Golden State Warriors Are NBA's Most Dangerous Sleeper Team

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 22: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after making a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers at Oracle Arena on December 22, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With coach Mark Jackson spurring a defensive intensity to match their offensive firepower, the secret is out—the Golden State Warriors are the NBA's most dangerous sleeper team.

At 18-10, the Warriors hold the fifth-best record in the Western Conference and a three-game cushion over the No. 6 seed. With each noteworthy victory notched, Golden State fans have started thinking about more than just a brief return to the postseason.

Through their first 28 games, they have already knocked off the L.A. Clippers, Atlanta Hawks (twice), Minnesota Timberwolves (twice), Brooklyn Nets (twice), Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. In fact, if this club could figure out the Orlando Magic or Sacramento Kings, they could be sitting at 22-6 (they are 0-4 against those teams).

The Warriors have always enjoyed a high-powered, potent offensive attack. Their games may not look like the track meets of years past, but the Warriors still average 100.8 points per game (No. 9 in the NBA).

Stephen Curry (who inked a four-year, $44 million extension prior to the start of the season) has seemingly put his two-year-long struggle with a nagging ankle injury behind him. Finally healthy, the fourth-year point guard has finally taken the second step in realizing the superstar potential he flashed during his rookie season.

He's continued his run as one of the league's most creative passers.

But he's balanced that free-flowing production with a more controlled approach to the position. His 2.9 turnovers per 36 minutes has him on pace for a new career low. Given his rapid-fire release, perimeter proficiency (44.0 career three-point percentage) and ability to create points off penetration, defenses are running out of ways to contain him.

Jackson has found even more ways to frustrate defenses in their attempts to slow down the former Davidson star. With the starting lineup, he's inserted sophomore marksman Klay Thompson on one wing and rookie athletic freak Harrison Barnes on the other.

Curry and Thompson are the NBA's most productive perimeter duo in the NBA, combining for over 5.5 three-pointers made per game. With Barnes (a capable shooter in his own right), Jackson has added a missing component to this offensive attack—a threat above the rim.

When Jackson dips into his bench, he's moved Curry over to the shooting-guard spot and handed the offensive keys to seven-year veteran Jarrett Jack. Defenses are forced to account for Jack's offense (12 points and 5.2 assists per game), all while chasing Curry and Thompson around a series of screens.

And the Miami Heat can tell you how dangerous it can be to cheat on the Warriors' shooters.

Of course, every team with a productive backcourt needs an interior complement.

And the Warriors have just that in David Lee and Carl Landry.

Lee has continued the same productive play he's shown throughout his seven-year career. He's averaged 20 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. And his 18 double-doubles are No. 2 in the NBA.

Landry, who signed a free-agent deal with the Warriors prior to the 2012-13 season, has provided the offensive lift for the frontcourt reserves. He hasn't started a game yet this season, but he's finished most of them.

Maybe it's his veteran sense, but Landry has shown a propensity to save his biggest moments for when his team needs them the most. He's scored at least 15 points in 12 different games, resulting in nine Warriors wins.

But the real reason for the Warriors' success has been a renewed (or maybe just new) focus on defense and rebounding.

Golden State has been a cellar-dweller in rebounding ranks for the better part of the past decade. In 2011-12, the Warriors suffered through a minus-6.7 rebounding differential (worst in the NBA). This season, though, the Warriors are plus-4.1 on the glass (No. 3 in the league).

Defensively, the improvements have not been as dramatic, but that hasn't diminished their importance.

The Warriors are No. 23 in the league in points allowed per game (100.2). And they're holding opponents to the seventh-lowest field-goal percentage in the NBA (43.4).

For the Warriors to take the next step in transforming this franchise from championship hopeful to contender, they'll need to stop playing to their level of competition.

This club has had success against perennial powerhouse clubs this season, but that's not a new phenomenon for recent Warriors teams.

The Warriors have also failed to put away inferior clubs early in the game. Of the 18 victories this season, only four have been decided by double figures.

With Jackson pulling all the right strings in Oakland, though, there's no reason to expect any difficulty in changing that fortune as well. 

*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/24/2012.