(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

New Season, New Team

by Brian Witt

The wait is over. Tonight the Warriors embark on an 82-game journey that will test the talent and wherewithal of a roster that has remained largely intact following a first round exit in last year’s playoffs. The reward lying on the other end of that journey? Hopefully another visit to the postseason, and who knows, perhaps a shot at redemption.

The 2014-15 edition of the Golden State Warriors enters the season with high expectations, and deservedly so. When you win 51 games on your way to a second-consecutive playoff appearance, that tends to happen. The roster returns its top-seven players from a season ago in terms of minutes played, the first time that kind of continuity has been maintained since the 1988-89 season. And considering they’ll all be under the direction and tutelage of a first-time head coach in Steve Kerr, that kind of familiarity might be more important than ever. They’ve experienced the same highs. They’ve suffered through the same lows. Now they come together once again with the hopes of doing something special.

With the arrival of Kerr comes the installment of new philosophies on both sides of the court, the implementation of which will be aided by the presence of two highly-respected assistant coaches in Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams. There will undoubtedly be growing pains as the team adjusts to the new systems, but the alterations will be aimed at addressing the shortcomings of last year’s squad while maintaining and complementing the things they did well. While 51 wins is certainly nothing to scoff at, here’s a look at three areas of expected improvement for the season ahead:

Marreese Speights
The transition to a new offense involves a learning curve, but the early returns are promising. (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

Ball Movement

From the moment he arrived in Oakland, Steve Kerr made it known that he saw some flaws with the offense, and knew exactly how he was going to address it: better ball movement. Kerr played under two of the most successful coaches in NBA history in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, and he’s made a point of bringing elements of each of their offenses into the one the Warriors will use this season. Furthermore, throughout Kerr’s tenure as G.M. of the Suns from 2007-2010 (while Gentry was his head coach), Phoenix finished no lower than second in the league in team offensive rating (ORtg), which measures the number of points a team produces per 100 possessions. While it may be a bit unrealistic to expect Golden State to perform at such a high clip, at least in Year 1, there is already evidence that this collection of Warriors is capable of being amongst the top offenses in the league. Over the course of the preseason in which the Warriors went 6-2, Golden State possessed the second-highest offensive rating in the NBA, averaging 110.9 points per 100 possessions; only LeBron and the Cavs performed at a higher rate. With a defensive rating (DRtg) of 99.9, the Warriors’ efficiency differential (ORtg – DRtg) of 11.0 was by far the best in the league. For those of you that are new to the world of advanced statistics, that’s a very good thing. Yes, it’s just preseason and you can’t necessarily assume that the same degree of success on offense will be carried over into the regular season, but it certainly is promising to see how quickly the team has picked up the new offense, and the benefits are already evident. Last year the Warriors finished dead last in the league in passes per possession. It doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to see that trend coming to an abrupt end.

Marreese Speights
Throughout the preseason, the Warriors proved they have one of the deepest rosters in the league. (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

Strength in Numbers

One of the biggest strengths of last year’s team was the starting lineup, one that, when healthy, ranked amongst the top five-man units in the entire league. Yet, when the starters came off the floor or missed games due to injury, the team’s performance dipped significantly. This disparity can be attributed to two things: the inconsistency of the bench unit, as well as a general insufficiency of depth. Regarding the latter, it wasn’t necessarily any problem with the construction of the roster; injuries, amongst other things, are going to deplete your roster over the course of a season, it’s just a reality. But even when at full strength, the roster wasn’t necessarily 15-deep with guys that could hold their own over prolonged stretches of playing time. This year, however, that’s not the case.

The Warriors entered the preseason with just one vacant spot on their roster, and the battle to claim it was fierce. While Justin Holiday, the ultimate victor, projects as a role player in this his second NBA season, not many teams can boast a roster in which their final spot is occupied by someone of Holiday’s talent and ability. Factor in another year of growth of young players like Ognjen Kuzmic and Nemanja Nedovic, and it’s easy to see why Golden State has to feel pretty good about the back end of its roster. And that’s not even mentioning what could be one of the very best second units in the entire NBA. The Warriors entered the offseason with a goal of improving their second unit, and their corresponding moves reflect that ambition. Both Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa, Golden State’s two biggest splashes in free agency, have proven they have the ability to perform at a high level, and possess unique skill sets that should flourish when playing off one another. Combine them with Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and either Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala (whoever doesn’t start), and you’re looking at a potentially potent second unit that can not only maintain leads provided them by the starters, but expand on them as well. That’s a big key for a Warriors team that plans on playing at one of the most demanding paces in the entire league.

Warriors Set for Sacramento Opener

The Warriors have arrived in Sacramento and are set for the regular season opener against the Kings on Wednesday night.
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Warriors Set for Sacramento Opener

The Warriors have arrived in Sacramento and are set for the regular season opener against the Kings on Wednesday night.
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Owning Oracle

While both an enhanced roster and improved offense should place the Warriors in a position to be successful in most games, those aren’t the only advantages they possess. Oracle Arena is home to one of the most energetic and raucous crowds in the entire league, and both the Warriors and visiting players alike acknowledge the impact it can have on a game. Yet, a season ago, the Warriors did not capitalize on that advantage to the degree that they desired, going 27-14 at home, the sixth-best home record in the Western Conference. Multiple games against lesser opponents slipped right through Golden State’s fingers, and in the West, a couple games can mean the difference between hosting a first round playoff series, and missing the postseason altogether. Already Coach Kerr has made it clear that reasserting their dominance on their home floor is a real focus for the Warriors this season:

“There’s no excuse for us not to. We’ve got a lot of talent, we’ve got the best crowd in the league. It’s electric in there. We should be able to feed off of the energy from the fans and our own play. And in the West, if you’re going to survive, you better take care of your home court because the road is going to be tough.”

The Warriors finished three games behind Houston last year for the fourth seed in the West, meaning they finished three games behind the pace to host a first round playoff matchup. Considering

Golden State’s hard-fought first round series against the rival Clippers came down to the very last minute of Game 7 in L.A., you can bet they would much rather have been playing that decisive game at Oracle. Alas, the Warriors learned the hard way, and perhaps that will serve them well this year as a constant reminder to make Oracle one of the toughest environments in the league for visiting opponents. More good news for the Dubs: they know the fans will do their part.

The dawn of a new season offers hope for every team, but Golden State in particular has plenty of reasons to believe that this could be a special one. Yes, they have a new coach and a new system which may take some time to get the hang of, and yes they still play in the West. But if they play up to their ability on most nights and maybe get a little luck along the way, an improvement on last year’s first round exit is certainly not out of the question. There is a long time between now and then, and who knows what this season will ultimately offer, but after all, that’s the beauty of the journey. We don’t know how it will end. We’re just happy it has begun.

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