Golden State Warriors: 5 Goals for the Season's 2nd Half

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2018

Golden State Warriors: 5 Goals for the Season's 2nd Half

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The Golden State Warriors are four months away from chasing their ultimate goal.

    But even with the dog days approaching and the NBA's best record in hand, the Dubs still have some secondary objectives on their upcoming to-do list.

    While they know better than to sprint through the 82-game marathon, they can chase the following five targets without depleting their fuel tank. In fact, these checkmarks would best position Golden State for a third world title in four years and a deeper dive into the greatest-team-of-all-time discussion.

    In other words, don't be fooled by the clockwork nature of the Dubs' dominance. There are still higher aspirations within their sights.

Balance the Roster

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    If you can look beyond the fact Golden State paces everyone in winning percentage and net efficiency, you'll see this roster has some funhouse mirror elements. It's unnecessarily swollen in some spots and uncomfortably slight in others.

    Three players suit up exclusively at center—Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee. If there were room on the big league roster for Damian Jones, he'd make it four. Two others—Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney—see more minutes at the 5 than any other spot. And somehow there's still a smattering of small-ball center minutes available for Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.

    Meanwhile, the point guard rotation is two players deepStephen Curry, who's already missed 14 games; and Shaun Livingston, who's 32 years old and seeing less floor time than ever. Then, there are the bench voids in three-point shooting and shot-creating. Nick Young basically handles both roles, leaving them unfilled on nights when he's failed by his touch or his shot selection.

    There's a quietly significant need for a shakeup, and it seems one player would be glad to facilitate that change.

    "McGee hasn't been happy with his minutes," The Athletic's Marcus Thompson II reported. "This is on top of not being happy the Warriors only offered him a minimum contract back in the offseason and told him the starting role wasn't on the table."

    The market is saturated with center sellers and light on big-man buyers, so the potential return packages don't look great. But even if Golden State just opens up a roster space that would be better allocated to the backcourt, the Association's top team would make itself even stronger.

All-Rookie Spot for Jordan Bell

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    If there's any kind of blueprint for making an All-Rookie team, it looks nothing like the one Bell has followed. Second-rounders have a hard enough time seeing the floor as it is, but second-rounders on clubs coming off a 67-win championship season seem destined to be tethered to the bench.

    It felt significant, then, for the bouncy big man to appear in 12 of the team's first 18 contests. But really, those were the baby steps. He hasn't sat out a game since Nov. 22, making nine starts and averaging 18.0 minutes over that stretch.

    Frontcourt congestion and all, Bell has made himself an indispensable piece of the rotation. He has the club's third-highest on-court net rating (plus-15.6) and fourth-lowest off-court mark (plus-8.6). His per-36-minute averages—12.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.7 blocks and 1.8 steals—paint him as a potential Draymond 2.0, and ESPN.com's real plus-minus puts him 31st overall and 16th on defense.

    "Bell is one of only two players in the NBA averaging at least 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks per 40 minutes," ESPN Insider's Mike Schmitz wrote. "...The combination of boxes that he checks are unique, as you don't often have players in his mold with his level of court vision."

    Bell fits his new digs almost perfectly. He has the quickness to execute defensive switches, the vision to spot open teammates in this motion offense and the explosiveness to wreak havoc as a lob finisher.

    He boasts too many modern necessities to get stuck behind less versatile veterans. If he's in the All-Rookie running, though, he'll have kept those aging bigs at bay. This class is stacked—Bell is only 26th among freshmen in total minutes—so the 10 spots up for grabs will all be earned. It would be a massive gain for Golden State's present and future if Bell's production warrants selection.

Keep Defensive Player of the Year Honor in Oakland

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Prior to last season, the Warriors had never employed the Defensive Player of the Year. They could soon claim back-to-back honors, although not necessarily with a repeat winner.

    Green captured the hardware in 2016-17 after consecutive runner-up finishes. From his vantage point, Durant has now crashed the DPOY conversation and perhaps pushed his way to the top.

    "I think he is, if not the leading candidate," Green said, per NBC Sports' Monte Poole. "I don't think it's really a race right now. The way he's been playing on the defensive side of the ball has been spectacular."

