To truly understand this article, first one must understand the Golden State Warriors and its fan base.
When considering the big scope of the NBA season, understand that Warriors fans don't enter the season thinking championship. Heck, they're not even thinking conference championship. With just one postseason trip in 16 seasons—2006-07—usually it comes down to weighing their options with a little over a month remaining: battle with everything they've got to be the eighth seed in the playoffs or add another mid-level lottery player to the mix.
And this season appeared to be no different. Despite what general manager Larry Riley wanted everyone to believe, their offseason wasn't too exciting. They sent away a player with superstar-level potential and two valuable bench pieces for a 27-year-old double-double machine. Make that, an Eastern Conference double-double machine who was his team's only legitimate scoring option.
So forgive the Warriors faithful if they didn't erupt when they watched Riley give said player—David Lee and his career 13.0 points per game—an $ 80 million contract. You see, they had already watched their team sever ties with six players who have averaged more points over their careers. And the front office managed to ship all six out within the last three years.
The Warriors offseason continued to frustrate most of the faithful, with fan favorites Anthony Morrow and C.J. Watson signing elsewhere, replaced by the likes of Dorell Wright, Louis Amundson and Rodney Carney. And new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber certainly made a splash when they ate a $6 million loss to cut ties with head coach Don Nelson, the league's leader in all-time coaching victories and the last coach to lead this team to the postseason in that glorious 2007 run. (For the record, the last coach to lead the Warriors to the postseason before that run...oh, also Don Nelson, during his first tenure with the club.)
Come April, the Warriors Will...
Needless to say, the Warriors faithful were at a loss by the time training camp rolled around. The roster appeared to be a jumbled mess of mostly offensive-first players, with a few defensive stoppers thrown in the mix. A long-time assistant—but first-year head coach—Keith Smart took over, after spending the last few seasons as "defensive coordinator" and team therapist, an essential role on any Nelson-coached squad.
But as the midpoint of the first full month of the season passes, the Warriors actually find themselves at 7-4, tied for fifth in the Western Conference. The team's lone conference defeat came at the hands of the two-time reigning champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Warriors already have a grind-it-out, defensive win over an impressive Utah Jazz squad under their belt.
The Warriors also find themselves outside of the bottom 10 in opposing teams' scoring (102.73) and rebounding differential (-.27). Their also 15th in blocks (4.91) and second in steals (10.00).
In what was thought to be the year of the trios—the Warriors being no different with big plans for Lee joining forces with Ellis and Curry—it's been the duos that have made the difference.
Like Ellis and Curry for instance. Both rank in the top 30 in scoring—Ellis' 26.5 are second, Curry's 19.4 are 28th—and are the only duo in the top six in steals per game. Ellis' 2.54 and Curry's 2.33 are fifth and sixth, respectively, and only New Orleans also has a duo—Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza— in the top 15.
But a strong outside duo needs a strong inside duo to keep the attacks balanced. And that's just what the Warriors have in Andris Biedrins and Lee, with both players in the top 16 in rebounds. Their combined 20.5 rebounds are second only to the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Dorell Wright doesn't fit the duo theme, but that's simply because no one on the club can match his versatile skill set. The man who wears the number one on his chest, has been just as much of a stat filler as his predecessor—Stephen Jackson. Only Wright is hardly a volume scorer like Jackson—he shoots a much more efficient 44.1 percent from deep—he hits the glass hard every night, and he won't be caught arguing a call on one end while the rest of the team plays outmatched on the other.
Even this early in the season, there's generally plenty of blame to spread around. But this season, it's credit that has been tough to assign to one guy. Lacob and Guber stuck their necks—errr... checks—out in buying the team and then eating the money to export Nelson back to Maui. Larry Riley made his splash with Lee, but guys like Wright, Carney and even 15th man Jeff Adrien have already contributed in big, valuable—in terms of wins and payroll—ways.
But in this writer's eyes, the credit goes to the players. To the duos more specifically. Biedrins and Lee's commitment to the glass has finally limited teams to mostly one-shot possessions.
Oh, and Curry and Ellis? The way they have learned not simply to coexist, but to grow and thrive together has been remarkable to watch. Those two are the reason that the Warriors find themselves in the upper echelon in the West and why they'll win the West this season.
Just understand this: to Warriors fans, winning the West might not be exactly what you think it is. Home-court advantage in the first round is just as good as a Western conference championship to a fan-base eager to watch a winner.