Post 2014 NBA All-Star Break Predictions for the Golden State Warriors
Disclaimer: My first prediction has already been proven wrong. Proceed with caution.
For those interested, I predicted that the Golden State Warriors would not make a roster move despite all the talk that they were looking to upgrade at the deadline. They proved me wrong on Wednesday, sending a pair of shooting guards in Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for point guard Steve Blake.
Hopefully the following five predictions make me look a little bit smarter.
David Lee Plays Like the Best Power Forward in the West (and Therefore, the NBA)
The only thing more difficult than playing in the Western Conference is playing power forward in the Western Conference.
Of course, the All-Star team did its best to accommodate as many Western Conference power forwards as possible this year, with Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and Dirk Nowitzki all making the cut. Even the conference's lesser 4s—Kenneth Faried and Derrick Favors, for example—are incredibly tough guys to go against.
Despite competition that is fiercer than ever, Lee is having his best year in Oakland. He's getting to the line and defending at career-best rates, and his inside scoring and offensive rebounding rates have rivaled his output from his days in New York.
Over the final 29 games of the season, Lee is poised to perform even better. The 30-year-old always plays with an edge, but seeing five of his counterparts—including his biggest rival in Griffin—at All-Star Weekend presumably only added fuel to his fire.
Lee loves nothing more than to outplay his glory-laden peers when they match up against him, and meetings with Griffin, Love, Nowitzki (twice) and Aldridge (twice) lie ahead with the playoff race heating up.
The stage is set for Lee to have the best half-season of basketball in his career.
Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson Remain Inconsistent in Their Own Ways
To sum up both Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson as "inconsistent" would be a disservice to Thompson and an understatement in regards to Barnes.
During the preseason, there was speculation as to whether Barnes or Thompson would start. I wrote shortly after the season began that Thompson was clearly the better option all along, and he has proven why through 53 games.
Both players have good and bad shooting nights. One may be inclined to assume that Thompson has more good nights and Barnes has more bad nights, but the two differ in field-goal percentage (.432 to .416) and three-point percentage (.410 to .409) by marginal amounts, with Thompson only slightly edging Barnes in each category.
Thompson is also a better defender, free-throw shooter and passer, but the gap remains minimal in all these categories.
What separates the two is not consistency in numbers, but consistency in effort.
Whether Thompson is 11-of-14 from the field or 2-of-15, he defends, hustles, continues to attack and sacrifices for the team.
When Barnes' shot is falling, he does the same. But when things aren't going his way, the second-year-forward stops attacking. He also quickly grows hesitant and becomes timid on both ends.
Still, Barnes is entering the second-half hot, and Thompson is entering it cold. This will inevitably fluctuate, however.
What will unfortunately also fluctuate is Barnes' effort level. Warriors fans are hoping that his strong play over the past two weeks indicates some sort of permanent change, but doubt will again creep into the sophomore's mind, and another prolonged slump will come with it.
As for Thompson, the only thing that will fluctuate is how excited or stressed fans get when he takes a three. He'll continue to have great shooting nights (22 games shooting at least .500 from deep leads the team) and awful ones, but he will continue to help the team win just about every night he's out there.
Marreese Speights Barely Sees the Floor
Marreese Speights was brought into Oakland to help fill the void left by Carl Landry, last year's backup 4 who provided rebounding, consistent scoring and energy.
Speights' scoring has been anything but consistent. He's had hugely efficient nights here and there, but his field-goal percentage (.427) is very poor for a player of his size. This is because Speights does not play like the 6'10", 245-pound bruiser he looks like, but rather like an irrationally-confident winger.
As for the rebounding, his numbers look solid (10.5 boards per-36 minutes), but that's due to the fact that he usually plays with four wing players. Backup centers Festus Ezeli and Jermaine O'Neal missed much of the first half, so Speights was relegated to playing the 5.
Even with those injuries, he saw only 12.2 minutes of action a night.
As O'Neal returns, double-digit minutes will become a rarity for Speights. Draymond Green is clearly the preferred option as the backup 4, and Harrison Barnes has the body and skill set to play Speight's game—jack up long twos and attack the rim—better than Speights himself.
