3 Golden State Warriors Who Must Step Up for the NBA Playoffs
The NBA regular season is a long, arduous grind that tests all 30 teams both mentality and physically. After 82 games of action, however, teams generally have a firm grasp of who they are and what their chances in the postseason might be.
What they don’t know, though, is which players on the roster might have a little extra in the tank to propel them to victory.
We often hear of players in the past who have stepped up in the biggest moments and cemented their legacies on the grandest stage of them all. Whether it be role players like Robert Horry hitting clutch shots or superstars like Michael Jordan raising their games higher than ever before, the postseason is where names are made.
For the Golden State Warriors, a few players must step up if the team has any hopes of making an extended run. As immensely talented as the Warriors might be, the fact remains that they have serious flaws. Their offense, along with some coaching decisions, have been inconsistent this season, and injuries have started to arise at the most inopportune times.
Still, abandoning hope now would be foolish for Warriors fans, as the team matches up nicely to many of the elite squads in the Western Conference. All it would take is for a few key guys—role players and stars alike—to up their games when the moment arrives.
3. Harrison Barnes
For weeks we have contemplated the puzzling decline of Harrison Barnes and searched for the remedy to the deficiency in his game. Rather than find answers, however, more questions have arisen.
He started the season off slowly, but we figured that eventually he would regain his form. It never happened, though, and he has in fact gotten worse as the season has progressed.
Over the last 10 games, he has regressed beyond anything we could have ever imagined, putting up a line of just 5.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists. With David Lee sidelined for the foreseeable future with a strained hamstring and nerve inflammation, Barnes must step up to pick up some of the scoring slack.
Draymond Green is a fine player whose defense has been invaluable to the team. He’s filled in nicely while Lee has been on the mend. Replacing Lee's 18.5 points, however, is probably too much to ask of him.
Barnes has shown flashes of being a dynamic scorer, and if the Warriors are to have any chance of surviving in the dangerous Western Conference, those flashes must become more routine.
The silver lining is that it wasn’t until the playoffs kicked off last season and Lee was sidelined with an injury that Barnes truly took off. Make no mistake about it: He will be the X-factor going into the playoffs. Strong play from him could elevate the Warriors past any team in the West.
Should he continue to struggle, however, the likely result would be the Warriors taking that dreaded fishing trip with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith after just one round of postseason action.
2. Klay Thompson
Unlike Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson has saved his best basketball of the season for the stretch run. The threes are falling, the dribble drive is improving, and most importantly, he’s held up his part of the bargain as the Luigi to Stephen Curry’s Mario.
When the playoffs begin, that won’t be enough.
Teams will throw everything they have at Curry in an attempt to get the ball out of his hands. They will dare someone else to beat them. And that is exactly what Thompson must do. He must make teams pay for double-teaming Curry.
Thompson can punish teams like few players can. When he can shoot the three frequently and potently, he can build up leads or overcome deficits in the blink of an eye. The better he plays, the more teams will have to respect him. That respect opens up the door for Curry to flourish.
With Thompson, it’s not just about what he does with the ball—it’s about what he could do. The threat of Thompson could be his biggest asset.
It’s not just on offense, though, where he must shine. Guards like James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will test his defensive resolve throughout the postseason gauntlet. Curry possesses neither the size nor the strength to battle with the explosive creators in the West.
Thompson has both.
He is the most complete two-way player on the roster, and he’ll have to play like it for Golden State to make some serious noise in the playoffs.
1. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry put up some legendary performances in last season’s postseason, and he did it with a bum ankle. He systematically dismantled the Denver Nuggets and pushed Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs to their breaking point. For as good as he was, however, he actually got better this season.
He picked up his numbers all across the board and officially added his name into the exclusive superstar club. Unlike the other elite teams in the Western Conference, however, he does not have the luxury of playing with another top star.
Kevin Durant has Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul has Blake Griffin (or vice versa based on how Griffin has been playing), and James Harden has Dwight Howard. While Klay Thompson is an ever-improving talent and Andre Iguodala has proved his worth over the years, they’re just not in that class.
Curry carries the heaviest burden of any of the stars in the league. While it has led to an uptick in his turnovers, it has also pushed his overall game to new heights. The list of players who put up Curry’s numbers is nonexistent; nobody in the league is averaging at least 20 points and eight assists, let alone 23.5 and 8.5.
Just like with Thompson, however, that might not be enough—not this year, not with this type of competition. We often talk about players who make leaps throughout their careers and the defining moments in their legacies.
Curry will likely have to make that leap if the Warriors are to survive against the best in the West.
Asking a guy who’s already done so much to do even more might seem unrealistic, but it will be necessary. Curry might not be the best player in each progressive series, but he’ll have to play like it for the Warriors to rise to the top.