The Golden State Warriors may have missed out on the home run acquisition of Kevin Love, but minor tweaks and additions to a bench unit that struggled last year might be enough to put them in serious title contention this season.
While it's always hard to predict what you're going to get from a new coach, particularly one without any experience on that front, Golden State's roster for 2014-15 does look a little deeper and more dependable than what was trotted out last season.
Part of that will have to do with health. Andrew Bogut missed time up front, and his backup Festus Ezeli missed the entire season. Starters David Lee and Andre Iguodala were also banged up for much of the year.
Simply by reverting fill-in starters back to the bench in a regular capacity, Golden State should have an improved second unit.
It's important to note just how badly Golden State's depth was exposed last season.
Here's Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk with more:
Last season when the Warriors' starting five were on the court — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut — they outscored their opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions (or if you prefer 15 points per 48 minutes).
That is impressive. It also means their bench wasn’t nearly as impressive (as a team the Warriors were +4.8 per 48). ...
The fact is [Steve] Kerr needs to get more out of this bench. If he can do that, and bring more complexity and motion to the offense, he’s going to look like a smart rookie coach.
By pushing versatile defensive forward Draymond Green back to the bench full-time with Harrison Barnes, the Warriors should have a pretty strong pairing at forward.
Here's Matt Packer at BlueManHoop:
Draymond Green will continue to contribute as a super-sub at small forward and power forward. While his defense is what got him drafted, his offensive game continues to blossom as he develops range on his jump shot. He’s also an especially adept passer which makes everyone on the second unit more effective.
A big question mark is what direction Harrison Barnes' game goes. While he may have been over-hyped coming off his explosion vs. the Nuggets and Spurs in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, he underwhelmed by any imaginable metric last year. If Barnes can regain his confidence and attack the rim again, he should rightfully become the focal point of the second unit. Ideally, he’ll also be able to spell Iguodala allowing him to play reasonable minutes and stay healthy.
Add in Shaun Livingston to backup Stephen Curry, and Golden State should be a nightmare for opposing benches to score on. Livingston's length and intelligence made him one of the better defenders in the league last season, as he covered small point guards and stars like LeBron James all the same.
While stopping opponents shouldn't be much of an issue for Golden State's bench, scoring certainly could be. That was the primary problem last year, as creating good offensive opportunities in a stagnant offense was rare.
The hiring of Kerr could help on that front, as Golden State probably won't be nearly as isolation-heavy as they were under Mark Jackson. Harrison Barnes has a lot of offensive talent, but he needs to be put in good situations.
Even if some progression should be expected from Barnes, he alone shouldn't be expected to carry the full scoring load.
With that in mind, and with Livingston dealing with toe surgery this offseason, the Warriors bolstered their backcourt by signing Leandro Barbosa.
Here's Marc Stein at ESPN.com with the details:
Brazil guard Leandro Barbosa has reached an agreement to sign with the Golden State Warriors for the upcoming season, ESPN.com has learned.
After Barbosa received initial interest from the Miami Heat, Golden State has secured a commitment from the 31-year-old on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, according to NBA front-office sources.
The Warriors have been looking for guard depth and happily struck a deal with Barbosa before this weekend's start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
If the Warriors want to play up-tempo basketball, particularly in the second unit, adding Barbosa makes a ton of sense. He can still fly up and down the court, and if his three-point shooting returns to the mean, he could be a great fit next to Livingston in the backcourt. Livingston can always take on the tougher defensive assignment and take care of running the offense, while Barbosa can pick his spots as a scorer.
Overall, this has the look of a pretty strong bench. Green is the best asset of the bunch, as he can play multiple positions and defend at an elite level. Livingston is great insurance for Curry and can slide in with the starters at either backcourt spot whenever necessary. Getting more offensively from Barnes will probably be necessary for this bench to among the league's elite, though.
It's possible that if the results aren't there right off the bat, both for the starters and the bench, that Kerr will shake things up and play with different combinations. That's probably a good idea anyway, as the regular season should be a time for experimentation and finding the right groups. Golden State should be a playoff team no matter what, so you can sacrifice a few wins for the greater good.
Here's what Kerr said about the starting lineup this offseason, via Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:
"Andre [Iguodala] started last year, which he probably will [again], but there's a lot of options that we have because we've got really good players in Harrison [Barnes] and Draymond [Green]," Kerr said, adding that he would likely use the same lineup as last season. "But most of it usually comes down to how the combination fits. ... How do the pieces of the puzzle fit?"
Kerr is wise to take an open approach, but the rebuilt Warriors bench should provide enough production this season to supplement one of the league's very best starting lineups. With that in mind, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Warriors take the next step this year and go deep into the postseason.
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