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Team Preview: Golden State Warriors

By Eric Johnson, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

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(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

The 2006-07 Golden State Warriors started last season with a lot of question marks. They had a new coach (Don Nelson) and new small-ball system that seemingly put offense at a premium and left defense on the back burner. Baron Davis entered the season healthy for the first time in a long time, Jason Richardson was coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery, jump-shooting power forward Troy Murphy was adjusting to his new role as center and swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. was expected to play and thrive at power forward. Well, the Warriors started off the season 9-7, courtesy of a favorable home schedule, but were 21-25 by the end of January, and it looked like they weren’t going to make the playoffs for the 14th consecutive year. Starting guards Richardson and Davis were both hurt, and Dunleavy and Murphy were both struggling with their new roles. The only bright spot was the drastic improvement of second-year guard Monta Ellis and third-year center Andris Biedrins. Then something happened.

The team’s much maligned general manager, Chris Mullin, the man responsible for giving Adonal Foyle $42 million over six years and Dunleavy, Jr. $44 million over five, pulled off a season-changing trade. He shipped Murphy, Dunleavy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod to Indiana for Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell, giving the Warriors an infusion of athleticism and toughness. When Richardson and Davis came back healthy in February and March, respectively, the Warriors were off and running. They finished the season winning 16 of their last 23 games and averaged 111.7 points per game during this stretch (1st in the NBA). Not only did they make the Playoffs for the first time since 1993, they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, beating the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in six games.

Expectations are high for the 2007-08 Warriors, but some question marks still remain. First, they must replace the consistent production and leadership of Richardson, who was traded to Charlotte for rookie Brandan Wright and the draft rights to Jermareo Davidson. Moving Richardson was a salary cap-friendly move and helped free up a log-jam at shooting guard. However, finding someone to replace the 18.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 threes per game that Richardson averaged during his six-year career with Golden State won’t be easy. Secondly, you never know what version of Baron Davis you’re going to get. Are you going to get Baron 5.0, who was dominant while averaging 25.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds during the Playoffs, or Baron 2.0 who has missed 83 games during the past three seasons with various injuries? Third, can Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis (the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player) continue to develop and become consistent NBA performers? Finally, will coach Don Nelson, the architect behind the Warriors high octane offense, return? Nelson, the oldest active head coach in the NBA at 67, is demanding an increase to his base salary, and the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. One thing is for sure: If Nelson does come back, the Warriors “fast-breaking, any shot is a good shot” style of basketball should result in all five starters putting up fantasy friendly numbers this year.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

Andris Biedrins should see 30-35 minutes a night at center with Kosta Perovic and second-year center Patrick O’Bryant backing him up. Perovic looks to be the favorite to get the bulk of the backup center minutes (10-15) based on his ability to step out and hit the 10-foot jump shot. Don Nelson loves to go small so don’t be surprised if Al Harrington plays some center when the matchups allow him to do so. Harrington will start at power forward and should log about 30 minutes a night but, as evidenced in the Playoffs last year, Nelson has no issues using him off the bench in a sixth-man role if he’s struggling. Rookie Brandan Wright will also see some minutes (10-15 a night) at power forward and will be expected to bring rebounding and shot blocking energy off the bench. Newly acquired Austin Croshere will also get some time at power forward and could thrive as a three-point shooter in the Warriors’ run and gun offense.

Stephen Jackson is entrenched as the Warriors’ starting small forward, and his versatility should keep him on the floor for over 35 minutes a night. He’s the Warriors’ best one-on-one defender, the best free throw shooter among their regular rotation (80.4 percent last year) and even played some point guard last year when Baron Davis was hurt. Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes will back up Jackson, and both players should see 15-20 minutes platooning at small forward and power forward.

