December Predictions for Golden State Warriors
November brought excitement to the East Bay, but it also brought expectation. And even though leading the Pacific Division after one month is more than Warriors fans could have asked for, it would also make falling back into the middle of the pack by New Year's all the more frustrating.
The Warriors just completed their first winning November since 2007-08. Closing out 2012 on the right note, however, will be key in determining if the Warriors do what they could not in 2007-08: make the playoffs.
December will be a difficult month for Golden State: 16 games, nine on the road, five back-to-backs and the Miami Heat all await the Warriors. Let's take a look at how the Warriors players will respond, and what the final result will be.
Andrew Bogut Remains Best-Dressed Warrior All Month...at Least
There shouldn't be much question at this point as to which Golden State player has the most troubling ankle.
While Stephen Curry did tweak his ankle for the umpteenth time in Dallas on November 19, he also stayed on the court and played the best fourth quarter and overtime period of his NBA career. Curry is still nothing close to durable, but he has proved he at least can play through the pain.
Andrew Bogut, on the other hand, has proved he cannot. The Warriors front office has given up trying to cover up the severity of their Australian center's surgery last April, as they are finally admitting that Bogut had micro-fracture surgery on his left ankle and that the recovery timetable can be up to 12 months.
While no one believes that Bogut will be out the entire season—swelling is the biggest issue right now. It was clear when Andrew was playing that he was nowhere near 100 percent, and it has become clear that any sort of "day-to-day" timetable for his return is meant more to keep fans calm about last season's Monta Ellis trade than it is about Bogut's actual health status.
All Three Warriors Rookies Continue Rapid Ascent
Not to mix sports metaphors, but if the 2012 Warriors draft looked like a home run at the time, it's beginning to look like a three-run jack.
No. 7 pick Harrison Barnes is a top Rookie of the Year contender, pick No. 30 Festus Ezeli has already become a menace on defense and on the glass and No. 35 selection Draymond Green has outplayed several lottery picks.
The way all three rookies have played is encouraging, but the rate at which they are growing should have Warriors fans ecstatic.
In his first few games, Harrison Barnes played like a rookie: timid on offense, slow on defense and overmatched across the board. Quickly, he began attacking the basket, getting on the glass and playing tougher defense. Now, 15 games into his career, he looks more like a leader than a rookie.
Festus Ezeli was incredibly raw early on, missing everything he put up and fouling too often on defense. Then, Andrew Bogut's injury problems forced Ezeli into the Warriors starting lineup. He responded to the challenge exceptionally, becoming a ferocious rebounder, post defender and, slowly but surely, a better offensive player.
Draymond Green barely saw the court early in the season, and his garbage-time play didn't turn any heads. He looked more lost and fazed than Barnes or Ezeli, which is saying something. But after Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson—the Warriors second and third-string small forwards—went down to injury, Green was thrust into the rotation. Quickly, he has returned to being the player he was in college: a tough defender, gritty rebounder, good passer and a guy who is just hard to take off the floor.
The Warriors three rookies haven't only been playing well, they've been helping them win against NBA teams. And considering how much each player improved in their first month, their second month should be a treat to watch.
Brandon Rush's Absence Is Felt
Don't get me wrong, the Warriors felt B-Rush's absence in November, too. Ever since the explosive and likable 27-year-old tore his ACL on November 2, the Warriors have been less athletic, less dangerous from three-point range and weaker defensively.
However, the Warriors are deep at the 2 and the 3. Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Richard Jefferson and Draymond Green are more than capable of filling the 96 minutes needed out of both positions, and the team has played well without Rush.
Ball movement, team defense and inside scoring has helped compensate for Rush's absence. But a seven-game road trip looms in December, and this will likely highlight Rush's absence. Young wings Barnes, Green and even Thompson will be tested in ways they have never been tested before, and the presence of a veteran like Rush would be invaluable.
Moreover, playing on the road (particularly in big Eastern Conference markets like the Warriors will be doing) is much easier when you can contain elite offensive players. Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce will all face Golden State in December, and Brandon Rush could and would guard these guys in a way that no current Warrior can or will.
David Lee Makes All-Star Bid
David Lee is not the Warriors' best player; that award goes to Andrew Bogut. He's also not their best healthy player; that would be Steph Curry.
That isn't to say that Lee is not a very good player. Once you consider Bogut's injury and the existence of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, it becomes easy to say that David Lee has the best chance of any Warrior at playing in Houston this February.
Lee has been an All-Star before. While the 29-year-old power forward is fairly critiqued as undersized, weak and defensively mediocre, he is also a double-double machine and one of the most underrated offensive players in the league.
This season may be Lee's best to date. Neither his 17.4 points per game nor his 10.7 rebounds per game are career highs, but Lee's talents are being maximized for the first time in his career, thanks in large part to Mark Jackson.
The former point guard Jackson has the Warriors power forward utilizing his elite big-man passing ability, which is a focal point of Golden State's offense, along with his strong pick-and-roll play. He is also defending better than ever, which is likely due to experience as well as Jackson's system.
Finally, the Warriors are winning. If they continue to win, which will be discussed on my next slide, it'd be hard not to give them an All-Star look. And since LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Pau Gasol are all having down years, Lee will have a real shot.
Warriors Go 10-6
November was a good month for the Warriors, as they ended the month three games over .500 despite playing one of the NBA's toughest schedules and over half their games on the road.
While December will provide the Warriors with some new challenges—namely a seven-game road trip—it will also provide the team some relief. In November, Warriors opponents were a combined 15 games over .500. Their December opponents are currently 14 games under .500, and this should help compensate for the potential complications of a young team's first lengthy road trip.
When comparing the Warriors' record to each December opponent, the Warriors come out on top 12 out of 16 times. However, when comparing head-to-head home and road records in each Warriors home and road game in December, the Warriors have the better record in only seven games.
The Warriors are very unlikely to go 12-4 in December, but they're nearly as unlikely to go 7-9. They'll likely slip up on the road against a couple of inferior teams, but they also have some tough-yet-stealable games on the schedule: at Atlanta, at Utah, vs. Boston, vs. Philadelphia.
If the Warriors can beat the bad teams at home, win at least three on their seven-game trip and continue to thrive in close games, they should end December at about 10-6.