After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
Not only will the Golden State Warriors continue to be one of the more watchable teams in the NBA this season, the squad has an honest-to-goodness chance of rolling into the Conference finals or even Finals in Mark Jackson’s third year as coach. You couldn’t say as much for even the Don Nelson-led “We Believe” Warriors from 2007, because while that roster was solid enough, the only real go-to attraction that team had was its ownership of the Dallas Mavericks’ number in both the regular and postseason. That’s it.
These Warriors? They have just about damn near everything.
We’re not sure if Jackson is the wizard behind this particular curtain, as some credit Michael Malone (since hired as head coach of the Sacramento Kings) for running Golden State’s ship last season, while others look to assistant coach Darren Erman as the guiding force. Whatever the impetus, Jackson’s staff got things done last season, and expecting big things from a healthier crew in 2013-14 shouldn’t be a problem. This roster is too good.
The go-to addition over the summer was the sign-and-trade deal that netted Golden State Andre Iguodala, but two in-house forces could serve just as great a purpose. Health got in the way of a Warriors upset over San Antonio last spring, as Andrew Bogut did not look himself (or, more specifically, he looked as he’s usually looked since 2010) and Stephen Curry was gritting out his play due to pair of tweaked ankles.
If those two can consistently stay at one hundred percent for the entirety of the season and postseason, Golden State could have a monster on its hands. Curry was weirdly denied an All-Star berth last season, but that didn’t stop the Greatest Shooter Ever from putting together a remarkable campaign – mainly because he was healthy, and there was no Monta Ellis hanging around. If Bogut is back defensively and in the high post, then the Warriors have just added a sub-All-Star center out of nowhere.
That potential impact will be felt more than Iguodala’s addition to the squad, which is saying something because Andre Iguodala is one hell of an addition.
Some might chafe at adding yet another wing to Golden State’s stable, but because Dre is a mindful, versatile type of modern star, he should fit right in. Iguodala’s efficiency took a dive in Denver last year, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t better suited to this sort of role (blending in with a series of talented teammates) as opposed to Philadelphia’s attempts to make him a franchise-changing two-way star.
This helps mask some of the growing pains that Harrison Barnes is working through, as he tends to float from time to time. Klay Thompson shoots and scores, little else, and Iguodala’s ability to defend, rebound, and make the extra pass comes straight out of central casting. If Andre continues as he has, this will be a fantastic partnership.
One that, genuinely, could shift things in the West. The Warriors aren’t some hip, young team that we’re overrating because we like to watch them. They’re conference championship contenders because they’re this good. Already. Now. Today.
This year is going to be fantastic.
Projected record: 57-25
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Warriors for … Stephen Curry with everything going.
I mean, come on:
You get the idea.
Curry shot 600 3-pointers last year. That was the 10th-highest mark in NBA history, which would make him seem like an unconscionable chucker ... if he hadn’t made 272 of them, the most ever in a single season, and connected at a 45.3 percent clip, third-best in the league.
That’s a remarkable enough success rate to make you think, given the added value of an extra point per triple, that Curry should take even more than the 7.7 3s per game he attempted last season. Maybe something more in line with the 8.9-per-contest he hoisted after the All-Star break (hitting 46.1 percent of them), or the 8.8-per-outing he managed in the postseason, when he shot the heart out of the Nuggets and scared the daylights out of the Spurs. Or maybe, as ESPN Insider’s Tom Haberstroh suggests, more than 10-per-game, because hell, you wouldn’t tell Wilt or Shaq not to try to dunk it every chance they got, would you?
The quick-trigger motion, the virtually unparalleled accuracy (Curry now has the second-highest 3-point percentage of all time, trailing Steve Kerr by eight-thousandths of a percentage point), the consistency from absurd depths (he shot 44.7 percent from between 25 and 29 feet away, and 48.4 percent from between 28 feet out and half-court, according to NBA.com’s shot-location data) ... it all combines to make Curry one of the league’s primary pick-your-poison players.
Defenses accustomed to loading up around the paint and not addressing threats until they near the arc are forced to stretch past their breaking points in the hope of discouraging a step-beyond-the-half-court cast-off. This gives the other four Warriors, including post-up All-Star David Lee and fellow marksman Klay Thompson, plenty of room to operate in search of their own openings, and Curry’s become a committed enough facilitator (posting top-20 assist percentages in each of the past two seasons) and a good enough ball-handler (an ankle-breaking handle, a career-low turnover rate last year) to exploit that space for either an on-the-money feed or one of his growing arsenal of in-between floaters.
And if coaches prefer not to abandon their standard principles and distort the shape of their defenses ... well, then they pay the price for committing the cardinal sin of not doing everything in their power to stop Curry coming off a high screen 30 feet out. When it’s all working, attempts to stop it feel hopeless; Curry seems magic, unfathomable, thrilling in a way that defies logic yet perfectly illustrates advancing analytic arguments for doubling down on deep shooting.
It remains to be seen how the Warriors will integrate the dual identities they showed last season -- the traditional two-big-man setup starring Lee they favored during the regular season and the small-ball lineup that replaced an injured Lee with Harrison Barnes to devastating effect. Likewise, a slew of open questions -- whether prime offseason acquisition Andre Iguodala can bolster Golden State’s perimeter defense and playmaking without short-circuiting spacing, how Barnes responds to a move to the bench, whether the likes of Jermaine O’Neal, Marreese Speights and Toney Douglas are enough to replace departed second-unit stars Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry -- figure to impact the Warriors’ attempt to dethrone the Los Angeles Clippers atop the Pacific Division and assert themselves as something more than dark-horse people’s champs in the playoff picture. But while those big-picture elements all merit attention, on a game-by-game, play-by-play, second-by-second level, there are very few things about the NBA more deserving of your attention than Curry.
Curry’s release takes just four-tenths of a second, a span of time so quick that you could miss it just by blinking. I’d suggest avoiding that particular physical practice during Warriors games as much as possible. It might be painful, but the tradeoff’s worth it.
Honorable mentions: Whether Andrew Bogut, so instrumental during Golden State’s playoff run, can stay healthy enough to make his extension look as shrewd as Curry’s now does; whether Barnes’ ongoing foot injury develops into a major cause for concern; Kent Bazemore’s rise from must-watch celebrator to legitimate on-court contributor.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
Last February, David Lee became the Warriors’ first All-Star in 16 years, ending the pursuit of a goal that had turned into something of an obsession for the franchise. In theory, that should have made him an untouchable figure in the organization. Yet, after Lee went down against the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and the team thrived playing a smaller lineup, he looks like someone who could be traded in pursuit of a championship. Through some lenses, he seems surplus to requirements.
Lee does a lot well — he’s an adept passer who regularly finds the Warriors’ many shooters for open three-pointers, he rebounds, he scores, etc. However, his defense is reviled enough among stats-minded analysts that Lee has responded to that criticism with some passion. There is a sense that, for all he does to help the Warriors, Lee might have a weakness so glaring that he has placed a cap on their potential success. For a franchise with major goals, that’s a problem.
This season, then, represents a transitional one for Lee in terms of his standing within the organization. After being marginalized in the playoffs, he has a chance to reassert his impact on the Warriors’ identity. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards