid foul-trouble, the Warriors will have a legitimate chance of upsetting the Lawson-impaired Nuggets. Keeping Denver’s Faried off of the glass is next to impossible, but Bogut, Lee, and pretty much every Warrior on the court, must make it a priority.
Key players: Andre Miller and Wilson Chandler. Capable of changing the tone of the game, and propelling the crowd to its feet with one swooping put-back dunk, Chandler is an important wild-card in the absence of Gallinari (ACL injury). Chandler thrives in the up-tempo game, which 6th seeded Golden State also thrives on. Kenneth Faried’s intensity and incredible desire on the offensive glass will swing at least one of the games in this first-round clash.
Ty Lawson (plantar fascitis) is the Ferrari engine that drives Denver’s frantic attack, and that engine is currently being handled with care. The odds are that Andre Miller’s much safer and slower Volvo will be leading the way for Denver, which means that Denver’s ability to defend and hit their open looks in the half-court may determine their playoff fate. Without the clutch shooting of Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Andre Iguodala become crucial cogs in Denver’s offense. Like Igoudala, Chandler should not be a team’s 4th quarter scorer. What might have been a special year in Denver, is now a potential first-round playoff exit to a rejuvenated Warriors franchise.
To read The Darko Index' complete playoff preview, click here: http://darkoindex.com/2013/04/07/playoff-preview-16-teams-32-players/
Thanks for reading and Go Warriors,