    Durant—whose Hall of Fame resume does not include an All-Defense selection—is averaging a career-best 2.2 blocks (tied for third). He holds opponents to one of the lowest percentages at the rim among high-volume defenders, and he's shaving 9.1 points off his matchup's conversion rate inside of 10 feet.

    Incredibly, Durant might not have the strongest argument on the team.

    Green is even stingier at the basket and within 10 feet (minus-9.8 points). He's also viewed more favorably by advanced analytics. Green leads Golden State's stars with a 101.3 defensive rating (Durant's is 104.1), and the former boasts a 3.18 defensive real plus-minus that ranks seventh overall and third among players averaging 30 plus-minutes, per ESPN.com. Durant sits 190th with a 0.33.

    The Dubs could care less how that portion of the debate unfolds. As long as they have the winner, they're good. Do that, and they will have once again closed a campaign with an elite defense. Nine of the past 10 winners played for top-three defenses (Tyson Chandler's 2011-12 New York Knicks were fifth), and three came from their respective season's top stoppers.

All-NBA Quartet

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Before the 2016-17 Warriors ever took the floor, they'd already made history. As B/R Mag's Howard Beck observed, that team became the first in NBA history to have four players selected to the previous campaign's All-NBA teams on the opening-night roster.

    This group could take things a step further by having that same quartet honored during the current season.

    Durant looks like a lock, and if Curry misses fewer games in the second half than he did in the first, he should be in the same boat. Durant is swatting shots at a career rate, nearly matching his best in assists, posting a top-five scoring average and flirting with a 50/40/90 slash line. The only time Curry has cleared his current field-goal percentage, scoring output or player efficiency rating, he became the league's first unanimous MVP.

    Green has made the last two All-NBA teams, and he's done nothing to squander his spot. He's averaging more points and assists than last season—when he was a third-teamer with four first-team votes—and shooting better from all three levels. He's a top-15 talent, and if his health cooperates, he'll be honored as such.

    Klay Thompson was the lone omission last season, and that exclusion was debatable. He was a 22-point scorer—as a third option, no less—and a top-10 finisher in three-point makes (second) and percentage (tied for ninth). He also led the eventual champs in minutes and spared Curry's energy by drawing the most difficult backcourt assignment on defense.

    "He definitely deserved to be on one of those teams," Curry said in May, per ESPN's Chris Haynes. "I know it's obviously a tough vote very year to figure out who goes where, but that's a guy that had an amazing season. He was very consistent all year long."

    Will Thompson's fate change this season? That's hard to tell. The league is littered with top-shelf guards, but his numbers are elite. He's converting looks at career rates from every level—including an absurd 45.3 percent of his triples—topping his previous best on the boards and having his second-best season as a distributor.

Get Healthy

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The injury bug mostly avoided last season's Warriors, save for when it stung Durant with an MCL sprain and bone bruise that necessitated a month-plus absence. It's been a more present pest this year, although its strikes have been more of the nagging variety.

    Curry has been hit with two ankle sprains, a knee strain and a thigh contusion. Durant has weathered issues with his ankles and calf. Green sat five times over a six-game stretch with shoulder soreness.

    There are no major worries—although mentioning Curry and ankle in the same sentence can spark a rash of insomnia across Dub Nation—but it's happened often enough to make Golden State seem a touch less indestructible than normal.

    "It's no longer an isolated incident or two; virtually every key player on the team has been sidelined at some point," Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. "This has to change, because if Cleveland awaits once again in the Finals, LeBron James will be 118 percent."

    The Dubs' four stars missed 33 games combined last season. They're already at 29 with more than a month before the All-Star break.

    Granted, injuries can sink any club. And no one is better prepared to withstand an absence or two thanks to the superstar assembly line this front office has created.

    But because Golden State sits so far ahead of the field, it faces no greater obstacle than medical misfortunes. Since these Warriors aren't chasing regular-season successes or in desperate need of climbing the No. 1 seed—which they're in pole position to claim, anyway—they must safeguard themselves from any injury obstructions at all cost.

                 

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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