The night before Halloween, some men will already be in costume.
When the Golden State Warriors open the 2013-14 season in Oakland, they will be facing a team disguised as the Los Angeles Lakers. With (most likely) no Kobe Bryant, no Phil Jackson, no Jerry Buss and no title aspirations, it's anyone's best guess what the true identity of these men in purple and gold will be.
But the Lakers impostors will not be the only ones attending this masquerade. The Warriors too will be cloaked, as there will be no visible draft busts, overpaid veterans nor uninterested defenders.
A scan of the sidelines will produce no Andris Biedrins, no Don Nelson and no Chris Cohan.
What will make this scene scariest of all, however, is the fact that this early Halloween will in fact be 100 percent real.
Although the identity of this year's Warriors team has not been fully established, one thing is very clear: They're good, and one need not look any further than the team's 2012-13 accomplishments to see why.
- 47-35 record
- No. 2 in Pacific Division
- No. 6 in Western Conference
- First-round series win over Denver Nuggets
- Lost to San Antonio Spurs in six games
The sixth-place finish was the franchise's best since 1993-94. Perhaps more impressive than the regular season results was the playoff success, as the Warriors knocked off the 57-win Nuggets and were possibly a blown defensive assignment at the end of Game 1 away from knocking out the eventual runner-up Spurs.
Although the franchise enjoyed its best year in ages, some saw the loss to San Antonio as a great disappointment. With Russell Westbrook's injury, the window in the West appeared to temporarily open. It looked as if Golden State may have failed to seize the moment, and the inevitable departure of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry would lead to a regression.
General manager Bob Myers laughed at this notion and upgraded his roster significantly over the summer.
The problem is that other Western Conference playoff teams did the same thing, begging the question: Have the Warriors made the jump from playoff team to title contender, or have they simply taken the necessary strides to remain relevant in the ever-improving West?
The question will linger around this team all season long, but there's good reason to believe that the answer is closer to the former option.
The Warriors added both star power and roster depth this summer. The most prominent addition is that of small forward Andre Iguodala, but just as vital to the team's success will be newcomers Jermaine O'Neal, Marreese Speights and Toney Douglas.
These role players are particularly significant due to the team's loss of Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Brandon Rush—arguably three of the best bench players in the NBA.
The greatest area of uncertainty with regards to the team's prospects revolves around this massive bench swap. There is a common belief that—while Iguodala inarguably improves the starting lineup—the losses of Jack and Landry will decimate the team's depth, leadership and most importantly remove them of a backup plan if either of their injury-prone stars go down.
Which brings us to the second-biggest question mark hovering over this team: the health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut.
Bogut appeared in 32 games last season, which is only 11 less than his average over the past five campaigns. Curry was healthy almost all year (78 games played), but multiple ankle rolls eventually slowed him near the end of the Spurs series.
If these two can stay healthy, the team figures to be anywhere from very good to dominant. If they cannot, the range is more like "average to good."
Yes, it gets vague.
The fact that these two gray areas surrounding the team build on each other further complicates things. The more injured the team is, the more important the new-look bench is.
The other side to this is less talked about but potentially more relevant: If everyone is healthy all season, how does playing time get distributed?
The Warriors were built around team chemistry last season. Everyone fit into a role that was big enough to satisfy with but small enough to master. This season, there are six Warriors players who could start for most NBA teams and five more guys who would make most team's nightly rotation.
Managing minutes, defining roles and developing a starting—and, more importantly, a finishing—lineup may be Mark Jackson's biggest challenge this year.
Depth Chart Breakdown & Grades
While the roster has not been finalized, the Warriors depth chart is currently projected to look as follows:
|Pos.||Starter||Backup||Third String||Fourth String|
|PG||Stephen Curry||Toney Douglas||Seth Curry*|
|SG||Klay Thompson||Kent Bazemore||Nemanja Nedovic|
|SF||Andre Iguodala||Harrison Barnes||Draymond Green|
|PF||David Lee||Marreese Speights|
|C||Andrew Bogut||Jermaine O'Neal||Festus Ezeli+||Ognjen Kuzmic|
* = projected; contract not yet guaranteed
+ = injured
Seth Curry is still competing with center Dewayne Dedmon and forward Joe Alexander for the 15th and final roster spot. Alexander has underwhelmed during the preseason, while Curry appears to have the inside track on Dedmon due to four centers being under contract. However, Festus Ezeli's injury increases the need for a big, and Dedmon has clearly been the best of the three in preseason play.
