The catalyst to the Warriors run this season: Stephen Curry.
By now, I'm sure you know about Andrew Bogut's return to the Golden State Warriors lineup and the positive effect it had on their latest game. That's good news but not as good as how the regular season has gone thus far.
Looking back at the first half of the season, a pleasant surprise may be an understatement.
Coming into the season, most fans and writers were predicting the team as dark-horse contenders for the eighth playoff spot. Instead, the Warriors blew those expectations out the water in a good way, going 27-17 while trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by a couple games.
Hell, they even got their first All-Star player since Latrell Sprewell five decades ago (or not).
Ranked from the least to most importance, there are seven main takeaways that we can gather from watching the first 44 games of the season.
Some may be bad, some good—hint: mostly good.
Trying not to mess up the bench mojo (something like that), the Warriors decided to keep Kent Bazemore for the rest of the season. With his consistent 2.6 minutes per game also come 48 minutes of unadulterated celebration after celebration.
Be it the three-point fingers to the sky, bicep flex or just laughing at Blake Griffin, Bazemore can do it all on the bench.
Now let's be honest, he hasn't even come close to making a tangible impact in terms of production on the court this season. He has been bouncing between the Warriors D-League affiliate and the big league club with teammate Jeremy Tyler. And he probably won't average many more than a couple minutes per game, barring devastating injuries to the backcourt (fingers crossed).
However, it is a testament to the team chemistry this current Warriors team enjoys. There was no public ill will towards Andrew Bogut, who took his time coming back, and certainly none when David Lee made the All-Star game over Curry.
Unlike the "We Believe" team, this core of young players is here to stay, and positive team chemistry goes a long way towards sustainable success.
Despite his standard ankle issues, Curry has enjoyed an excellent season shooting and surprisingly, defense.
He is currently shooting 44.4 percent from three, while taking a career-high 7.1 per game. The shot from behind the arc nearly makes up for half of his total shot attempts. That's how lethal he is from a distance.The three-point shot is essentially a layup to the young guard from Davidson.
Of course, with Curry comes the always-iffy right ankle of his.
His bad luck continued with his injury against the Toronto Raptors where he stepped on the foot of Ed Davis while driving into the lane. That makes it four this season, counting the one in the preseason, against the Mavericks and during a morning shoot-around.
Given the predictably great shooting and ankle injuries, it's surprising that it's been Curry's ability to rebound and defend that put him on the verge of an All-Star selection. That has played a large part in the Warriors' 27-17 start.
While he isn't the biggest or quickest player, his instincts make him a solid one-on-one defender. He made the game-winning steal against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week when he telegraphed the play and stole a Kevin Durant pass to Kendrick Perkins.
Some people believe that Curry would best be suited in the shooting guard position, where his small size doesn't hinder the defense as much. However, his playmaking on the ball and sweet handle has rendered the discussion moot. It isn't his assist totals that make him who he is, but the way he gets into the lane to set up David Lee and Carl Landry.
He still tosses the lazy one-handed pass once in a while, but his court vision is unparalleled on this team.
David Lee has been sensational on the boards through the first half of the season.
The Warriors are first in defensive rebounding rate, according to Hoopdata. This is a steep improvement from last season when they finished last in defensive rebounding rate. It becomes even more surprising when noting that Bogut has missed most of the season.
This is due to a total team effort as Jack, Klay, Curry and Barnes are averaging 15.5 rebounds per game total. With David Lee and Carl Landry also working hard underneath—averaging 17.5 amongst themselves—this team has taken hustle and boxing out to a whole new level.
The Warriors have finished fifth-worst, fifth-worst, and second-worst in defensive efficiency in the past three years from 2009 on, respectively. This season? They are allowing 101.6 points per 100 possessions, according to Hoopdata.
That's good for 19th in the league, and that's a good thing. With Bogut back, that number should only go up.
Let's not forget Mark Jackson's excellent adjustments in games and before games. He started the season by jumping the pick-and-rolls because of the lack of athleticism from David Lee, but he has since dropped off that a bit by having his bigs lurk in the middle. For example, Bogut rarely stepped out to contest on all picks against the Raptors.
More on the coach later.
Jack has led the bench mob in one of his best seasons.
Jarrett Jack is garnering Sixth Man of the Year votes and deservedly so. Even though he has slowed down the passing of the ball at times, he is shooting the best amongst guards on the team and having his second-best shooting performance of his career.
39.3 percent from distance and 47.6 percent overall isn't shabby at all.