Davis is the glue to this team and will play as many minutes as he can handle. He averaged a team-high 35.3 minutes per game last year but will likely have his minutes closely monitored due to his injury history. Look for Davis to lead the team in minutes played again this year, especially since the Warriors don’t have a proven backup. Sarunas Jasikevicius will try to fill that role, but based on his ineffectiveness last year, he shouldn’t see more than 10 minutes a night. Trading Jason Richardson freed up minutes in the Warriors' backcourt, and Monta Ellis should be the main beneficiary. Ellis averaged 34.3 minutes last year as the Warriors’ sixth man and part-time starter and should get 35 minutes or more of court time as the Warriors’ starting shooting guard. Ellis isn’t a prototypical point guard but could also see some time there as a backup to Baron Davis. First-round draft pick Marco Belinelli will spell Ellis at shooting guard and could challenge him for minutes, especially if his impressive play in the Las Vegas Summer League carries into the regular season.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

* Andris Biedrins – GSW [C]: Biedrins started last season as the backup to Adonal Foyle but quickly established himself as a starter and difference-maker for the Warriors. In only his third year in the league, Biedrins almost averaged a double-double last year (9.6 ppg and 9.3 rpg) and led the team in blocked shots per game (1.7 bpg). Biedrins doesn’t have much of an offensive game and his FT percentage (52.1 percent last year) continues to be a concern, but he should continue to be great source for rebounds and blocks this year.

Kosta Perovic – GSW [SF,PF]: Perovic was the Warriors’ second-round pick in 2006 (No. 38 overall) and spent last year refining his game in Europe. Perovic, at 7-2, has been compared to Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas because of his size and ability to step out and shoot. He should start the season as the backup center and, barring an injury to Biedrins, probably won’t get enough minutes to warrant fantasy consideration.

Patrick O’Bryant – GSW [C]: O’Bryant, the Warriors first-round draft pick in 2006 (No. 9 overall), spent most of the year in the NBDL last year. Playing time will be limited for O’Bryant again this year as he will most likely be the Warriors’ third string center behind Biedrins and Perovic.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

* Al Harrington – GSW [SF,PF,C]: Harrington has thrived during the past four years because he has been a featured post player who can and will shoot the occasional three-pointer. In Golden State’s quick shot offense, though, Harrington never really had the time to get established in the post and jacked up a career-high 175 three-pointers in 42 regular season games (4.2 per game) with the Warriors. His numbers for the season were still solid (17.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg), but his field goal percentage (45.6 percent) isn’t great for a big man, and he struggled last year at the line (68.1 percent). Harrington should continue to put up solid scoring and rebounding numbers this year, and he is one of just a few power forwards that shoots a good percentage from behind the arc (41.7 percent last year).

* Stephen Jackson – GSW [SG,SF,PF]: Jackson will miss the Warriors’ first seven games due to a league suspension for his “off-court entanglements” during the past year; however, he should come back firing on all cylinders. He established himself last year as the Warriors’ best defender, was a consistent scorer (16.8 ppg) and set career bests in FG percentage (44.6 percent) and assists (4.6 apg). Jackson should continue to thrive in the Warriors’ system and be a solid contributor for fantasy owners looking for points, threes (averaged 1.6 per game last year) and free throw percentage (80.4 percent last year).

Why? Jackson clearly has the green light in Don Nelson’s offense and should continue to be a good source for points, three-pointers and free throw percentage. Jackson could be a great value in the middle rounds of your draft.

Matt Barnes – GSW [SF,PF]: Barnes went from being the last player to make the team last year to a legitimate fantasy contributor by the end of November. He averaged 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 threes per game in December en route to averaging a career-best 9.8 points per game and 23.5 minutes per game for the season. Barnes took advantage of injuries last year but don’t expect similar production this year as he’ll be fighting for back-up small forward minutes with Mickael Pietrus.

Mickael Pietrus – GSW [SF]: Pietrus is the kind of athletic, defensive stopper that should fit perfectly in Don Nelson’s system. At 6-6, he shot 38.8 percent from three-point range last year (1.3 threes per game), shot 48.8 percent from the field and averaged 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 26.5 minutes. He’ll start the season backing up Stephen Jackson at small forward but could start the first seven games of the year while Jackson is serving his suspension. Keep an eye on Pietrus if he starts to play more than 30 minutes a night.

