The weight of expectation is enough to force even the strongest of structures to crumble. In the realm of sports, no teams are as prone to trouble as those who are making the leap from the refreshing new face in the playoffs to that of a postseason mainstay.
That’s been the story for the Golden State Warriors. One of California’s rising forces turned heads last season when Mark Jackson and super-assistant Mike Malone led the Warriors to a first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets before ultimately losing in six games to the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
Entering the 2013-14 regular season, the Warriors were labeled by many as a team that could build off of last season’s success and thus make a run at an NBA championship. Despite possessing a young roster that only secured the No. 6 seed in 2012-13, Golden State’s high-octane offense was enough to convince the basketball community of its upside.
Unfortunately, the Warriors have failed to live up to expectations of an on-paper improvement. They’re stuck in the No. 6 seed again and will face a brutal first-round matchup in 2014 against either the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Through all of the clutter and commotion, one thing has become clear: the Warriors are primed and ready for another run through the postseason.
It’s hard to understand why so many people have lost faith in a team with a win percentage of .623.
The Warriors opened the season at 14-13, and it seems that their 27-game stretch of inconsistency has crafted a league-wide reputation. Many have confused a slow start with illegitimacy, but that simply isn’t the case for Golden State.
Since December 19, the Warriors are 34-17. That’s what you call an outstanding turnaround.
The critical piece of information here is that Golden State, 48-30, has a record well above .500 both at home and on the road. It’s 26-14 when playing at the Oracle Arena and an equally impressive 22-16 when playing away from Oakland.
That type of balance means that the Warriors can win any game at any location. That’s critical for the postseason.
There’s no question that Golden State could run into some poor matchups along the way, but it has the best shooting backcourt in the world and a significantly improved interior. With those factors weighed, it’s hard to evaluate Golden State as anything but a balanced team with the same dangerous upside that it had a year ago.
If not more.
Dynamic Offensive Attack
When a team has the Splash Brothers in its backcourt, anything is possible.
It’s no secret that the Warriors have one of the best offensive attacks in the NBA. Golden State ranks No. 10 in scoring offense, No. 9 in team field goal percentage, No. 5 in team three-point field goal percentage and No. 6 in team three-point field goals made per contest.
Most importantly, the Warriors have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Curry has continued his leap to elite by emerging as the NBA’s premier offensive point guard from a statistical perspective. He’s averaging 23.5 points and 8.5 assists while posting a slash line of .468/.418/.878, while Thompson is dropping a very strong 18.4 points on 41.9 percent shooting from three-point range.
Most importantly, Curry is building upon success that he’s already experienced in the playoffs.
Despite playing without offensive star power forward David Lee for a majority of the 2013 postseason, Curry averaged 23.4 points in 12 games. He did this while going up against star-caliber point guards in Ty Lawson of the Nuggets and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.
In other words, Curry has proven his legitimacy as a big-game performer.
With the catalyst to the offense ready for any test, the Warriors’ high-powered attack is set to go up against even the best of opposing defenses. The three-ball has carried many teams to championship gold, and while the Warriors have as difficult a path as any, it isn’t entirely out of the question for this preseason favorite.
Especially not when Golden State’s defense has managed to outperform its revered offense.
Quietly Elite Defense
Yes, I meant to say elite.
When you engage in a conversation about the Warriors, you likely reference their elite offensive production and make a negative comment about their defense. That’s a fair mistake to commit considering the recent history of Golden State and its offense-first reputation, but that’s no longer the case.
People just don’t hear much about it.
Very quietly, the Warriors have built the No. 8 scoring defense in the NBA at 98.8 points allowed per game. Golden State is also fourth in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent three-point field goal percentage and ninth in opponent points in the paint per game.
If you’re more of an advanced statistics type of evaluator, then try this on for size: Golden State is third in the NBA in Defensive Rating.
The latter statistic is the most important for the Warriors. Many maintain the misconception that the Warriors will collapse when games slow down, but Golden State boasts a top 10 defense while checking in with the eighth-fastest pace in the entire league.
Paired with a Top 10 rebound differential, the Warriors have what it takes to survive when the pace come down and the possessions become more of a second-by-second grind.
There are still flaws that need to be masked, but it’s time to acknowledge something that most have failed to recognize: Golden State is elite on defense. Paired with an explosive offensive attack and a proven playmaker in Stephen Curry, the Warriors have every tool necessary to make a run through the postseason.
It’s been a long process, but Golden State embodies the cliche: it’s better late than never.