The fact that there is high-level competition for that last spot is indicative of how stacked this team is, although some positions are deeper than others.
Not only is the depth chart above not finalized; the positions are also fluid. This is perhaps most true at point guard.
Stephen Curry is the primary PG, but he can and will see time at the off-guard spot. Douglas, Nemanja Nedovic and Seth Curry can all play the 1 or the 2 as well, and even Iguodala will play the role of primary facilitator at times.
That being said, the strength of this position starts and ends with Stephen Curry, who is a top-five point guard in the NBA.
Douglas' defense and Nedovic's athleticism are nice weapons, but neither can start and both would even be challenged by heavy rotational minutes. Grade: B+
There is still a slight possibility that Iguodala will start here with Harrison Barnes at small forward, but Klay Thompson makes the most sense as the team's only natural shooting guard.
He has the catch-and-shoot, high-post game and ability to create for himself that all great 2 guards need, while having the length to defend both big and quick opponents.
Having said that, he will not be a great shooting guard until he can drive, finish at the rim and get to the line more often.
Thompson will mainly be backed up by Iguodala, with Kent Bazemore and Stephen Curry filling the rest of the minutes.
Iguodala would be a top-five shooting guard in the league if he was the starter, Bazemore provides elite athleticism and defense while Curry is one of the best cutters and snipers in the world. Grade: A-
The ultra-versatile Iguodala will see time at the 1 and 2, but the 3 is where he'll make his biggest impact.
The 29-year-old is first and foremost a dominant defender. He uses his quickness and timing to gamble on steals, but his incredible lateral athleticism and length allow him to get back in front of his man.
On top of that, he is one of the best non-point guard passers in the league, not to mention being among the world's best finishers at the rim. He also averages 5.8 rebounds for his career.
Behind Iguodala is Barnes, who would be starting on half the teams in the league. His athleticism and ability to create, shoot, finish, defend and rebound make him as good a sixth man as you'll find.
Whatever minutes are left will go to Draymond Green, who would be second on many team's depth charts. His defense and rebounding are above average, while his hustle and basketball I.Q. are off the charts. Grade: A+
No, Iguodala will not be an option here.
That should be okay though, because Barnes, Green, Marreese Speights and Jermaine O'Neal will be.
Barnes and Green are both great options as stretch 4s. O'Neal is capable of sliding down from center and providing defense, size and some scoring. Speights—the primary backup—will provide strong per-36 rebounding numbers while brandishing a lethal mid-range jumper.
Then there's David Lee, who led the NBA in double doubles last season. The reigning All-Star also dished off 3.5 assists, shot 52 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line.
On the other hand, Lee is a very poor defender and is coming off hip flexor surgery.
For those two reasons, the man who went for 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season may be the weakest starter on the team. The incredible thing is that he's still a top-10 power forward in the NBA. Grade: B+
The Warriors excellent roster depth and positional flexibility cover up question marks at the 1 through 4 positions, but they are still prone to be exposed in the middle.
Bogut is a top-five center in the league when at 100 percent, but he hasn't been at full strength since 2011. An 80-percent Bogut—about his level in last year's postseason—will still be a great anchor in the middle, but even that's an "if" for a man who hasn't played 70 games since the 2007-08 season.
Then there is O'Neal, who is a strong shot blocker and rebounder when healthy. The problem is that O'Neal hasn't made 70 appearances since 2003-04. Ezeli is next in line, but is not expected to return until December or January.
At best, the Warriors will have three strong rim protectors and one of the most daunting front lines in the league.
At worst, Ognjen Kuzmic could be starting come early December. Grade: C+
What to Watch For
Every NBA roster is 12-15 men deep, but none are likely to utilize that full capacity like the Dubs this season. A combination of their excellent depth and potential need to call on it means that Golden State will truly win and lose as a team this year.
That being said, some players will have a greater impact than others—for better and for worse.
Team MVP: Stephen Curry
These are Curry's numbers after last season's All-Star Break: 26.0 PPG, 7.4 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 47.6 FG%, 46.1 3PT%, 89.4 FT%.