It doesn't even count for the way he has filled the leadership role on a young team that has needed it. It's been so important that Mark Jackson has chosen to leave Jack in with Klay and Curry to form a three-guard rotation where he handles the ball in crunch time. This has led to Jack playing the fourth-most minutes on the team.
Carl Landry, on the other hand, has provided an excellent source of low-post scoring not seen in years. Even though Lee scores a lot, he doesn't present the same post moves and strong finishes the way Landry does.
When both are in at the same time along with Curry, Klay and Lee, the team is a +47 and also playing the second-most minutes for all five-minute teams.
Now imagine the bench with injured forward Brandon Rush. This is a very deep team come 2014 and credit GM Bob Myers for building it. Drafting Barnes, Ezeli and Draymond Green was another excellent move in an offseason full of them for the Warriors front office.
Mark Jackson's Coach of the Year run continues.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this season has been Mark Jackson's incredible coaching job.
The resiliency to bounce back from early-season injuries to Rush and Bogut, four ankle tweaks from Curry, three rookies in the rotation and the pressure from his first non-lockout season as head coach hasn't been stated enough. It all starts at the top and Mark Jackson has done a great job with Xs and Os.
The spacing has never been better in the Warriors game.
Gone are the days when Monta Ellis would hold the ball for 18 seconds before taking a fall-away jump shot as the shot clock buzzer went down. He has done a superb job getting shots for Klay and Curry coming off screens. Their patented play with the two screens on the wings has gotten startlingly good results near the end of games.
His way of getting the best out of his team has bled over to their mindset, not letting their emotions get the better of them night after night. It's easy to have a letdown game after a big victory or to overreact after a bad loss, but the Warriors have done so rarely this season.
They've lost more than two games in a row just once. The Dubs have also bounced back from a single loss to win its next game eight times.
The team mentality and leadership has grown markedly from the past several seasons.
The return of Bogut has the Warriors fans giddy, and for good reason.
His performance against the Raptors only teases at the potential this Warriors team has. The team was relatively injury-free for all of 32 minutes and four seconds before Curry exited with an ankle injury.
But in those 32:04 gleaned a look at a potentially devastating playoff team. If they can ever stay healthy—and that's a huge "IF"—the Dubs have the look of a potential Western Conference Finals contender.
It was evidenced right away when Bogut planted himself in the post and effortlessly glided in a hook shot over a seven-foot Aaron Gray. The spacing also improves greatly with Ezeli and Biedrins off the court. No longer is there a 4-on-5 offense.
With the offense now having two guard shooters in Klay and Curry, it becomes much tougher to defend the pick-and-roll with Lee.
This was evidenced when Lee caught the pass from the roll and dished to Bogut for a slam. When Barnes is the last option on offense, the possibilities are endless.
On defense, we all know what Bogut can do.
His blocks, rotations and rebounds are great but it will be his accountability on the part of other players that may have the greatest effect. Not only will he help with Lee's missed weak side rotations, but he'll let him know about it.
With Bogut in the fold, a healthy Warriors team as a playoff contender should be the number one takeaway from the first half of the season.
Just when Bogut gets out of his suit, Curry gets hurt again.
But these are the Golden State Warriors. Who are we kidding? Did you really think it would be so easy after decades of futility?
Maybe it's bad luck but the team has been hit with injuries yet again, and it has taken away from an extraordinary start to the season.
The opening lineup had Bogut, Curry and Rush all in the rotation but after a couple weeks, it was not to happen. Rush tore his ACL on an attempted dunk against Zach Randolph. Bogut took himself off the rotation and later admitted he had micro-fracture surgery on his ankle, causing management to shut off media access to injury news.
And to cap it off, as always, the legendary Curry right ankle.
Something to keep an eye on if Curry and Bogut are forced to miss more games is the development of Barnes and Klay. When Barnes is aggressive, like the way he was against Toronto, he is an excellent slasher with solid shooting from the perimeter.
His developing post-game and solid one-on-one defense can create havoc on both sides of the floor.
On the other side, Klay can stand to be a little more efficient in his shot selection and dribble-drive turnovers. Only shooting 40.7 percent from the field and averaging nearly two assists a game, despite not being the main ball-handler, is troublesome. However, his three-point shooting, length as a defender, and continued growth should have fans excited for the second half.
Despite the great coaching, surprising bench play from the veterans, potentially historic Curry season and potential playoff success with Bogut, it is the injuries that have become synonymous with the Warriors and perhaps a "what could have been" season.