Brandan Wright – GSW [SF,PF]: The Warriors traded away one of the faces of the franchise (Jason Richardson) for the rights to Wright on draft day, so expectations will be high for the rookie. The good thing for Wright is the Warriors are stacked with offensive threats so he can focus primarily on rebounding and blocking shots. Wright, who averaged 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks last year at the University of North Carolina, should serve the role of energy guy off the bench (10-15 minutes per game) as one of the backups to Al Harrington at power forward.

Austin Croshere – GSW [PF]: Croshere was acquired by the Warriors this summer and gives Don Nelson another three-point shooter at his disposal. Croshere will have to fight for minutes at power forward, but he is 6-10 and shoots the three very well for a big man (career 33.9 percent). He shouldn’t receive fantasy worthy minutes unless the Warriors have injuries on their frontline.

Stephane Lasme – GSW [SF,PF]: Lasme, the Warriors’ second-round pick this year, averaged 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks last year as a senior at the University of Massachusetts. He was one of only two college players last year to rank in the top-25 in three statistical categories (points, rebounds and blocks) - the other was Greg Oden. Lasme joins a crowded Warriors’ frontcourt, though, and will mostly likely spend some time in the NBDL to develop his game.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

* Baron Davis – GSW [PG]: Davis showed last year that, when healthy, he’s arguably one of the top five point guards in the league. He averaged 20.1 points per game, 8.1 assists and 2.1 steals in the regular season and stepped up his averages to 25.3 points, 6.5 assists and 2.9 steals during the Playoffs. Davis even improved his percentages last year, shooting 43.9 percent from the field (career 41.1 percent) and 74.5 percent from the line (career 68.1 percent). The issue with Davis has always been his health, and the injury bug struck again last year. Davis played only 63 games after being hampered with wrist and knee injuries. You have to assume that Davis will miss a minimum of 10-15 games every year (he has only played a full season twice in his eight-year career), but if he can stay healthy, he should continue to put up big numbers as one of the elite point guards in the NBA.

* Monta Ellis – GSW [PG,SG]: After averaging only 6.8 points in 18.1 minutes his rookie year, Ellis averaged 16.5 ppg in 34.3 mpg and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Ellis blossomed in the Warriors’ run and gun offense and took advantage of injuries to Baron Davis and Jason Richardson to establish himself as a legitimate NBA scoring guard. He averaged 1.7 steals per game and shot 47.5 percent from the field last year as a part-time starter (53 starts last year). He should build on his numbers this year as the full-time starter at shooting guard now that Richardson is no longer in the mix.

Why? He enters this year as the starter at shooting guard, but fantasy owners should be cautious about drafting Ellis too early. He’s the third or fourth option on his team (behind Davis, Jackson and Harrington) and could potentially lose some playing time to rookie Marco Belinelli.

Marco Belinelli – GSW [PG,SG]: Belinelli, the Warriors’ first-round pick this year (No. 18 overall), has spent the last five years playing professionally in Italy. At 6-5, he has great size for a shooting guard and his considerable talents were on full display at the Las Vegas Summer League. He averaged 22.8 points while shooting 43.5 percent from three-point range this summer and scored 37 points (five three-pointers) in his summer league debut. Belinelli will start the season as Monta Ellis’ backup at shooting guard, but he could challenge Ellis immediately for minutes and should be on your fantasy radar once the season begins.

Kelenna Azubuike – GSW [SG,SF]: Azubuike went from playing in the NBDL last year to starting nine games for the Warriors and averaged 7.1 points in 41 games. Azubuike is a solid defender and consistent three-point shooter (43 percent last year), but he will have a tough time finding minutes in the Warriors’ backcourt at shooting guard, playing behind Monta Ellis and Marco Belinelli.

Sarunas Jasikevicius – GSW [PG]: When Jasikevicius was traded to the Warriors last year, it was widely assumed that he would step in and give Golden State solid minutes backing up Baron Davis at point guard. Jasikevicius got his opportunity, but he struggled early and ended up riding the pine as Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson were used at the point instead. He’ll have a chance to earn minutes again this year but probably won’t have much value unless Baron Davis misses a significant amount of time with injury.

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