WESTERN CONFERENCE PACIFIC DIVISION Golden State Stephen Curry Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images This is the season they have been waiting for. This is the year where high expectations are allowed. For these are the playoffs the Golden State Warriors believe they are to go far. Two seasons ago, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and David Lee had a feeling the losing days were over once new additions Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli joined them on the court. And they were right, as Golden State doubled its win total from a lockout-shortened season, improving from 23-43 to 47-35 in 2012-13, making the 2013 NBA Playoffs and advancing to the second round. A year ago, Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights were added to the mix and the Warriors saw another regular-season wins jump, from a 47- to a 51-win campaign, and another playoff appearance, this one ending with a first-round 2014 NBA Playoff exit. Now, in 2014-15, things are different. Sights are set higher. Management believes chemistry has formed amongst the aforementioned nine. Relationships are building among other past part-time Warriors (Brandon Rush, Nemanja Nedovic, Ognjen Kuzmic), along with newbie Dubs (Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa). Winning mindsets, now established. Losing habits, permanently erased. DEFENSE Credit former head coach Mark Jackson for establishing a defensive identity for a franchise in 2012-13 that did not know what defense or rebounding was before that period. Going back to the Nellie small-ball days—when Don Nelson and his former assistant Keith Smart coached Golden State—the Warriors were annually one of the NBA’s worst teams on D and on the boards, ranking in the bottom five on defense from 2008-09 through 2011-12 and rating worst or second-to-worst in rebounding from 2006-07 through 2011-12. But Jackson, thanks in part to the Bogut acquisition and Ezeli draft selection, got the Warriors to expand its offense-first mindset to a mandatory-attention-to-D detail. In turn, the playoff-bound Dubs became the 13th-best defensive squad and eighth-best rebounding unit in 2012-13. Overall ratings improved once again last year with the Warriors ranking third and ninth, respectively. So when Steve Kerr was hired to replace Jackson in a controversial off-season move by a front office that had grown adrift with its successful head coach, Kerr made sure to bring in top-flight assistants to maintain what Golden State had already built. Enter Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, who were both identified by NBA general managers in a 2014-15 survey as two of the best assistant coaches in the game today. By management paying extra to lock both assistants up, Kerr now has a respected former head coach on his staff (Gentry) and one of the top defensive minds in the league (Adams) to build on to the current version of Warriors D. Adams has own style of defensive schemes—from his days as UNLV’s architect of the amoeba defense three decades ago to recent forays as Tom Thibodeau’s right-hand man in Chicago’s pick-apart-the-pick-and-roll-offense D. With prime post defenders like Bogut and Ezeli who move their feet well for seven-footers, look for these Warriors to do an even better job of forcing the offensive action out of the middle and more towards the sidelines. On the perimeter, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better defensive trio than Iguodala, Green and Thompson. Iguodala is the NBA’s best perimeter defender and his potential in Golden State’s system has not even been tapped yet. Even then, the small forward showed last year he is the Warriors’ second-best overall player, laying contributions defensively that are not as obvious to see to the naked eye (Iguodala’s +4.74 defensive Real Plus-Minus score was tops among perimeter defenders in 2013-14). Just as unsung, Green has become a younger version of ’Dala— boasting a +3.98 dRPM—and a team-first attitude that excels next to offensive-minded players like Curry, Thompson and Lee. In a sense, Golden State’s burgeoning defensive reputation has a lot to do with their stingy troika—Iguodala, Green and paint protector Bogut, who has an overwhelming +5.14 dRPM while ranking 10th in the NBA (five-attempts minimum) in opponents field goal percentage at the rim (.456). That’s not to say others don’t contribute mightily. Thompson is well known for accepting the defensive challenge of taking on the tougher guard for Curry, be it point guard or shooting guard. And both Curry and Lee—once thought to be weak links on some pretty bad defenses—now no longer are forced to guard out of their position scales (Curry has Thompson’s help; Lee is no longer forced to play full-time center, playing only 19 percent of his minutes at the 5 spot in 2013-14). OFFENSE The Warriors have a mighty reputation as the flashiest team in the NBA.
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