The Golden State Warriors' 2013-14 campaign was filled with peaks and valleys, a seemingly never-ending thrill ride that ultimately ended too early. Fingernails were gnawed off, hearts were always moments away from stopping, and for just one season, they were the very embodiment of their baseball counterparts, the San Francisco Giants, in that every game was beautiful torture.
Despite failing to reach the second round this postseason—a feat that they accomplished last year—several players made enormous strides, and the outlook for the future is remarkably bright.
Draymond Green proved to be far more than just a role player, lighting up the basket in spurts and anchoring the defense when Andrew Bogut succumbed to injury. Speaking of Bogut, this season proved to be no different than any other, as the juxtaposition of his great play on the court with his nagging injury history ultimately cost the Warriors dearly.
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry emerged as the best backcourt in the NBA this season, and David Lee reminded us just why he's one of the most polarizing players in the league. Up and down the rotation, truths began to manifest themselves as the season wore on, and with the culmination of it Saturday night at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, it's time to bring them to light.
Draymond Green is synonymous with the Warriors
The parallels between Green and the Warriors themselves are eerie, as it was his identity the Warriors took into the series with Los Angeles. Green is tough, albeit a bit undersized, and he accepted his David vs. Goliath matchup with Blake Griffin with gusto.
The same can be said about the matchup between the actual teams, a series that few outside the Bay Area gave any chance to the young upstarts from Oakland. The Clippers had the star power, they had the size, and most importantly, they had health on their side.
The Warriors had Green, though, and with him came the kind of heart and toughness that few teams can muster up. They pushed the favorites to the brink of elimination, and it was Green leading the way. He played tenacious defense against the much larger Griffin, took and made big shots when the Clippers focused on Curry and battled valiantly in the trenches to keep possessions alive.
He was the most consistent player across the board, for either team.
If the Warriors learned anything this season, it's that they have an absolute beast of a player in Green, a man willing to do whatever it takes to win. He took the "me" out of "team," and as a result, the Warriors came together as one and nearly did the impossible.
The Warriors need help behind Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut, when healthy, is a top-five center in the NBA—a man capable of playing all-world defense every night while also chipping in spurts of offense when the time calls for it. The big men on the Warriors bench, however, are not capable of those things.
Not by a long shot.
Jermaine O'Neal is 35 years old and contemplating retirement. Whether he decides to come back or not, the fact remains that there's not much left in the tank. While the Warriors still have Marreese Speights signed for two more years, his play throughout the season suggests that might be two years too long. Speights' occasional offense is just not enough to balance out his flaws.
The silver lining for the Warriors is that barring some setback during the offseason, backup center Festus Ezeli should return at full strength next season. He has proven to be more than serviceable when his talents are needed, and with Bogut spending more and more time on the sidelines, that is a luxury the Warriors will love to have.
Although the Warriors experienced some success going small throughout the season, the behemoths in the Western Conference cannot be ignored. Bogut and the Warriors need help in the frontcourt, and while Ezeli will be a nice upgrade over O'Neal and Speights, he won't be enough. The front office must make this its top priority during the offseason.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson arrived
There's no denying this one. Even with the late surge of John Wall and Bradley Beal over in Washington, Curry and Thompson have distanced themselves from the pack. They're not just the best shooting backcourt tandem in the league; they're the best one, period.
Superior shooting notwithstanding, the different elements they bring to the table is just unparalleled. The court vision and passing ability of Curry rivals that of even the best floor generals in the league, and the tenacity that Thompson defends with helped the Warriors become one of the premier defenses in the league.
They complement each other perfectly, as the quickness of Curry and the size of Thompson create problems for teams on both sides of the ball. With another offseason to prepare, their camaraderie will only improve. As great as they already are, they could be even better, especially if Thompson continues to work on his promising post play.
These two give the Warriors hope despite the early playoff exit and are the chief cornerstones for everything the Warriors have built. Make no mistake about it, regardless of who is coaching next year or who is flanking them, the Warriors will always have a chance as long as Curry and Thompson are together.
David Lee can still be a key piece to the championship puzzle
David Lee is far from a perfect player. We saw this throughout the season, and it was especially obvious during the playoffs. The absence of Bogut really exposed his defense, and even his offense was kept at bay by the defensive force that is DeAndre Jordan.
Still, he proved that he is a fiery competitor—one that is never willing to back down, regardless of whether or not he is overmatched. The unenviable task of dueling with both Griffin and Jordan took its toll as the series progressed, as his efforts to contain the Clippers big men constantly put him in foul trouble.
He continued to battle, though, and it was his constant attacking that had the Clippers on their heels. As difficult as it was for him to stay out of foul trouble, he managed to turn the tables and keep Griffin glued to the bench in multiple games. He also showed extreme toughness as he battled Jordan and Griffin for countless rebounds.
When coupled with Bogut, Lee's value to the team skyrockets, as his defensive deficiencies can be hidden, and his offensive capabilities are brought to the forefront. Lee on his own does not elevate the Warriors to championship contenders, but like Curry and Thompson, when paired with Bogut, he’s a special player.
The front line of Bogut and Lee has proven to be a dynamic combination, but with Lee injured for much of the postseason last year and Bogut bowing out in this one, we’ve yet to see what the team can truly accomplish. If the Warriors' core is kept intact next season, including Lee, chances are that we'll see something special.