The average age of the Golden State Warriors is 26.5, coming in at 15th in the entire NBA. Their potential starting lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala (we'll get to this later), David Lee, and Andrew Bogut is 28, arguably the athletic peak of basketball players. If we look down the bench at Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush, and Draymond Green, all of the important pieces are pieced together to win now.
With training camp underway, the questions are starting to come fast and unrelenting. Will Shaun Livingston stay healthy? Can Festus Ezeli stay healthy enough to make an impact in a real game this season? Is Harrison Barnes actually going to start over Andre Iguodala? Then there are the less ominous ones. How much has Klay Thompson improved while operating as Stephen Curry's sidekick? Will David Lee's injury-free offseason lead to a comeback year? Is Andrew Bogut ready to function as his healthy defensive wreckage of a self?
Things to look forward to:
Everyone associated with the team is expecting an overhaul in ideals and structure with what's going to happen on and off the court. Alvin Gentry was brought on to mastermind a team that's primary offense relied on Curry and Thompson's ability to make threes at any moment on any place on the floor. With David Lee and Andrew Bogut's passing ability on deck and Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa's proficiency in either getting to the hoop and dishing the rock, there's a myriad of options as opposed to the ball-watching onslaught we were subjected to in 2013-14.
The expectation is that Curry maintains or even surpasses the production from last season and Thompson improves enough as a dribble-drive player and passer in order to supplement his shooting. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this overhaul is how the ancillary aspects of the team are used. Gentry found a way to form some semblance of ball movement despite Chris Paul's incessant need to micromanage a game; all while keeping their defense afloat. This isn't about pace, as the Warriors were sixth in the entire league last season, but the side-to-side movement with the ball with counteracting player pinballing between that. Mark Jackson's "offense" led the league in least passes, unsurprisingly. Gentry's job off the court is manufacturing a free-flowing offense that's easy to learn on the fly without sacrificing defensive intensity.
Kerr has talked up Marreese Speights as a stretch four, David Lee's 15-footer as a weapon, Bogut's post-up game as a strength, and Harrison Barnes as a starter. None of that really infuses confidence in his evaluation of talent. For now it appears that Hypothetical Kerr is ahead of Real Life Kerr in terms of assessing talent on a roster and actually shifting the pieces in a manner that might pose as effectiveness on offense.
One of Myers' bench guard pickups, Barbosa comes in to essentially soak up most of the minutes that Jordan Crawford spent jacking up random jumpers and other nonsensical things. He mimics much of what Crawford does - slasher, shaky three-point shooter and mediocre defender - but at a much more efficient level.
When Barbosa is on, he's a blur on offense, flashing to the rim in the open court and showing a nifty assortment of finishes in the halfcourt. If fully recovered, and it seemed so in the FIBA tournament, he presents a bit of what Jarrett Jack brought to the team. Getting the ball to the rim in an organic fashion happened few and far between under Mark Jackson's offense. In his last healthy season with sub-20 minutes played, Barbosa shot 54 percent at the rim, about league-average. Last season, Crawford finished at 50 percent at the rim. The Warriors are hoping Barbosa can stay healthy enough to provide 10-15 minutes of bench scoring without torpedo-ing the offense. Too often the points from non-Curry players came at a high cost, too much dribbling, difficulty of shots and unsustainable efforts. Barbosa's assets make his job seem simple enough.
Shaun Livingston was the biggest player addition in the offseason, hogging up the mid-level exception for this season and the next. Like Barbosa, his shooting leaves his game a bit wanting but the peripheral benefits more than make up for it. For one, he's a versatile defender, a requirement to play on a team that begs versatility on defense unless you're a sublime offensive machine. But on offense, Livingston helps by creating mismatches with his length and representing another creator on the perimeter. Crawford had an eye-gouging turnover rate of 12.4 percent on a 26.8 percent usage rate, according to Basketball Reference. Livingston owned a 20.1 percent assist rate in a heavy-isolation Brooklyn Nets offense. Here we take a look at what he can do on that end.