If and when Ezeli comes back, Speights will lose his nightly minutes altogether. The Warriors can go big and defensive in the frontcourt with Bogut and O'Neal. They can go big and offensive with Lee and O'Neal. They can go small and athletic with Lee and Barnes. They can go small and strong with Green and Ezeli.
When healthy, there is not a need for Speights on this team, which tells you all you need to know about how successfully he has replaced Carl Landry.
Mark Jackson Hot-Seat Talk Disappears
With much higher expectations entering this season than last and relatively similar results 54 games into this year, Mark Jackson has faced more scrutiny than a Warriors coach has seen in years.
Despite possessing what many believe to be the best six-man group in the NBA, Golden State found itself sitting with just a 31-22 record entering the break. The notion is that Jackson has under-utilized his talent, which is a position supported by the team's modest 12th-ranked offense.
This criticism is largely unfair. Jackson also has the Warriors playing elite defense (third-best in NBA) despite having only one healthy interior defender on most nights and losing Andre Iguodala for a month. Doing so without Mike Malone, who was widely regarded as the best strategic assistant in the league, is also impressive.
Just as expectations are higher for the Warriors, however, they are higher for Jackson as well. Being good is no longer good enough for the team or the coach.
As the second half commences, Jackson will make that jump along with his club, subsiding all the whispers—warranted or not—about his job security.
For the first time, Jackson will have a reliable backup point guard at his disposal in Blake. The veteran will allow Curry to play off the ball in a way that Jordan Crawford could not. He will also allow Curry to rest more, as he is capable of running a decent pick-and-roll and facilitating the half-court offense.
The Warriors have been atrocious offensively this season with Curry off the floor, and the disappearance of that discrepancy will make Jackson look like he's figured things out.
The team will also get better defensively, if you can believe it. The return of O'Neal and Ezeli will make scoring inside on the Warriors incredibly difficult, even with Bogut off the floor.
Most importantly, the roster's shortcomings will no longer force Jackson's hand. He's been faced with either playing a weak bench unit that gives up leads in a hurry or intermingling them with starters and limiting the time his dominant five have together.
With Blake, Barnes, Green and O'Neal forming an excellent nine-man group with the starters, Jackson will finally be able to employ a real rotation. And with Crawford, Ezeli and Speights filling out the deep bench, the starters should be able to find the rest they need to become more consistent.
The Warriors Win 53 Games
After defeating the Sacramento Kings 101-92 on Wednesday night, Golden State needs 21 wins to reach 53 in total for the season.
Considering that the team's best 28-game stretch this season yielded an 18-10 record, this type of finish may seem far-fetched.
At one point this season, the San Antonio Spurs have had a 22-6 stretch; the Portland Trail Blazers have gone 24-4; the Oklahoma City Thunder went 24-4; the Los Angeles Clippers have gone 20-8; and the Houston Rockets have gone 20-8.
Those are the five teams above the Warriors in the Western Conference. They also comprise the group that many have questioned Golden State for not being a part of.
It would be easy to chalk this up to underachieving or to say that the Warriors were overrated entering the season. However, a closer examination reveals that the most likely theory as to why the team is four games out of fifth place is simply that they haven't had their 28-game hot stretch yet.
The supporting evidence for this explanation is extensive.
According to ESPN.com, the Warriors have an expected win-loss record of 37-17 (.685 percent), five games better than their actual 32-22 record. The basketball gods don't owe them a Trail Blazers-like streak of last-second wins, but one has to assume that they will at least match their expected percentage from here on out.
Winning at that .685 percent clip would give them slightly better than a 19-9 record the rest of the way.
As detailed previously, the Warriors are an improved team with the addition of Blake. If they were projected to go better than 19-9 based on their team prior to the trade, even a skeptic would have to round that number up to 20-8.
The Warriors have also played the sixth-toughest schedule in the league to date, and they will face a significantly easier closing slate. Sixteen of their 28 remaining opponents have losing records, and 15 of those 28 contests will be at home. This, again, should net the team an extra projected win.
This would put the Warriors at 21-7, give them a 53-29 record on the season and put them squarely in the running for home court in the first round of the playoffs.
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