The Warriors were so good in 2014-15 that they out-performed our preview's best-case scenario by a not inconsiderable margin. First-year head coach Steve Kerr didn't just prove fit for the job — he and his elite staff of assistants turned a talented team into a genuinely dominant one with excellent systems that put virtually every player on the roster in a position to succeed. Stephen Curry followed up his first All-Star season by winning MVP, Klay Thompson made the leap to stardom, Draymond Green stood at the vanguard of a new era of positional versatility and came in second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Harrison Barnes rediscovered the form that made him such a promising rookie, Andre Iguodala came off the bench for the first time in his career and only ended up winning NBA Finals MVP, and reserves like Shaun Livingston helped ensure that Golden State barely missed a beat with key players on the bench. Every player understood his role, to the point where the since-departed David Lee took several DNP-CDs without complaint.
The stats speak for themselves. The Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games, led the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, came in second in points scored per 100 possessions, became the eighth team in NBA history with an average point differential of 10 points or more, and were not taken to seven games in any playoff series.
Beyond the numbers, the Warriors were the team of the season because they seemed to have an answer for any challenge thrown their way. A hyper-versatile roster allowed Kerr, his assistants, and his players to adjust to opponents without sacrificing quality, especially in the postseason. Both the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers forced Golden State into 2-1 deficits and gained homecourt advantage, but the Warriors solved each series in Game 4 and were never really pushed again. While both teams were limited by injuries, they also had no answers for a favorite with so many strengths.
Despite all this success, there are legitimate concerns that the Warriors cannot match last season's performance. Unlike most champions, they held a sub-elite profile prior to their excellent campaign and encountered relatively little adversity along the way. It's hard to blame a team that beats every playoff opponent in its path, but the Warriors were fortunate to avoid their two toughest matchups in the West (the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, though really just the former) and to get a Cavs lineup with no Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving for just one game. The doubts exist and will have to be answered by another terrific season.
Regardless, the Warriors enter 2015-16 as title favorites if for no other reason than that they return every key player from one of the best statistical seasons in NBA history. It's up to everyone else to prove they can't repeat.
2014-15 season in 140 characters or less:
Did the summer help at all?
Not really, although it also didn't hurt much. The Warriors' biggest departure was finalized before the end of the postseason, when associate head coach Alvin Gentry accepted an offer to coach Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, who were swept by Golden State in the first round. Gentry played a key role in formulating the offensive systems that worked so well in 2014-15 and will be missed for his experience, tactical acumen, and everything else that made earned the Pelicans positive reviews this offseason. The Warriors chose to fill his position with a series of promotions — Luke Walton will take on lead assistant duties (and serve as interim head coach during Kerr's leave of absence for recurring back problems) and ex-player development coach Jarron Collins has been promoted to assistant.
The player personnel changes were comparatively minor. As expected, general manager Bob Myers dealt Lee and his sizable contract to the Boston Celtics, bringing back vet Gerald Wallace. Myers then moved Wallace to the Philadelphia 76ers for ex-Sacramento Kings big man Jason Thompson, who we'll talk about in more depth in a bit. First-round pick Kevon Looney represented good value at No. 30 but will not play much this season — he has already undergone surgery to repair a previously known torn hip muscle and won't be available for several months.
The big news of the summer was very predictable — forward Draymond Green returned on a five-year, $82-million deal that solidified his place as a fixture with the franchise. Leandro Barbosa is also back to go on random scoring streaks and confound the many pundits who do not understand why Kerr gives a friendly ghost so many minutes.
Go-to offseason acquisition:
Jason Thompson wins this position by default despite projecting as the fourth or fifth big man in the rotation. The Kings' all-time leader in games played (it's true, look it up!) should be a decent fit for the fast-paced Warriors and defends well enough to play extra minutes on nights when Andrew Bogut needs a rest. Plus, as noted by Tom Ziller, he defends new Spur LaMarcus Aldridge pretty well.
It's also kind of cool that Steve Nash was recently hired as a part-time player development coach. Apparently he and Stephen Curry are going to watch video together.
Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, winners of this season's Boringest "Go-to offseason acquisition" Section Award.
It is hard to identify an on-court weakness in this team, which is part of what made them so formidable last season. However, it's fair to assume that the Warriors' 2015-16 will not be quite as charmed as their 2014-15, when they withstood no serious injuries, avoided their toughest matchups in the postseason, and faced several teams beset by key injuries on their way to the title. Something is likely to go wrong this season, whether it be something as glaring as an injury to someone as important as Curry or Green or a moment as random as an unlucky bounce in a pivotal playoff game. Golden State faced no such test last season and must prove that they are capable of responding well to such bad fortune. This weakness is arguably more of an unknown than a true problem, but it still threatens their ability to repeat.
Contributor with something to prove:
Draymond Green shouldn't really have much to prove after a season in which he became widely acknowledged as one of the league's best defenders, proved essential to a title run, and effectively played center against players with several inches on him as the Warriors' small lineups decimated several postseason foes. Yet the boisterous forward thrives on feeling unloved by the greater basketball world and has already claimed that the team has been disrespected prior to this season. It's not clear that sensible analysts truly believes that the Warriors are not a contender and did not have a terrific season in 2014-15, but the important thing here is that Green believes as much. As long as he thinks that he has something to prove, opponents may be in trouble.
Potential breakout stud:
It's a bit peculiar that Harrison Barnes became a reclamation project last season, but such were the lows of his second NBA season under Mark Jackson. After playing very well in the postseason as a rookie, Barnes shot just 39.9 percent and logged a 9.8 PER in a very disappointing season. The Warriors were so good in 2014-15 in part because he got much better — 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc, very good defense, and the promise of a brighter future. Barnes also played extremely well in the Memphis series, when he often guarded the much bigger Zach Randolph and acquitted himself well on the low block.
The 23-year-old Barnes has reportedly turned down a four-year, $64-million extension that would keep him off next summer's restricted free agent market. While both sides look compelled to get a deal done before the looming October 31 deadline, Barnes could play this season without a deal and work his way into a max-level offer from one of the 47 NBA franchises flush with cap space this offseason. The odds of Barnes becoming a legitimate star may be low — he often appears to think through decisions in real time instead of just acting intuitively — but he certainly has the talent to get there.
Last season proves to be the norm and not a fluke, no one misses more than 20 games due to injury, Curry wins another MVP, Thompson makes another All-Star team, Green makes his first, Kerr doesn't miss any competitive games because of his back, Bogut never gets caught for instigating a fight, Barnes and Festus Ezeli sign extensions before the deadline and play above that value, the other West contenders struggle to fit their new pieces together, and the Warriors repeat as champions.
If everything falls apart:
Curry and several others miss time due to injury, Kerr's back issues affect his ability to do his job, Green doesn't back up his talk this time around, Iguodala and the bench take a step down in quality, Riley Curry never appears on television again, Barnes and Ezeli sign extensions before the deadline and regress, the other West contenders prove as excellent as advertised, and the Warriors exit in the first round without homecourt advantage.
Kelly Dwyer's notoriously unreliable crystal ball:
62-20, first in the West.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2015-16 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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