Aside from the Lakers’ oft-publicized misfortunes, the Golden State Warriors are the surprise story of the 2012-13 NBA season thus far. Headed into Monday’s games, the Warriors are 30-21 and firmly in control of the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed, though in the midst of a 4-game losing skid. Mark Jackson, in only his second year as a head coach, is behind one of the league’s most exciting offensive juggernauts, one similar in electricity to the 2006-07 Warriors, the last team from Oakland to make the playoffs.
Golden State’s up-and-down style of play has produced the league’s 7th-ranked scoring offense, topping out at 100.9 points per game, the same figure their 24th-ranked scoring defense spots opponents. Three guys — Stephen Curry (20.9), David Lee (19.2) and Klay Thompson (16.3) — average more than 16 points a night, and two reserves — Jarrett Jack (12.9) and Carl Landry (11.7), both key cogs in this machine — put up double figures. Golden State’s 10th in overall field goal percentage, tied for 1st in 3-point percentage (thanks mostly to Curry and Thompson), 2nd in free throw percentage and 4th in total rebounding. The Warriors are 10th in assists, yet only 22nd in turnovers — a remarkable stat for such a prolific unit.
Although Golden State’s only 4-6 in its last 10, their 2.5 game advantage on 7th-seeded Utah should only expand — the Warriors, 16-6 at home this year, play 19 of their remaining 31 games at Oracle Arena; only 6 of those road games are against teams that, if the season ended today, would be postseason-bound. If anything, Golden State could be eying the No. 4 seed, jointly occupied by Memphis and Denver, which is only 2 games out of its grasp.
Enough cannot be said about the job Jackson’s done in his first head-coaching gig; this team is disciplined, goes to battle every night and never loses sight of its identity. And a lot of the credit certainly goes to Lee, an All Star reserve averaging 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds a night in 37+ minutes, and Curry, 20.9 points, 6.6 assists and 1.7 steals. Lee, a model of consistency for years, is finally getting the credit he’s been due, and Curry’s recording his best season statistically in his first full campaign minus fellow shoot-first combo guard Monta Ellis. Curry (35th) and Lee (37th) are ranked among the league’s best in PER.
But what cannot be lost on this team is the role players. Thompson is weak defensively, like much of the team, but is an assassin from distance and spaces the floor; his 135 makes is 3rd in the NBA, trailing only Ryan Anderson and, his teammate, Steph Curry. Jack, who’s merely a step behind Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith as one of the league’s preeminent sixth men, brings scoring (12.8 points) and distributing (5.8 assists) off the bench. Barnes is an above average defender who can provide scoring in small doses. And Landry, an undervalued offensive weapon, is, according to data published by Stats LLC, 61-of-85 on post-up shots; in fact, Landry boasts a 17.8 PER, which is 3rd highest on the team and well above the league’s 15.0 average, and shoots 53% from the field.
Whether this team wins a playoff series, though, could all depend on Andrew Bogut. The Australian 7-footer finally returned to the lineup last month from a fractured ankle suffered almost 12.5 months ago. Jackson’s been cautious with Bogut in his 9 games back, holding him out on the second night of back-to-backs, but the former No. 1 overall pick is already a difference-maker. His defensive presence, and team-leading 1.7 blocks per game, around the rim cannot be overstated. And, more frankly, he’s another body on a team with not a lot of big ones; Festus Ezeli, 38 starts, and Andris Biedrins, 4, are capable fill-ins, but have sub-8.5 efficiency ratings. Bogut’s PER through 9 games is 17.6.
Contractually, Golden State is tied up at luxury tax levels this year and next. Bogut’s due $14.2 million next year in the final year of his deal, and Richard Jefferson, $11.05 million, and Biedrins, $9 million, are owed player options well in excess of their value. Jack’s deal expires this summer, and Landry, due a $4 million player option, could be in line for a pay raise in a weak free agent class. But after 2013-14, the Warriors are only tied to Lee’s $15 million and Curry’s $10.6, and the team has affordable options on Barnes, Thompson, Ezeli and rookie Draymond Green. And should Golden State hold on to its cap flexibility, that summer could be a good one to lure a big-name free agent.
July 2014 is a long ways ahead. In the meantime, Golden State has the talent to make consecutive playoff runs for the first time since the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
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