Despite being in one of the toughest conferences and divisions in the NBA, the Warriors are in a unique position to become playoff regulars. With a complete overhaul of ownership, management and coaching, they have made a huge step towards their commitment to make the playoffs. However, it won't happen overnight, and more changes are still needed than just putting new bodies in the front office and basketball court.
First off, it is a well accepted fact that any team that wants to win an NBA title will have to make a huge emphasis on defense. During the second Don Nelson era (2006-10), the Warriors showed a marked change in their offensive power. However, with that change in offensive power also gave way to a change in how the team played defense.
In 2006-07, Nelson's first year in charge, the Warriors improved their average scoring by about eight points and finished second in the league in scoring at 106.5 points per game. However, they sacrificed a staggering 106.9 points per game to their opponents, which was up more than seven points from before Nelson took charge. Compare that to the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA champions that year - they surrendered sixteen points less a game than the Warriors did (90.1). During Nellie's tenure, the team averaged 108.7 points per game and gave up 110.1 – with the Warriors leading or near the top of both categories.
On a positive side, though, they forced a league high 18.6 turnovers per game, but that number is a bit misleading because it shows that they thrived off of the mistakes of their opponents rather than playing solid defense. Compare this to the fact that they also led the league in steals per game (9.1) and you see two intriguing numbers here that can be put up to debate: was it the mistake of their opponents or true defense? It can be interpreted either way.
Also throw in the fact that in Nelson's first season, the team was consistently pushed around the boards, giving up more than five more rebounds a game to their opponents than they collected. This number eventually worked its way up to the other team averaging 10 more rebounds than the Warriors in Nellie's final season, deplorable numbers for a team that has tried so hard to get back into playoff basketball. The final result? They were near or at the top in the league of those respective categories – and, at least in the case of the rebounding differential, not in a good way.
Fast forward to the end of 2010. Nellie's teams were outperformed significantly even during their lone playoff year of 2006-07. Poor defense and the inability to crash the boards forced the Warriors to near the bottom of the standings.
Promoting Keith Smart to head coach for the 2010-11 season was a huge step in the right direction. Smart had been a mainstay of many head coaches' coaching staffs, but under Nelson, he had the extremely tall task of teaching defense to a small lineup under a head coach whose run-and-gun tactics were the order of the day – a task that some may think is impossible. But during Smart's run as an assistant coach, the Warriors managed to force turnovers and steal the ball, but those alone do not make a playoff team.
During the offseason, some changes were made to the lineup to create a more defensive atmosphere to suit Smart's style of play: the acquisition of David Lee, who is a consistent double-double threat, and the drafting of Baylor center/forward Ekpe Udoh, who was known in college for his shot-blocking ability.
Big man Dan Gadzuric was also added to give the Warriors the sense that they had size - or perhaps, get back at Charles Barkley for calling the team "a bunch of midgets" during their playoff run.
As of this writing, the Warriors sit below .500 at 24-29, but have won six of their last eight and sit only five games out of the final playoff spot. With Utah reeling from the sudden resignation of Jerry Sloan, the time is now for the Warriors to make their playoff push.
Their upcoming schedule looks simple – the only real playoff teams they face immediately after the All-Star break are Boston (twice) and Atlanta, where their true grit will be tested. Even if they don't make the playoffs this season, they can retool after the season and make a serious run in 2011-12.