State of the Franchise: Golden State Warriors
March 10, 2011 Leave a comment
The 2009-10 season for the Golden State Warriors was a constant challenge that did yield several positives. Monta Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, missed significant time during the season due to injuries. Along the injury path, the team lost center Andris Biedrins for long stints, and once he did return, Biedrins wasn’t able to recover his form from the previous season when he averaged 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. The team also moved productive forward Stephen Jackson early in the season to the Charlotte Bobcats in a salary-slashing move.
However, the team did find a gem in former Davidson star, rookie guard Stephen Curry. In his first campaign in the NBA, Curry quickly silenced all his doubts that didn’t think his game would transition from college to the pros. Curry averaged 17.5 points per game, along with a team-high 5.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He also shot an incredible 43.7% from beyond the three-point arch, his specialty in college.
Also at the end of the season, head coach Don Nelson, who became the NBA’s all-time wins leader during the down season, announced his retirement from the sidelines. Nelson’s retirement cleared the path for long-time Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart to be named to the head coaching position, and the team hoped to build around its core heading into this season.
Scoring has never been a problem for the Warriors, dating back to when Don Nelson first took over and Baron Davis manned the point. Defense, however, has always been a struggle for the squad. Last season, though the offense scored at an impressive 105.4 points-per-game tilt, the defense was awful, allowing 109.4 per-game. That’ show you lose 56 games the old fashion way. Smart looked to bring a more defensive mindset to the franchise, while not taking away from the team’s greatest strength: the high-octane offense.
The Warriors made three significant moves in the off-season to try and bolster their club. Looking to build around their strong guard combo of Ellis and Curry, the team’s first headline transaction was acquiring forward/center David Lee from the New York Knicks in a sign-and-trade. Lee refined his game while playing for some really terrible Knicks teams, working his way from a bench filler to a 2009-10 All-Star. In three of his five years in New York, Lee averaged 10+ rebounds-per-game. In 2009-10, Lee had his best statistical year, averaging 20.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists while shooting 54.5% from the field and a staggering 81.2% from the free-throw line.
In the sign-and-trade, however, the Warriors had to part with what appeared to be three critical pieces. At the time, the biggest seemed to be young forward Anthony Randolph. In an injury-riddled 2009-10 campaign, Randolph managed to put up 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds in 33 games, all while playing at the tender age of 20. However, Randolph’s game never translated to the Knicks, and he found himself traded again this season as part of the mega-deal involving Carmelo Anthony.
The second piece that seemed significant at the time was combo-guard Kelenna Azubuike. In 2008-09, the third year player out of Kentucky really blossomed under Nelson, averaging 14.4 points and 5.0 rebounds while garnering attention for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. However, as the theme was for the Warriors in 2009-10, Azubuike blew out his knee and went down for the season after just nine contests. Azubuike never appeared in a game for the Knicks, and was eventually waived to create roster space.
Turns out, the key player the Warriors were forced to surrender was team leader and pesky defender forward Ronny Turiaf. Turiaf was never known for his offense, but he averaged over a block a game on a weak defensive ball club, and was unquestionably the heart and soul of the Warriors locker room.
With their second significant move of the off-season, the team used their sixth overall draft pick on Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh. Udoh, 23, entered the Warriors system very raw and not prepared to play a full 82-game regular season schedule as he continues to try and learn the game on the fly. However, in his limited action this season (33 games), Udoh has averaged a team-best 1.1 blocks-per-game. Udoh has the athleticism, range, and ceiling both offensively and defensively to preform at an extremely high level for a team that runs transition as well as the Warriors. But, he is a work in progress, and probably won’t blossom into a semblance of player he could be for another year or two.
The last move the Warriors made seemed insignificant at the time, but has turned out to be quietly the stealthiest off-season signing for any team in the NBA. Swingman Dorell Wright spent six seasons accumulating only garbage minutes on the bench for the Miami Heat. In order for the Heat to create the necessary cap room to sign Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Wright was released. In his final season in South Beach, Wright averaged 7.1 points and 3.3 rebounds while averaging under 21 minutes of action per night.
In his first season in the Bay Area, Wright has exploded to a tune of 16.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists while averaging a decent 42.4% from the field. Furthermore, Wright has provided a lackluster defense with a truly gifted one-on-one defender, averaging 1.4 steals-per-game. Still only 25 years old, Wright’s best basketball may still be ahead of him, giving the Warriors a fourth piece to run out every night alongside Lee, Ellis and Curry.
This season, though the Warriors have already surpassed their win total from a previous season, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. If anything was proven in New York while David Lee established himself, its that Lee cannot be your starting center. His play is impressive in the paint, but only when he is reasonably matched up against other team’s power forwards. Dominant centers have their way with the undersized Lee. However, if you couple Lee with a big man who excels on defense and can supply rebounding to couple Lee’s, then you have a winning recipe.
Also, until this team can answer their defensive woes, they will remain on the outside looking in of the Western Conference playoffs. The team has come to terms that Monta Ellis is mostly an offensive specialist, but they are hoping Curry can develop into a serviceable defensive point guard. Most of the teams woes can be answered by the addition of a big man to couple with Lee inside. Lee is a fantastic rebounder as is and has the ability to lead any team in rebounding, short of the Orlando Magic (Dwight Howard) and Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Love). But, the addition of a big body to match up the likes Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah would put this team over the top.
Warriors fans are some of the most loyal fans throughout the NBA. Win or lose, they show up to every game and cheer for their team. Though it may be two or three years away from fruition, these Golden State Warriors will soon have a more dominant project on the court to answer the emotion in the stands.