Predicting the Roles and Impact of Each Warriors Newcomer This Season

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Predicting the Roles and Impact of Each Warriors Newcomer This Season
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

For the first time in years, the impact of the Golden State Warriors newcomers will be less important than that of the team's returners.

Although the offseason is not over, the Warriors already have 14 players under contract for 2014-15 after the August 5 signing of Aaron Craft. Of those 14, only three were not on last year's roster.

Last offseason, the Warriors added five new faces: Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, Jermaine O'Neal and Nemanja Nedovic.

The previous year, they brought in six, including Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and Kent Bazemore.

Both in quantity and names, those offseason hauls were far flashier than this year's additions of Craft, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

The Warriors are bringing back all five of last year's starters, as well as their top two bench players. After 51 wins and the best plus-minus of any starting five, why wouldn't they?

The team's success in the coming season will again hinge upon Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Iguodala, Barnes and Green.

That's exciting, considering that four of those seven are still improving and Iguodala played hurt for most of last season.

Yet, despite its relative modesty, the Warriors still had one of the best offseasons in the NBA.

They made no trades, meaning they gave up no future or current assets to improve the roster elsewhere. They lost no free agents who they hoped to retain, happily saying goodbye to Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford.

Golden State is waiting to see if O'Neal retires, but Ezeli's return from injury provides an upgrade at backup center regardless of O'Neal's decision.

The three players the Warriors added are signed to low-risk, team-friendly contracts. More importantly, they significantly improve the roster.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Livingston was brought in to be the team's top backcourt option off the bench, allowing the defensively overtaxed Thompson to rest on that end and the offensively overburdened Curry to play off the ball.

But Livingston's addition means more than that. In a sense, it vindicates last summer's signing of Iguodala.

General manager Bob Myers and the Warriors front office made a tough decision last summer by sacrificing depth in favor of adding a core piece.

Bringing in Iguodala cost the team Rush, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and two first-round picks, while also preventing the team from re-signing Jack or Landry.

The aggressive move was met with some criticism at the time, and those negative judgments became more justifiable as the season went on.

This was partially due to Iguodala's mediocre numbers, but the core of the issue was that his signing cost the team Jack and thus created a gaping hole at backup point guard.

Now, the Livingston signing is the payoff, providing delayed gratification for the Iguodala deal—a rare result for a front office that often comes off as impatient.

The team not only replaced Jack, but it did so with a slightly better player on a slightly cheaper contract (ironically, the Brooklyn Nets replaced Livingston with Jack this summer).

There are still things the Warriors will miss about Jack. He was a perfect fit alongside Curry. He had the ability to run the offense while Curry played off the ball, and he could create shots for the Splash Brothers by penetrating the defense and kicking it out.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Stephen Curry (right) has not had a successful backup since Jarrett Jack's (left) departure.

What really made the combination thrive is that if Curry had the ball, Jack was able to replace him as a dangerous outside shooter. That interchangeability made things very difficult on defenses.

Livingston can get into the lane, but he doesn't shoot threes—he's made 10 in his career—and his tendency to play in the post will not make him as ideal of an offensive partner for Curry as Jack was. 

He still represents a massive upgrade over all of last season's backup point guards, as he can handle the ball, run the pick-and-roll and is a fantastic passer and playmaker. He's a true creator.

Livingston may not be able to form the two-headed offensive monster of a backcourt that Curry and Jack formed, but he'll work well with Curry for a different reason—his defense.

Golden State refused to break up Curry and Thompson this offseason because having a lockdown defender next to Curry is essential, both for the team's overall defensive success and for keeping Curry rested and out of foul trouble.

Livingston is not only a great defender of point guards, but he can guard bigger wings when Iguodala sits.

Playing Livingston over Thompson costs the team shooting at the 2, but the ability to sub in some combination of Rush, Barnes and Green at the forward spots will reopen the floor without sacrificing any defense.

Speaking of Rush, his addition was essential to fully justify the Livingston signing.

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Livingston can run the second unit, play alongside Curry and back up multiple positions due to his defense.

However, the team's biggest weakness last season was bench scoring, a problem that stemmed from the bench's inability to shoot the ball as much as the absence of a floor general.

The lack of spacing hurt Barnes, as he never had a mismatch to attack or an empty lane to penetrate. It hurt Blake—the bench's lone shooter—as he was forced to play off the ball despite being the only capable facilitator on the court.

The unit desperately lacked a guy who could just stand on the perimeter, catch swing passes or kick-outs and knock down threes.

This is exactly what Rush will be. He is a 41 percent three-point shooter for his career.

It remains to be seen if he still has the athleticism that made him Danny Green-lite for Golden State in 2011-12, but he should at least be Danny Green-lite-lite.

In other words, his shooting and defense will make him a valuable part of Golden State's bench, even if he can no longer guard three positions, block shots or dunk on people.

Rush's return also relates to the Iguodala move. He was traded for Iguodala last summer, and bringing him back along with adding Livingston means that the team essentially traded Biedrins, Jefferson and two picks for Iguodala.

Jack and Rush are accounted for, and Landry would have been a bad signing anyway, considering the money he got from the Sacramento Kings.

That entire sequence now looks like a massive win. The Warriors are overflowing in wing defenders, with Thompson, Iguodala, Livingston, Rush, Barnes and Green.

None of it is overkill, as each player has a key offensive role and positional versatility.

Barnes and Green can play the 4, Livingston can play the 1 and Iguodala, Thompson and Rush can play the 2 or the 3.

With All-Star offensive leaders in Curry and Lee and dominant rim protectors in Bogut and Ezeli to complement the NBA's best collection of wings, the Warriors roster is close to complete.

That brings us to Craft, who may or may not make the team.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Speights was charged with a DUI recently, but that shouldn't affect his chances of making the active roster.

With so many wings, Speights ranks as the Warriors' third-tallest player (6'10") and the only guy on the team who can play both power forward and center.

That leaves one roster spot open. It could go to Nedovic (although he recently suffered an injury) or Ognjen Kuzmic (who is also hurt), but neither player impressed during their rookie campaigns last year.

It could also go to O'Neal, but he would have to both not retire and choose to return to Oakland.

The final training camp roster has not yet been announced, but one would have to imagine that the Warriors will invite multiple bigs in hope of adding a true third center.

However, Craft is the front-runner at this time. He had a strong summer league, plays exceptional defense and can run an offense despite his lack of shooting or scoring ability.

He's an energy guy who would keep the intensity up during the third quarter of a lopsided game or during the final 30 seconds of a half. 

Craft could also be brought in to give the Warriors some tough defense and eat up some fouls against relentless, deep offensive backcourts like those of the Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs or Portland Trail Blazers.

There will be no regular minutes for Craft as long as Curry and Livingston are healthy, but he could still be more useful than your typical third-string point guard.

Most of the talk surrounding the Warriors offseason was focused on the moves they didn't make, but no one should be overlooking substantial improvements to an already-dangerous team's bench.

 

 

All stats and roster information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and HoopsHype.com.

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