What We've Learned About Golden State Warriors After First Month
The Golden State Warriors have one more game in the month of November, and it's importance should not be overlooked.
The game is in Oakland on Thursday, and the Warriors are playing the Denver Nuggets. It will be the Dubs third meeting with Denver this month, meaning they will only see the Nuggets once during the season's final five months.
The Warriors won't miss playing the Nuggets every five games, as Denver has won the first two match-ups. The first, they won in double-overtime, the second, in a blowout.
A Golden State win in the November finale would make the Warriors an impressive 9-6 heading into December, improve them to 5-1 at Oracle Arena and, perhaps most importantly, get a game back against a team that they hope to be jockeying for playoff positioning with come March and April.
Still, regardless of what happens on Thursday, the Warriors will have no choice but to call November a success. They've already clinched the franchise's first winning November since 2007, and they've done so almost completely without their best player.
Here's what November has taught us about the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors. All stats used in this article were accurate as of Nov. 26 and are courtesy of espn.com and basketballreference.com.
They're Harder, Better and Stronger
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I'm not a big Daft Punk fan (although I love Kanye West), but this reference fell right into my lap.
The 2012-13 Warriors are different than just about every other Golden State installment going back a decade. There are three primary differences.
The first is the Warriors' size and strength. A look at the roster will reveal some decent heights—two seven-footers, six players over 6'9"—and weights—six players over 240 pounds—but that barely begins to illustrate how improved the Warriors are in the game's strength areas.
The Dubs are fourth in the NBA in rebounding differential. I'm not sure how to emphasize this stat, other than by repeating it: The Warriors—yes, the Warriors—are fourth—no, not 30th–in the NBA in rebounding differential.
If they were doing this with a largely unchanged roster, this drastic difference could partially be attributed to a small sample size. But when you look at the Warriors top per-minute rebounders, Carl Landry, Festus Ezeli, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack all crack the top eight.
None were ever Warriors before.
This new cast of characters doesn't only make the Warriors stronger, it makes them harder to play against.
Teams can't hang around with this Warriors team for the first half and then take control in the second, as per usual among Warriors opponents in years past. One reason for this is an improved defense that can get stops and prevent easy baskets.
Moreover, with a deep bench that plays heavy minutes, the Golden State starters can remain fresh for the fourth quarter. The depth also allows Mark Jackson to counter opposing coaches' lineup tweaks with new lineups of his own.
So the Warriors are stronger and harder. Of course, this alone makes them better, but there's more to it than that. The Warriors are smarter, adding high-IQ players like Draymond Green and Jarrett Jack. They're tougher, thanks to those two as well as Festus Ezeli and Carl Landry. They have better leadership, thanks to Andrew Bogut, a better-than-ever Stephen Curry and their now-veteran coach Mark Jackson.
They're Not Faster
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Unfortunately, Daft Punk's superhit was not written about the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors. This is not only because it came out in 2001, but because the Warriors are simply not "faster."
When comparing them to Warriors teams of year's past, or even the majority of the NBA, they are in fact "slower."
Long gone are the "We Believe" Warriors, who ran teams off the court by generating turnovers, looking to fastbreak on every possession and jacking up threes four seconds into the shot clock. Gone with those players is the athleticism that made them so successful.
Even last season, the Warriors were a much more athletic team. "We Believe" holdover Monta Ellis was/is arguably the quickest player in the entire league, while Brandon Rush, Nate Robinson and Dominic McGuire certainly had no problems moving up and down the court (as well as up into the air).
The addition of athletic rookie wing Harrison Barnes makes up for the loss of McGuire, Nate Robinson's defensive ineptitude makes him hardly worth talking about and Brandon Rush is still technically on the roster.
But without Monta Ellis on the team or Rush on the court, the Warriors have lost much of their ability to attack the rim, get out on the fast break and effectively score on isolation plays. This has forced Golden State to rely much more heavily on ball movement, pick-and-roll offense and low-post scoring.
While the Ellis trade was a home run overall—they lost Ellis and Ekpe Udoh while acquiring Andrew Bogut as well as, indirectly, the rights to Festus Ezeli, the chance to finish in the top seven and draft Harrison Barnes and thus the ability to trade Dorell Wright for Jarrett Jack—the Warriors did lose explosiveness and speed, an element they now sorely lack.
They're Playoff Caliber "in Any Conference"
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There are, of course, only two conferences, and the Warriors are, of course, in the Western Conference.
But the Western Conference is not all that similar to its eastern counterpart. Sure, both have some elite teams at the top, but the West is far superior after that.
The Western Conference's dominance can be illustrated in several ways. One could point to the fact that the West has finished with a better record than the East for 13 straight seasons, or that 10 of the last 14 NBA champions have come out of the Western Conference.
One could also look at the fact that the West routinely features non-playoff teams that would not only make the playoffs in the East, but likely win a series.
In 2007-08, the Warriors were history's greatest example of this. Golden State finished with a 48-34 record, but missed the playoffs. In the East, their 48 wins would have placed them 4th, while the easier schedule that comes with being in the East would have likely made them a top-two seed and a finals contender.
This year's Warriors may not win 48 games, and they likely won't have to in order to make the playoffs. But make no mistake: Oakland's NBA franchise was one of the better teams in the West during the season's first month.
Even a sober breakdown of the numbers say so: The Warriors are 8-6, putting them on pace for 46 wins, good for sixth in the West.
When looking at the Warriors' home-road splits, they look even better. The Dubs are 4-2 at home and on pace for 27-28 wins. They are 4-4 on the road, putting them on pace for 20-21 wins and 47-49 wins overall.
The Warriors have also played the NBA's fifth toughest schedule (fourth toughest among Western Conference teams). While it is difficult to project the impact this has had on their record, it's safe to say that, with a slightly softer schedule from here on out, the Warriors should finish at least one or two wins above their current pace.
This means that, when assessing only how well the Warriors have played thus far given their schedule, the 2012-13 Warriors look like a 50-win team.
Of course, the quality of the roster can change throughout the season, and the chances of more key players getting injured or the production of healthy players dropping off is a real one. However, even a pessimist would have to say that it is at least equally likely that the Warriors get healthier (Andrew Bogut returning) and their current players improve (three rookies in the rotation and a slumping Klay Thompson).
What does all this mean? Technically, nothing. The game is played on the court and, from this point forward, the Warriors' first month is history. Still, the bar has been raised, and it is clear to Warriors fans and hopefully—for their sakes—to teams on the playoff bubble that the 2012-13 Warriors need to be tentatively accounted for among the top eight.