Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Golden State Warriors with Golden State of Mind contributor Andy Liu. (Yesterday's preview: Memphis Grizzlies)
Golden State Warriors 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 51-31, No. 2 in Pacific Division, No. 6 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Craft (rookie, undrafted), Festus Ezeli, Justin Holiday, Jason Kapono, Shaun Livingston, James Michael McAdoo (rookie, undrafted), Brandon Rush, Mitchell Watt
Roster subtractions: Hilton Armstrong, Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, Jermaine O'Neal
SB Nation affiliate: Golden State of Mind
Blazer's Edge: How concerned are you with the lack of depth up front behind Andrew Bogut? How much small-ball do you expect the Warriors to play this year?
Andy Liu: On a scale of 1-10, I'm around a 10. Not to sound panicky - actually, screw it, I am very much panicky - but Andrew Bogut at this point in his career cannot stay healthy for 70 full games. He played over that last season but was slowed by numerous aches and pains for a bunch of it. Festus Ezeli still isn't practicing and Ognjen Kuzmic is, well, Ognjen Kuzmic. After that, it's a delightful mix of David Lee and Marreese Speights. Watch out for Draymond Green but it's not pretty down there.
If we're talking four-guard formations, I expect very little if only because there aren't guards as much as wings on the Warriors roster. They've built a brand of basketball that relies as much on defense as they do on Stephen Curry threes. Perhaps out of necessity, as the question stated earlier, the Warriors might be forced to go with a lot of Green at the power forward combinations. Kerr likes to have two starting bigs who can pass but if everything stays according to plan, "going small" might only be used as a change-up rather than a plan of attack.
BE: Steph Curry's backup at point, Shaun Livingston, is not an outside shooter at all (to put it nicely). How will he function in coach Steve Kerr's backcourt rotation?
AL: Shaun Livingston is not a Splash Brother, but he might be the one that gets me rolling on offense and defense throughout the season. Kerr has talked about playing him at the 1, 2, and 3 positions once he's healthy (currently out with a toe injury). His blend of passing, creating and length should help Klay Thompson as a shooter and Curry as a defender. I wrote about how else he affects the team here too.
BE: Harrison Barnes had what some might consider a sophomore-slump last season. What does he need to do this season to get back on track? What are your expectations for Barnes?
AL: My expectations for Harrison Barnes are about as low as it comes. So far in the preseason, in a couple games against the mess that is the Los Angeles Lakers, he's been typical Barnes; overthinking, can't dribble, and slow to react. Kerr, in an absurd move of nepotism or love, has shoved him into the starting lineup, taking Andre Iguodala for bench offensive versatility purposes. But beyond that, I actually do expect some type of comeback season, where he's used as a cutter and spot-up shooter, things that don't require the opportunity to overthink and pure gut instinct basketball. On defense, he's similar to Nicolas Batum in that he has the length and athleticism to be good on that end but hasn't shown an actuality in fulfilling that promise. If he can regain some semblance of the confidence he exhibited in high school (that long ago!), he'll function fine as a bench role player.
BE: Golden State had a solid defense last year, forcing pretty low shooting percentages for opponents from inside and outside the arc. The Warriors also rebounded very well on the defensive end..How were they able to do so, and do you think they can continue that same kind of production?
AL: For what Mark Jackson wasn't - a lot of things - he was an excellent defensive coach, at least in effort. He hated that Mike Malone was given so much credit for his turnaround on that end but his players were also highly effective running his defense. Mostly, though, it's about the players. Bogut is an All-World rim protector when he's healthy. Iguodala made the NBA All-Defensive first team. Thompson was what everyone thought Iguodala was; he isn't but is highly effective against opposing point guards because of his length and footwork. Green is a complete hound against forwards with sticky paws like a black bear (maybe that's why his nickname at MSU was Dancing Bear).
I think some of their production might drop this season because the offense will flourish in the new system. But make no mistake, the pieces are all there again, with even more room for improvement. I expect Barnes to not be complete abysmal on that end. The additions of Livingston, another lockdown guard instead of the Jordan Crawfords of the world, and Brandon Rush, your stereotypical 3-and-D wing, allows Kerr to play more players without sacrificing much on either end. If the coaching staff can handle that, they'll be a force for all 82 games, not just for some stretches as they were last season.
BE: Curry was voted an All-Star starter last year for the first time in his career and ended the season on the All-NBA Second Team. At 26 years old, do you see Curry continuing to improve? What does he do well and where do you see potential room for growth in his game?
AL: Curry is likely at the peak of his powers in terms of fulfillment of his immense talent. A player that relies on quickness, smarts, and probably the greatest single shot of all time, he's not suddenly going to develop a killer first step or blossom into a lockdown defender. His pull-up shot might be the lethal and scariest move in the entire NBA outside of your standard Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook things.
While he won't improve exponentially in any single area - some will point to his turnover ratio but his "careless" ways with the ball is more a result of his gunslinger's mentality as a point guard - Kerr's system can essentially push his numbers into the stratosphere. With actual passing, the team led the entire league in least passes per game last season, Curry is set to see tons of open looks off multiple creators like Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston and I think a 50/40/90 season is nearing. There will be MVP votes streaming in if they win enough games. It's sort of impossible to dislike the guy.
BE: What are Warriors fans' general feelings about Kerr so far? How much will Golden State's offense change this season?
AL: My word. It was coming from a JV's first ever practice in high school to their Varsity squad's midseason walkthrough. The difference has been so stark, there's already been glowing tweets from Warriors writers all over the web. There's been an assortment of backdoor cuts, constant flex movement, screens after screens, and most importantly, the creativity to feature smart and willing passers like David Lee and Andrew Bogut. Even Thompson, noted black hole, got in the act with drives and dishes last game. It might not get better than this when the season starts given the Lakers thing, but there's plenty of reason for optimism given Alvin Gentry's the man behind the controls. The same guy who headed the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns offenses and the Chris Paul attack last season.
The downside from fans have come from some of the stuff Kerr has seemingly stood for. He likes Barnes to no end, probably appealing to management's decision to draft him in the first round. And he refused to part with Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. That's in the painful past now, and if Kerr can turn around a team that's gifted him with the potential of a top-8 offense and defense, he'll be just fine.
Special thanks to Golden State of Mind contributor Andy Liu for taking the time to discuss the Golden State Warriors' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Andy can be found on twitter @AndyKHLiu. Golden State of Mind has you covered for Warriors news and analysis.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter