April 18, 2011

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2010-11 Warriors:
Top 10 Plays

Fitz Files: Season
Wrap-Up Edition

Keith Smart
Interview - 4/13/11
The 2010-11 season was one of change for the Golden State Warriors. New ownership, new coaching staff and several new players. Heck, even the uniforms and team logo bore a new look. While all of these changes did not result in a playoff berth, they did mark progress in getting there.

At 36-46, the Warriors were one of only seven teams to improve upon their 2009-10 win total by 10 or more games. The improvement began well before the team reconvened for training camp back in September and even before a purchase agreement was reached for the sale of the team to an investor group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber in July. It would be mid-November before the sale became complete, but by then the pieces were already in place. The off-season maturation of Monta Ellis and the high-profile acquisition of All-Star forward David Lee had laid the foundation for a new era of Warriors basketball, and that meant some changes off the floor as well.

With the Warriors unveiling their new logo, the ownership change and a brand new web site to accompany the team’s increased presence on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, the Warriors had begun to carve out a new identity of becoming a major player in the NBA.

That identity, however, would ultimately be defined by the team’s roster and coaching staff, and that, too, underwent tremendous change. Charged with the task of filling the shoes of the winningest head coach in NBA history, Keith Smart was named head coach in late September, just a few days before the team officially opened training camp with its annual media day festivities. During his seven years as a Warriors assistant coach, Smart developed strong relationships with many of the team’s players both on and off the court, and that bond trickled down to each player on the roster.

Coach Smart took over a roster that at season’s end featured nine of 14 players in their first year with the team. General Manager Larry Riley was extremely active both before and during the 2010-11 campaign, and the result was several notable transactions that not only paid dividends for this season, but also offer hope for the future. The sign-and-trade deal for Lee gave the Warriors one of the most prolific double-double machines in the NBA and the selection of Ekpe Udoh with the sixth pick of the 2010 NBA Draft gave the Warriors a much-needed interior presence. However, the free agent signing of Dorell Wright could have been Riley’s most significant move of the off-season, as Wright blossomed into a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award and is now one of the building blocks of a promising future for the Warriors.

As important as those acquisitions were, the success of the team started with the backcourt. Ellis and Stephen Curry once again proved to be one of the most lethal duos in the NBA. Together, they averaged 42.7 points per game, the seventh-highest total in the NBA, and their combined total of average points, rebounds, assists and steals (65.1) exceeded that of any other starting backcourt in the league.

Monta Ellis ranked first in the NBA in minutes, third in steals and eighth in scoring. (photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
Ellis opened the season as a man on a mission. His 46-point performance in the team’s Opening Night victory over the Rockets set the tone for a season in which he ranked eighth in scoring (24.1 ppg), first in minutes (40.3 mpg) and third in steals (2.10 spg). Many around the league thought that Ellis was deserving of being an All-Star, and even though he wasn't awarded as such, he still gained the respect of his peers as one of the top young guards in the game. While he has put up impressive numbers before, this season he solidified himself as a clutch performer with a game-winning shot against the Pacers two days before he sunk a buzzer-beating shot to force overtime against the Kings on January 21.

On his way to joining Ellis in that class is Stephen Curry. The 2010 Rookie of the Year runner-up became just the fifth active player to shoot at least 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 85 percent from the free throw line in consecutive seasons, and the first player in NBA history to achieve that feat in his first two seasons. After spending the summer as a key player on Team USA’s gold medal winning World Championship team, Curry continued to grow as a point guard throughout his second season and wound up leading the NBA with a franchise-record free throw percentage (.934) and ranking third in three-point percentage (.442). A member of the sophomore squad in the Rookie Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend 2011 in Los Angeles, Curry also won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge and is one of the top reasons for the team’s promising future.

That bright outlook appeared to be coming to fruition even before the season began. Three weeks before the onset of training camp, the entire team was back at the Warriors Practice Facility in Downtown Oakland taking part in daily pick-up games and workouts. The first-year Warriors and team veterans meshed well and quickly became a tight-knit group, both on and off the court. The team was clicking on all cylinders and won six of their first eight games, but that sixth win came at a cost.

In his first season with the Warriors, David Lee ranked seventh in the NBA with 37 double-doubles. (photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
Playing against his former team for the first time, David Lee suffered a deep laceration to his left elbow when an opponent’s tooth pierced through his skin during the team’s November 10 game in New York. The wound became infected and Lee wound up undergoing two surgical procedures. After posting six double-doubles in the team’s first eight games, the NBA’s seventh-leading rebounder (9.8 rpg) was suddenly out of action for eight games and the team struggled in his absence.

Lee wasn’t the only player to lose serious time to injury. Udoh tore a ligament in his left wrist over the summer and did not make his NBA debut until December 10 vs. Miami. Without a proper training camp to prepare for the season, the Warriors’ 2010 first-round selection had to learn the NBA game on the fly. Unfazed by the challenge, Udoh quickly established himself as a promising interior defender. He led all NBA rookies in blocks (1.48 bpg) and became more effective later in the season when he obtained more playing time.

While Udoh came along late, Wright provided production the entire season. He was the only Warrior to play all 82 games (Ellis played 80) and he ranked seventh in the NBA with 38.4 minutes per game. Wright enjoyed a breakout season, as he became the first player in NBA history to score more points (1,344) in his seventh season than in his first six years combined (1,333). Nearly half of those points were scored on three-pointers, as the first-year Warrior set a franchise record with a league-leading 194 treys, including nine in a road win against the Timberwolves on November 27. Wright’s exploits along the perimeter earned him a spot in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, but Wright proved to be much more than a perimeter shooter. He was the team’s best on-the-ball defender and he also averaged 16.4 points, an increase of 9.3 from the 2009-10 season.

In terms of wins and losses, the Warriors had an up and down season. But when things were right, they were capable of beating anybody, and they proved as much during a three-game winning streak against Dallas, Portland and L.A. Lakers, three teams that would end up as the Nos. 3, 6 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Western Conference Playoffs. Two of those victories came at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors were quite dangerous all season. Thirteen sellout crowds and an average attendance of 18,693 fans saw the Warriors go 26-15 at home. Golden State also held their own against elite teams, as they won six of their last seven games against Western Conference opponents that would make the NBA Playoffs.

The Warriors have begun to assemble the building blocks of a perennial playoff contender, and while the team fell short of its goal to reach the postseason in 2011, progress was made with a 10-game improvement from the prior season. Ellis and Curry are on the path to becoming All-Stars, Lee has already been there and Wright and Udoh have already proved that they are up to the challenge. Add a 2011 lottery pick to that mix and the 2012 NBA Playoffs aren’t only a possibility, they are guaranteed by Lacob and Guber.


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