With all of their key cogs returning, the Golden State Warriors are prepared for another run at the playoffs. However, in order to advance farther than the first round this year, athletes outside of the team's main core must step up and contribute significantly.
Last season, the Warriors' bench provided subpar play, with hoopsstats.com indicating that the group finished in the bottom 10 in numerous statistical categories.
Through the addition of a couple new pine pieces, Golden State's reserves seem poised for a better performance.
One critical bench signing is 1-man Shaun Livingston, whom the Warriors inked to a three-year, $16 million contract. Livingston, who is coming off a strong season with the Brooklyn Nets, will play a pivotal role in determining whether or not Golden State makes a deep run in the postseason.
There are two ways he can successfully aid the Warriors' efforts: employ his athleticism and size offensively, and utilize his length and quickness defensively.
Standing at 6'7" and possessing the skills of a point guard, Livingston serves as a matchup nightmare for any opposing floor general he faces.
Play up on him, and he'll use a quick first step to attack the rim with a dangerous blend of control and ferocity. Give him space, and he'll work his way inside, utilizing a surprisingly well-developed post game to either hit a turn-around jump shot or score near the hoop.
While the 28-year-old is hopeless as a shooter—he shot a pitiful 16.7 percent from three in 2013-14—he will bring an effective playing style all his own off Golden State's bench.
Rather than lighting defenders up from distance and shooting pretty floaters in the paint a la Stephen Curry, Livingston will instead drive the lane to climb the ladder for an emphatic slam.
Also, since this type of aggressive play will consistently draw the defense inside, the 1-man will use his court vision to find open teammates as well.
Within 16 feet of the basket last season, Livingston produced an efficient shooting percentage of 49.4 percent, including 56.6 percent shooting from within three feet. In addition, the point guard generated 11.5 points as well as 4.5 assists per 36 minutes.
Clearly, the nine-year veteran is a force to be reckoned with offensively.
Livingston's impeccable mixture of athleticism, height and skill allows him to operate an offensive system in a way most guards can't. His presence will improve the output of the Warriors' bench, and this will prove essential in helping the team succeed come playoff time.
Much like on offense, many of Livingston's first-rate qualities will positively impact Golden State's defense as well.
The Warriors' bench was ineffective on the opposite end of the ball last year, finishing 19th in points allowed per contest at 32.3, per hoopsstats.com. With his top-notch lateral quickness and lengthy 6'11" wingspan, Livingston will give Golden State a versatile defender capable of containing and pestering elite-level opponents.
A good indicator of how impactful the 1-man can be is evidenced by the Nets' defensive rating with him on the court compared to off it.
According to NBAWowy.com (h/t Warriors World), Brooklyn's rating was 4.2 points better when Livingston was on the floor. The Nets finished the year among the top 15 in points allowed per game, with the point guard's efforts proving pivotal in accomplishing this feat.
Sporting an astounding 8'9.5" standing reach, the floor general thrives on altering opponents' shots as well as occasionally swatting poor attempts away.
He's also exceptional when it comes to help-side defense, as he understands when to rotate and how to adjust to various situations.
Livingston is a stud defensively. He'll improve the Warriors defense by serving as a reliable point/wing defender off the bench.
Currently, the 1-man is nursing an injury to his right big toe, but he is expected to suit up by the arrival of opening night. Once he gets back into the swing of things, he should assist in Golden State's cause.
The play Livingston puts forth will be critical in helping the Warriors pull off a deep postseason run. He boasts the necessary attributes to enhance the team's bench production, and his overall approach to the game can certainly fit well with Golden State's shooter-heavy roster.
With the point guard in the fold alongside another new pine player in Brandon Rush, rising bench athletes such as Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green and the Warriors' superb starting five, this team is set to build upon last season's playoff performance.
If all goes well, look for Golden State to surprise fans and skeptics alike by advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals—if not farther.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.