Livingston is very deliberate on pick-and-rolls, sneaky at shifting speeds and angles coming off the screens and never seeming to be out of control when he probes into the paint. Seeing the quick hedge coming, he quickly finds his release valve before getting it back and zooming down the left side and dropping it off. The recognition of the defense and the alteration of speed is a good change-up for the Warriors offense when Curry is off the court. Iguodala should have commandeered the backup facilitator role last season, instead the Warriors sought the hockey substitution route, losing movement and points in the process. Getting a capable creator like Livingston keeps the offense moving in a less contrived fashion.
Offense isn't as simple as ball movement. Just because Barbosa can attack the rim and Livingston can run an offense doesn't immediately imply a leap in efficiency into the top five. Gentry's job becomes tougher when injuries start to strike, a near-certainty with an aging team. Without shooters spreading the floor - besides the Splash Brothers, no one wants to admit there are sparse floor spacing on this team - issues can arise. But the Spurs - the poster team for offensive excellence - only averaged 21.4 threes per game, ranked 16th in the league. Their precision passing offense was predicated on finding open shots, not the singular, almost mechanical need for threes - think Houston Rockets. Whatever it is that Gentry and Kerr want to do with this core of players, there's more than enough talent and depth for it to find top-ten efficiency.
For everything Harrison Barnes has shown - shaky dribbling; the blatant grinding of gears as he navigates a maze of players; up-and-down shooting; lack of confidence - there's as much going for him this season. To revisit old scouting reports, Barnes is a decent shooter, athletic finisher, long enough as a potential wing defender, and enough quickness to be a matchup nightmare for shooting guards and power forwards. Part of Kerr's offense will be to minimize the unnecessary movements that players will have to go through in a single possession. Instead of allowing Barnes to dribble around aimlessly, essentially rolling the ball to him and yelling "Create something!", Kerr is ostensibly cutting the fat off that aspect of his struggles. As a cutter and one to two-dribble finisher there isn't much to overthink. The staggering of minutes will be interesting to monitor as well. Pairing Barnes on the floor with Curry or the upgrades at point guard (Livingston and Barbosa) allows Barnes to freely play without predetermining movements. Like all Warriors, Barnes numbers suffered when he wasn't playing aside a ball-creator.
He's healthy and claims to have revamped his shooting form to fit the consistency he's shown for the better part of a half decade. And yet, the defense is still there and while there's some optimism as to the reversion of past success, the evidence on the court belies any tonal confidence. David Lee's midrange shot fell from 41.8 percent to 35.3 percent from 2012-13 to 2013-14. In order for his inside game and apparent new jumper to counteract his defense requires a huge leap of faith on either end by everyone involved. Instead, Draymond Green's play as a starter/bench spark should overshadow Lee soon, and probably now. Green worked over Blake Griffin in several postseason games and has shown decent floor-stretching ability. Kerr is backing his veteran in the early portions of training camp but the Warriors are in win-now mode. Green is as much of an ascending player as Lee is descending.
Things to look forward to:
A top-5 team overall and an absolute buzzsaw of a squad when healthy, the Golden State Warriors played some gorgeous defense in 2013-14. When Bogut and Iguodala were on the court, even at sub-optimal strength, the Warriors were simply superb. Iguodala choking out opposing perimeter stars allowed Thompson to blanket point guards, shutting off the foundation of most offenses while an extremely smart Bogut lurked in the shadows. Throw in Thompson and Green's ability to suffocate perimeter players and one could start to reason that Mark Jackson's firing was less than deserved. The fact that they dragged a Curry/Lee tandem, one that played huge minutes, to a top-shelf defense was a testament to how great All-NBA First Team Iguodala played and the potential this season's core presents.