It is not unrealistic to say that no player in the history of the league has been able to combine elite shooting with prolific scoring and precision passing the way Curry does, and that's why team MVP won't be the only MVP award he will be seeking this season.
Breakout Player: Harrison Barnes
Like Curry, Barnes is an easy call here. Not only will the 21-year-old be the team's breakout star, he will compete for the league's Most Improved Player Award.
After gaining invaluable confidence and playoff experience as a starter during his rookie year, Barnes will likely come off the bench this year. However, his minutes (25.4 last season) and numbers (9.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG) are likely to blossom this year as he will be the leader and go-to scorer of the second unit.
Most Disappointing Player: Marreese Speights
Speights was not a bad signing by Golden State, and his mid-range jumper and toughness will make him a decent role player.
However, Speights cannot and will not do what Landry did for the Warriors last season as the backup 4. His inability to score inside combined with the improvements of Barnes and Green will keep Speights' playing time and impact limited.
Most Likely to Be Traded: David Lee
Lee is very unlikely to be traded. He's the team's best rebounder, most consistent offensive player and a leader on and off the court.
But if anyone's getting traded, it will be the guy who is set to make over $44 million in the next three years. With Barnes and Thompson approaching restricted free agency and a possible need at center this summer, the idea of Myers trying to move this hefty contract is not an absurd one.
Biggest Rivalry: Los Angeles Clippers
A decade ago, Southern California's Lakers and Northern California's Sacramento Kings formed one of the NBA's most delightful rivalries. The Clippers and Warriors sulked in their respective counterpart's shadows.
Now, the roles are reversed. The Dubs and Clips are not only the class of California, but two of the top teams in the association.
With subplots such as Lee and Blake Griffin's dislike for each other, Curry and Chris Paul's battle for point guard supremacy and the merits of alley oops versus three pointers (although with Iguodala in Oakland and JJ Redick and Jared Dudley in LA, those identities could cross over), this is one of the most exciting and burgeoning rivalries in the NBA.
Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenario
There is not a team in the Western Conference with a higher ceiling than Golden State. Think about it for minute; that is not a controversial claim.
Curry has very real MVP potential. Thompson could become the All-Star shooting guard that he's capable of being. Iguodala could be for this team what he was for Denver last year. Lee could again be the most automatic double double in the league. Bogut could finally stay healthy and be a top-five center.
Barnes could continue to play like he did last postseason. O'Neal may stay healthy. Speights could be the nasty guy this team of good guys needs. Bazemore, Green and Douglas could form the best-defensive and hardest-working lower bench in the league.
None of these are far-fetched possibilities, and the Warriors would be NBA title favorites if they all panned out.
But what if none of these things happen?
Let's say Curry fights ankle rolls all season and Bogut has another freak injury. Thompson and Barnes' progression stalls. Lee isn't the same player after his injury.
It is this very worst-case scenario, however, that shows how good the Warriors are.
Even if they are nothing more than Iguodala, Lee and last year's Thompson and Barnes, they are still good enough to fight for a spot in the playoffs.
Of course, neither this nor the best-case scenario will occur.
Perhaps the best way to be objective—or at least cautiously optimistic—about the 2013-14 season is to say this: An injured Golden State Warriors is comparable to a healthy Minnesota Timberwolves.
Stay with me here.
Last season, the Timberwolves and Warriors were seen by many as sleeper teams that could make the playoffs if healthy.
The Warriors stayed relatively healthy (they were a little better to begin with) and made the playoffs. The Wolves got beat up, and finished with a 31-51 record.
The real genius of what the Warriors did this summer was to avoid a Timberwolves-like scenario—because they may not be so lucky this season.
The Wolves made some little tweaks as well (they are about where last year's Dubs were), and a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio should yield them a playoff berth.
Golden State is an entire tier above that. An injured Curry and Bogut leaves the team with a rotation of Lee, Iguodala, Thompson, Barnes, Speights, O'Neal, Green and Douglas—no worse than Minnesota's healthy rotation of Love, Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea, Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams.
The comparison may seem arbitrary, but it illustrates a crucial, potentially season-defining point: Even if the Dubs delicate duo is plagued by injuries, they should crack the top eight.
If they are a playoff without Curry and Bogut, they are certainly a championship contender with them.
Projected W-L Record: 56-26, First in Pacific Division
Statistics and contract figures courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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