The Golden State Warriors have the best record in the powerful West Conference. With Atlanta Hawks, they are the best teams in the NBA this season. They'll secure first place and they will play versus New Orleans in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
People praise Steve Kerr and believe he is the main reason for the success. He brought the necessary champion's experience, innovations and modern understanding of the game and raised them to a new level, but it all started from Mark Jackson whose merits cannot be underestimated.
Jackson has instilled a winning mentality, built character and taught them wide popular ‘'grit and grind''. He has, so to speak, changed the culture of the franchise from the roots. But it turned out that he was unable to lead them to the final destination (title), partly due to a conflict with the players and coaching staff partly because of his conventional approach to the game. The team has been carefully constructed and improved from year to year and they have finally started to dominate and live their own fairy tale.
Is Steve Kerr the last puzzle in the mosaic?
O n the field, it all begins with Curry and Thompson. Perhaps they are not the best athletes but they are inarguably the best backcourt duo in the league, heart and soul of this team. Their deadly shooting is an unsolvable enigma for the most NBA teams and can change every game in a few heartbeats, but that's not some news. In this season they added some new elements which have significantly helped Golden State to become such force.
* Curry has become an elite stealer, with 2.0 steals per game which ranks him 4th in the league, with only Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Tony Allen in front of him. That is a very important segment of their game because it allows a lot of transition and counter-attack.
T he game of Klay Thompson has evolved and it is no more one-dimensional. He began to use his jump shot as a bite to easily drive around his opponents' guard and finish at the rim which opens space for other teammates. For example, in the half of this season he attempted 160 free throws, and for the whole 2013-2014 season he had 185. His footwork in the paint has also become phenomenal which is a very rare and forgotten fundamental thing for guards in modern NBA. After Kobe Bryant not many players have developed this skill at the highest level.
The Warriors X Factors
- Draymond Green is one of the best stories this season and certainly a candidate for the most improved player award. His all round game, fanatical devotion and energy have no boundaries. He used David Lee's injury to become a starting PF, he guarded everything that was moving on the court from point guards to centers and now is one of the most important parts of the Steve Kerr's machinery. There is one funny story when he finished the game against Utah with one rebound (apart from that, he had more than a solid game with 15 points). Immediately after the match, he received a call from his former coach Tom Izzo (Michigan State) who criticized him for lack of effort.
- Harrison Barnes has finally lived up to expectations in the Steve Kerr's system. Under Jackson he was more iso player and ball handler, but the sacrifice for his rise was big and his name is Andre Iguodala. Is the ability to put aside individual performance in order to win matches the biggest indicator of someone's greatness?
-Bogut's health is one of the top priorities of the medical staff and that is the reason why they play so cautiously with him this season. In the regular season, they can mask the lack of his presence with their movable defense and with a lot of double teams, but the playoff is a totally different animal. Without him it is almost impossible to stop players like M.Gasol, Zach Randolph, Duncan, Deandre Jordan, etc. in a series of 7. The best indicator was last year when they lost against the Clippers, despite the dominant performances of splash brothers.
The Warriors Bench
The bench isn't a problem this season with 36.0 pts per game (7th in the NBA). Last season the bench was a problem with just 28,0 pts per game (24th in the NBA).This is a significant improvement, partly because Steve Kerr is mixing up at least 1 starter with bench players ( Jackson liked to keep alone the whole bench unit on the floor) and partly due to explosion of Marreese Speights.
When Carl Landry left the team, management was searching for the player with the same characteristic, a bench guy with great mid-range game and Speights looked like a solid solution. First season wasn't so good - he was a synonym for inconsistency and bad defense. He later said the reason was lack of fitness. This season his jumpers find the bottom of the net more frequently, his usage rate is very high, around 26 % and many times he put the team on his shoulders and carried them to victory. With Livingstone, Iguodala and Lee that makes a respectable bench. The most room for improvement lies in David Le who is currently lost between a scoring role and facilitator role and that will be the biggest challenge for Kerr in the rest of the regular season.
Iguodala is scoring only 8.0 points per game, but he is still one of the best perimeter defenders and alongside Bogut will be the most important player on that side of the court for the playoff success.
Is all this be enough for an unforgettable journey through the Wild Wild West?
This team does not have too many weaknesses. A number of turnovers and lacking post up presence are one of the few. Because they are playing at one of the fastest pace, they have 14.1 turnovers per game which ranks them among the worst teams in the league, logical question that rises is how to adapt when everything slows down in the playoff and half court offense becomes primary? This brings us to the second problem, the lack of classical players in the post. What is interesting is that the player who plays most with his back to the basket is Shaun Livingston and he can post up almost every guard in NBA.
At the end, when the difference between the teams is so small, subtleties such as injuries and better match ups often decide.
The Real MVP?
Warriors are the best passing team in the NBA. They are playing the unselfish basketball, like Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.
Golden State ran over Houston 4 times, so it is clear what match up they (would) like most. Against other teams we don't have such good sample, but it is clear because of their style of play that teams like Memphis, San Antonio and Los Angeles Clippers can cause most problems. With Memphis and Spurs they played only once and lost, Clippers are conference rivals and between them there are no secrets and they don't like each other.
Last but not least, if the Golden State keep the top spot they will have a big boost in their fans.
They will definitely make the best atmosphere so I would like to see how many seconds coach Pop will need this time before he calls time out.