Livingston was signed to paper over the holes on defense at the guard position, subbing in for either Curry or Thompson or shifting to the small forward spot. Bob Myers then took a flyer on Brandon Rush, your quintessential 3-and-D wing, who if healthy, can make up much of what is hopefully the middle floor of Barnes' potential. There doesn't have to be huge minutes for any of the wing players, or Iguodala for that matter, because the depth added can potentially keep the team afloat for 48 minutes without burning out the core players.
Ron Adams was hired away from the Boston Celtics to tweak the system a bit, enhancing what Mike Malone and Mark Jackson created. Last year's team mostly let Curry rest while allowing the rest of the team to pick up the slack. It'll be interesting to see how much cross-matching goes on. I'd probably rank the team's best perimeter defenders in this order: Iguodala, Thompson, Green, Livingston, Rush (if healthy). There might be more of an attacking wing formation rather than laying because of the team's zero rim protection outside of Bogut. Think Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade jumping out on pick-and-rolls and doubling weakside dribblers. There's only a slight dropoff as compared to the lack of frontcourt depth. While Bogut is excellent, he takes a bunch of hits at the rim. Festus Ezeli's knees need only to hold up for 15 minutes or so per game. Playing Green at the power forward spot allows some leeway in lineup construction, especially with sieves like Lee or Speights at the five but it'll be up to Adams to balance a lineup that matches with Gentry's offensive philosophy without sacrificing his talent.
From Tom Westerholm
Bogut might not be quick or agile enough to do this but there are sideline traps and perimeter player to perimeter player switches that can wreak havoc on a defense. Applying consistent pressure with their stable of quick perimeter defenders could negate much of the weaknesses inside when Bogut isn't playing. Of course, this assumes Speights and Lee are up to the task. But #sources confirm Ron Adams is a great defensive coach so I have no choice but to expect the greatest and magician-y things.
I've never shook Draymond Green's hands. One gets the feeling that if that were to ever happen, under any circumstances, I'd have a bit of trouble holding the steering wheel on my drive home. Green doesn't have hands so much as enormously strong and quick bear claws. Attempting a swing-through move in front of him is as fruitless as Mark Jackson's timeout strategy when the opposing team is on a 10-0 run. One of Blake Griffin's bread-and-butter moves, Green neutralized the swing-by shoulder-to-the-chest-draw-the-foul-while-shooting pivot game by swiping at the ball with the confidence of a riverboat gambler. Beyond just the hands, Green is stout when facing up opponents as they try and post up. Despite the weight loss, Green seemingly replaced much of it with muscle and used the absence of pounds to move quicker in and around larger specimen. This is also a good time to repost my link on his defense in the postseason. Dude was a beast.
An upcoming free agent after this season, Green is playing for a larger contract and likely for another team. With Thompson's max contract hogging the books, there might not be enough juice left if the Warriors get a spectacular defensive season supplemented by a three-point percentage that creeps into the 36 percent (33 percent last season).
There's David Lee, duh. But that's too easy and boring. This might prove a bit unfair but Ezeli has still yet to play in an actual game in 15 months after knee surgery. The Warriors are already looking for a new training staff, which doesn't bode well for Livingston and whatever future remains for Ezeli. He's practicing in training camp, which is good news, but anytime a seven-footer is out for an extended period of time with a significant issue there's cause for concern. He's now out for the first couple games before getting his knee checked out again. Ominous news for anyone, not just a big man.
In his rookie season, the footwork and quickness on defense were advanced for that of a rookie. Ezeli contested shots, didn't try to do too much in pick-and-roll coverage, and mostly contained slashers as well as one could hope. He can contest shots on multiple jumps with quick feet and is strong enough to hold his own against most big men. As an added bonus, he even gives Zach Randolph a little nudge in the beginning of the possession. Fun stuff.
The Warriors seem to be hedging a ton of their rim protection to the health of Ezeli's knee - the same one that hasn't allowed him to play five-on-five basketball since the postseason. An entire season ago. It's too bad we might never see that again.
