As much as we think we learned about the Warriors last season, the fact remains that the season ahead contains such a wide range of possibilities, it’s difficult to project what to honestly expect. Sure, we have a relatively accurate idea of what kind of numbers the likes of Stephen Curry and David Lee are capable of putting up, but a certain mystery pervades the entirety of the Dubs’ roster, which features several new additions. That puzzle will slowly come together, piece by piece, as the season carries on, but at this very moment, nowhere is that mystery more prevalent than when assessing what to expect from the Warriors’ group of wing players, namely Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, as well as Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore.
Let’s start with the new guy. After all, the last time anybody saw him in a non-preseason NBA game, he was donning a Nuggets jersey…and we all remember how that turned out. Lucky for him (and his new teammates), Iguodala will be sporting those stylish Golden State unis this time around, and you know what? He’s going to look pretty darn good in them, and I’m not just talking about his impossible-to-ignore muscular physique. No, if the Warriors have it their way, it will be his play on the court that haunts the dreams of their opponents on a nightly basis. At the very least, he won’t be giving the Warriors nightmares of their own.
Even the most diehard fans might have had a difficult time waking up in time for the Warriors’ win over the Lakers in Shanghai last Friday, but if you did, you got a glimpse of exactly why everyone is so excited for Iguodala’s inclusion. About halfway through the third quarter, the Warriors ran away with the game, and Iguodala was right in the middle of it all, as evidenced by his 14 assists. Time after time, he’d take a step or two on the drive, causing the Lakers’ defense to collapse to the interior, which left the Dubs’ shooters wide open on the perimeter. In a two-and-a-half minute span, Iguodala found Stephen Curry for one and Klay Thompson for two wide open three-pointers off of a drive-and-kick, which they promptly converted. It was a thing of beauty, and certainly a sight that will become more and more familiar as the season wears on. His athleticism and court vision must be equally respected, placing opposing defenses in quite the quandary: dunk, or splash?
If that were the only advantage Iguodala provided, he’d still be a difference-maker. But, we haven’t even gotten to the part that truly separates him from the pack. Too often last season did Thompson, Curry and others get into early foul trouble as a result of guarding the opposition’s best player. Well, Iguodala should put an end to that. Since steals became an official stat in 1973-74, he is one of 12 players in NBA history to have five seasons averaging at least 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Add that to the ongoing defensive improvement of the other perimeter players, and suddenly it becomes easier to understand why national and local pundits alike have such high expectations for the Warriors this season.
Speaking of expectations and improvement, the development of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes could prove to be a deciding factor if the Warriors hope to improve upon last season. Both, particularly Thompson, made tremendous progress on the defensive end last season, and both should continue that upward trend as they gain more experience and distinction around the league. Thompson very well may be the second-best shooter in the Association (he ranked third in the league with 211 treys last season), and one would expect that with a fully healthy lineup, more defensive attention paid to Curry, and two teammates quite adept at attacking the rim in Iguodala and Barnes, he should have plenty of opportunities to improve on those gaudy numbers. He’s made his interior scoring a priority this offseason, and if he can finish at the rim like he’s been showing more of this preseason, it could really round out his offensive arsenal.
While we’re on the subject of finishing at the rim, there’s one guy Thompson could take a cue from: the Black Falcon, although he’s more likely to break the rim off in the process. Everyone knows what Barnes can do in the air, but his coming-out party playing as a stretch four in the playoffs opened a lot of eyes around the league, posing the question, just how good can he (and the Warriors) be? Sure, he cedes some weight to more prototypical fours, but he’s obviously been spending a lot of time in the weight room this summer, as evidenced by his thicker frame, and he can use his unparalleled athleticism to force the opposition to play his game, rather than the other way around. Leave him open on the perimeter, and he’s more than willing to take the uncontested jumper. Come too close and…look out below. His ceiling is as high as anyone’s on the roster, and if anybody can reach it…well, it helps that falcons have wings.
Basketball at its simplest, however, is math. There can only be five guys on the court at a time, so one of the three aforementioned swingmen will inevitably begin the season coming off the bench, although circumstances can obviously change. That’s a great problem to have if you’re Mark Jackson, and it doesn’t stop there. Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore add to that bench abundance, positioning the Warriors as one of the deepest teams in the league, on paper at least.
For awhile there, Draymond Green rising up to shoot a three-pointer was not a pleasant sight to Warriors fans, to say the least. To put it simply, the 20.9 percent clip he was shooting at from long distance during the regular season didn’t exactly strike fear into the opponent. But then something changed. The playoffs arrived, and suddenly he was converting at a much more respectable rate (40.1 percent), adding to the plethora of offensive weapons the Warriors already equipped. One could argue it’s too small a sample size to draw any significant conclusions from, but then you look at the box scores from the preseason games, and it begins to look less like an anomaly, and more of a pattern. Combining last year’s playoffs with this year’s preseason (7-of-10 so far), he’s 16-of-33 from three in the last 17 games, a whopping 48.5 percent clip. If he can find ways to build on his offensive contributions, while continuing to provide his relentless energy and defensive pressure, it’s not hard to envision him filling some of the roles that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry combined to perform last season.
Last, but certainly not least, is Kent Bazemore. Was there any player more symbolic of the Warriors’ unexpected breakthrough than the man whose bench celebrations are now featured in the newest version of NBA2K? While we all get a huge kick out of those hilarious displays, failing to recognize Bazemore’s on-court contributions would be a huge disservice to the man not long ago considered the 499th best player in the league. From Summer League star to fringe NBA player to full-fledged rotation member, Bazemore has surpassed the expectations of most, although perhaps not his own. While no player necessarily wants to be sent down to the D-League, Bazemore took it in stride, and used the opportunity to improve his game leaps and bounds above where it had been prior. If it weren’t for the second-most clutch shot of last year’s playoffs by he-who-must-not-be-named, Bazemore’s frantic layup with 3.4 seconds at the end of the first overtime in Game 1 against the Spurs likely would have gone down as the Dubs’ bucket of the season. But alas, it was not to be. The good news is, Bazemore should have plenty of opportunities to eclipse that moment, as he’s expected to retain significant minutes coming off the bench. His length affords him the ability to shut down opposing guards, so if he can knock down his perimeter jumper with more consistency, as he’s done so far this offseason, it’s safe to say he’ll have a secured role on this team, not to mention his position as lead bench maestro.
Although individually they may all contain some mystery, it’s not hard to imagine the Warriors’ group of swingmen becoming the strength of this team. With the abundance of skills and versatility they collectively provide, it affords Mark Jackson the ability to dictate the matchups in his favor, creating a situation in which the Warriors should be able to compete with any team in the league, regardless of who’s on the opposing roster. Come to think of it, a Bazemore-Thompson-Iguodala-Barnes-Green small ball lineup could be very intriguing, and perhaps something Jackson might consider going to in brief spells. In any case, there are extremely high expectations for this group, and rightfully so. If they can deliver, it very well could push the Dubs over the top.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.