Perhaps no season in recent memory has begun with this much optimism in #DubNation. The Warriors’ 2012-13 playoff run put the team in the national consciousness, raising their public perception to more than just a team that’s fun to watch. Yes, the Warriors will still like to get out and run and hoist threes in transition on occasion, but now they are expected to back up that fun brand of basketball with substance and are expected, by fans and media alike, to finish in the top half of the Western Conference standings.
Those expectations are there for good reason, but as anybody who has ever played fantasy football will tell you, a team that’s good on paper doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. So even though the Warriors are returning all five starters from a team that made the second round of the playoffs, not to mention the off-season addition of one of the league’s premier swingmen, they have to do more than simply show up in order to live up the expectations bestowed upon them.
So will the team come together as one and become a power in the West? That question will be answered over the course of the next six months, but for now, we can take a position-by-position look to see how some of the pieces might come together. Let’s start with the point guards, and future discussions will cover the wings and then the big men.
Remember the days when debate raged on whether Stephen Curry was better equipped to handle point guard or shooting guard duties? That’s a non-issue now, mostly because you probably want him to be both the one and the two. His shooting ability is no secret. In four seasons, he’s established himself as one of the greatest deep threats in NBA history, as evidenced by his record-breaking 272 three-pointers and ranking third in three-point shooting percentage last season. Curry has also improved his ability as a play-maker. He’s coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 6.9 assists, and considering he was able to focus on strengthening his game this offseason as opposed to recovering from injury as he’s done in years past, he figures to be a fairly common All-Star prediction, as evidenced by his position in ESPN’s NBA Rank.
Yes, Curry will be more of a focal point for opposing defenses, and why wouldn’t he? He ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring after the All-Star Break last season (26.0 ppg), and then the playoffs happened. While defenses will likely be more physical with Curry, that shouldn’t deter his production. Physical defenses will translate to more fouls, and Curry just so happens to be one of the league’s top free throw shooters (he ranked second in free throw percentage last season).
“The biggest thing for me is to try and get to that foul line a lot more this year,” Curry said. “When that jumpshot’s not falling, you still have to find a way to be impactful on the offensive end. Getting into the paint, drawing contact and being able to finish … And being able to shoot 90 percent from the free throw line, I have to take advantage of that more often.”
What makes Curry so dangerous is he’s just as dangerous off the ball as he is on it. He’s an exceptional catch-and-shoot player who will certainly sink his fair share of corner 3-pointers off of slashing drives from Andre Iguodala. The Warriors figure to be a balanced team offensively with capable scorers at every position, so teams intent on taking Curry out of the game with a constant source of double teams will likely be burned by a Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson or David Lee. Furthermore, the team has no shortage of ball-handlers, and just as important there are above-average passers at multiple positions.
“Our bigs are great passers,” fellow guard Toney Douglas said. “We have a great passing team and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Speaking of Douglas, he’ll be mostly responsible for Curry not needing to play 40-plus minutes per night. The ball-hawking guard is about as close as one can get as a shutdown cornerback in the NBA. He often guards his man full court and will likely be among the team’s leaders in deflected passes. While defense is his forte, he’s no slouch offensively either. He has shot better than 37 percent from 3-point range in three of his first four NBA seasons, and for his career he averages 15.2 points and 4.2 assists per 36 minutes. No team in the NBA would turn down that production from their back-up point guard, let alone one who can get after it on the defensive side of the ball.
The importance of a second point guard can’t be understated. Warriors fans know just how critical Jarrett Jack was to the team’s success last season, and while Douglas has different strengths than Jack, he will still be a key component to Head Coach Mark Jackson’s rotation.
“I know my role, I’m a sparkplug,” Douglas said. “I’ll come in and I’ll have energy. I’m going to pick up full court, play hard and chase down loose balls and also push the pace and make plays in the open court.”
When it comes to making plays in the open court, Nemanja Nedovic finishing on the fast break will become must-see TV. If you saw any of last month’s EuroBasket, the European tournament that saw Nedovic’s Serbian national team qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup, you know that his explosive athleticism came as advertised. Nedovic is fearless when it comes to attacking the basket, and his jumpshot isn’t too shabby either. Just ask Tony Parker.
Realistically, though, Nedovic probably won’t see too many minutes. He has a lot to learn about the NBA game, and the lessons from practice can very well outweigh the contributions he makes on the floor this season. Spending some time in Santa Cruz isn’t out of the picture either, but as Kent Bazemore will tell you, that’s by no means a bad thing. He gained valuable experience there last season and wound up playing in critical situations for the Warriors.
The point guard position is one of strength for the Warriors. It starts with Curry and Douglas is quite capable as well. Iguodala and Bazemore can take their turns at being the primary ballhandler in certain situations, and Nedovic offers further depth. Whatever lens you look through, the Warriors are one of the strongest teams in the NBA at point guard.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.