The Golden State Warriors are in an envious position where they are allowed to develop raw talent while winning actual NBA games with an experienced roster. The starting lineup are essentially where they are in talent and expectations, a killer fivesome that shredded teams when they were on the floor last season. This gives some leeway for players like Barnes, Green and even Nemanja Nedovic to fill into their own roles. Bogut, Iguodala and Curry's deal runs out at the end of the 2016-17 season, perhaps lending us a glimpse into this core's championship window. Thompson and Curry will likely become extended, leaving the team with decisions at various positions, and putting more pressure on Barnes and Green to develop into top-end role players.
For this season alone, the Warriors are without a trade exception when it ran out before they could use it (thank you LeBron James). They used their entire mid-level exception on Livingston and will only be able to flip their 2015 first round draft pick, one they were unwilling to move because there's not much left in the future cupboard. But for now, Joe Lacob and Co. seem intent on pushing forward with this group of players.
The loaded Western Conference features about four teams that will assuredly fall into the lottery: Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento KIngs, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Then there's the in-between squads that need a combination of breakout seasons and perfect health to contend for a playoff spot: New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns. The elite title contenders remain the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors fall into the second tier, a coven of teams that are good enough to warrant playoff spots but barely bordering the edges of true stardom. The Portland Trail Blazers lack depth and used an unsustainable offensive assault from LaMarcus Aldridge to get by a battered and uninterested Houston Rockets squad. Then there's the Rockets team that lost Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik for nothing while signing Trevor Ariza - again. Their rival, the Dallas Mavericks, are probably a small notch above the rest but are relying on Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. How much magic can Rick Carlisle make? Then there's the Memphis Grizzlies, perpetually a pain in everyone's side but always seemingly one offensive player or Chris Paul away. Finally, the Warriors fall in somewhere in the middle of that morass, sparking questions of coaching while boasting one of the more talented one-through-nine rosters in the conference.
When used correctly, and that's perhaps the biggest if this season, a bench led by Barbosa and Livingston should paper over many flaws that exposed the team late down the stretch of last season. Much of what defines success - Western Conference Finals appearance? - comes down to the variance of health. It's a fine ideal in concept but for this team and for the past decade, that's been less variance than a combination of bad luck and wishful thinking. Bogut's not going to play 82 games, or even 70, for that matter. Livingston is already hurt. Iguodala is in his 30s and was slowed nearly a full year by a nagging hamstring. Lee seems to be fighting some random assortment of aches and pains in the last two seasons. A coalescing of everything that's likely to happen in a single season - unlikely in itself - probably ends in a worst-case scenario, a lottery season and questions whether this core lineup which relies on so many moving pieces can push forward at an effective rate.
So begins the Steve Kerr era, one that promises to extract as much potential and talent from so many coiling pieces. That's the promise, at least. Stephen Curry remains the only true superstar while everyone else is fit together in specific roles, a perfect mixture of puzzle pieces. That's what the Warriors are counting on when left without the services of Kevin Love, either by design or by LeBron James; the growth of their youngsters plus the added depth would hold up better in the grind of an 82-game season. Theoretically they can withstand an injury or two to their rotation players not named Curry, as they did a season ago. Trading away 3-4 core pieces for Love and then suffering an injury would likely cripple that version of the Warriors, albeit its ostensibly higher ceiling.
These will be your Golden State Warriors for the next two seasons. Bob Myers and the brain trust behind every single decision this offseason have made their bed about it, sacrificing things big and small to get here. Gone are the grandeur dreams of a superstar team. Here is Steve Kerr - prized catch of the offseason - ready to overhaul an offense, sustain a championship-level defense, and ready to propel a team out of the Western Conference battlefield. The Warriors brain trust sure act like they're good enough to get to the Western Conference Finals and beyond. What remains to be seen are whether the building blocks they've created are strong enough to get them there.
Prediction: 52-30, 5th in the Western Conference
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.