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|Despite winning 48 games, the Warriors failed to reach the playoffs last season.|
The Warriors played at the NBA's second-fastest pace and managed to lead the league in both points scored and points allowed. Adjusting for pace made their numbers a bit less extreme, but this was an offense-minded team that didn't pay a great deal of attention to the defensive end.
W-L: 48-34 (Pythagorean W-L: 48-34)
Offensive Efficiency: 109.1 (4th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.6 (20th)
Pace Factor: 101.4 (2nd)
Highest PER: Baron Davis (19.87)
Offensively, the Warriors took surprisingly good care of the ball despite the frenetic pace, sporting the league's fourth-lowest turnover rate -- possibly because they shot the ball so quickly that there wasn't much time to turn it over. Because of that they were able to hoist a ton of shots -- only Detroit was able to fire more attempts per possession than the Warriors.
Unfortunately, Golden State was undone by some poor shot selection. The Warriors were one of the league's lesser teams from beyond the 3-point line but ranked fifth in 2-point shooting percentage, yet they insisted on bombing away from beyond the arc.
Comparing Golden State's TS% on 3s (52.2) with its TS% on 2s and free throws (55.9) reveals what a problem shot selection was. Golden State had the league's third-largest differential between 3-point TS% and 2-point TS%; the only teams for which the difference was larger were Philadelphia and the Clippers. Those two teams knew they couldn't shoot 3s, though, and took the fewest 3-point attempts in basketball, attempting about half as many as the Warriors.
But despite the lack of success from downtown, Golden State ranked second in the league in 3-point attempts per field-goal attempt at .295. The main culprit was Baron Davis, who flung more than six tries a game from downtown but made only 33.0 percent; he had help from Matt Barnes, who had a horrible season after a breakout 2006-07 and shot 29.3 percent from beyond the arc. Golden State's other 3-point shooters were better, but none were good enough to offset the damage those two did. Even the team leader in 3-point percentage, Al Harrington, only made 37.5 percent -- a mark that was bested by seven teams.
At the defensive end, the quickness of Davis and breakout star Monta Ellis made the Warriors among the league's best at forcing turnovers -- only three teams forced a higher rate. However, if the other team got a shot off, Golden State was screwed. The Warriors permitted an opponent TS% of 55.2, ranking them 25th, and on the rare occasions the opponent missed, Golden State had all kinds of trouble securing the rebound.
Playing with an undersized frontcourt that was often further diminished by Don Nelson's penchant for small lineups, the Warriors claimed only 70.3 percent of opponent missed shots -- the worst defensive rebound rate in basketball. It hurt that starting center Andris Biedrins was easily pushed around underneath, but just as damaging was the fact that the three perimeter players (Davis, Ellis, and Stephen Jackson) hardly rebounded at all and that head coach Don Nelson often had a 6-foot-7 guy playing in the frontcourt.
While they were plenty exciting on the court, the Warriors also entertained with their off-court dramas. Nelly basically held out before the season to get his contract adjusted, and he continued to be the league's reigning mad scientist on the sideline. His love of small ball was counterproductive at times -- Biedrins was among his best players but played only 27 minutes a game -- and a bizarre nine-game dalliance with Chris Webber was a waste of everyone's time. Meanwhile, Davis lobbied unsuccessfully for a contract extension that would (over)pay him until his mid-30s.
But the Warriors saved the best for last. In the second-to-last game of the season Golden State needed a win against Phoenix to stay alive for the playoffs. Davis shot 2-for-13 in the first half and looked completely out of sorts, so Nelly benched him for the entire second half, touching off a controversy that rolled into the offseason. Drawing less commentary but equally baffling was little-used Kosta Perovic's 13 minutes, or the seven from struggling rookie Marco Belinelli. Golden State lost by six and its season was over.
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The go-to guy will be Maggette, who hasn't gotten his due for his phenomenal scoring and foul-drawing ability. He averaged 24.8 points per 40 minutes a year ago for a slow-paced Clippers team; in this environment that could easily get up to 27 or 28.
Ellis, of course, is a huge threat as well, if he comes back healthy from the ankle injury. That's a bit of a concern given how dependent he is on his quickness, but Ellis has made sharp improvements in each of his three pro seasons and might score even more from his new point guard spot than he did as an off guard last year.
Jackson averaged 20.1 points a game last year, so he can't be underestimated, and neither can productive reserve Azubuike. Even Williams, despite his rough play the past two years, has shown a knack for scoring, as has backup-to-the-backup C.J. Watson.
Up front it's a similar story. Biedrins annually contends for the league shooting percentage title, while Turiaf also scores plenty for a big man. Power forward Al Harrington is an inside-outside threat because of his 3-point stroke, and second-year-pro Brandan Wright is a potential breakout candidate who shot 55.4 percent in limited minutes last year.
Maybe everything will work out fine, but this position certainly has the potential for disaster. Ellis is going to miss the first half of the season, and when he comes back he's going to have to adjust to playing the point and creating shots for others instead of just for himself; he's also going to need his ankle to be at full strength right away since he's so dependent on his quickness.
In the meantime, the starting job falls to Williams. Although everyone agrees he has talent, he was also disastrously bad in his two years in New Jersey -- a troubling thought given the lack of a Plan B. Behind him is D-League refugee Watson, a competent backup with little chance of moving up in the world.
Throw in the type of year-to-year improvement one might expect from such a young roster -- only three players are older than 25 -- and the fact that you should never, ever bet against Don Nelson when he's an underdog, and it seemed possible the Warriors could match or exceed their record of a year earlier even without Davis.
Now things look quite different. Williams is pretty clearly one of the keys, as he has to competently manage the offense until Ellis gets back, but any way you look at the drop from Ellis to Williams, it's a big one.
And it may change how the Warriors approach their season, too. Nelson may be more inclined to dole out playing time to the likes of Belinelli and Randolph if he feels the team isn't a serious contender anyway, and that could have dire consequences because neither appears NBA ready.
Regardless of how the season goes, Golden State has positioned itself well for the future. Its good young players are locked up for the next several years, and the Warriors are looking at a potential bounty of cap space in 2010 when the contracts of Harrington and Jackson expire. Even if Mullin doesn't stick around after this year, he has done an outstanding job of correcting all the mistakes he made in his first year at the helm.
Unfortunately, Ellis' injury creates one question mark too many to endorse this team as a sleeper in the West. Instead, look for them to get off to a slow start, rally late when Ellis gets up to speed, and in the end fall a few games short of the postseason for a second straight campaign.