There has emerged a new contender in the Western Conference, and that is the Golden State Warriors. Under the supervision of Steve Kerr, the Warriors are off to great start to the new year with a record of 8-2.
The California basketball crown is up for grabs and with an early season embarrassment of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors are looking to make a name for themselves and prove they are the team to beat in the race for the Pacific crown.
Early losses to the Suns and the team that never seems to miss a beat even when on the back end of a back-to-back, the Spurs, have shown that the Warriors still have some work to do to solidify the position as a top team in their conference. Coming off a tough and, as Kerr would put it, “a loss that you learn from and move on,” will be served as a benchmark for the club during the beginning stretch of the season.
The Spurs took advantage of a weak performance by the Warriors bench and being out-rebounded by another great performance by the fundamental Spurs on the offensive glass 8-1, the Warriors took care of a business on Thursday, beating an aging Nets team that was on the back end of a back-to-back. Draymond Green delivered another great performance against future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. Green admitted after the game that this was very important matchup for the young second-year player.
"He's been in the league 20 years. I'm 24. So put that into perspective," Green said. "I've been watching him my entire life. To sit here and say, 'Aw, that doesn't matter,' I'd be lying. I'd be pretty crazy to stay that.” Green wanted to come out and show that he is the face of a new era of power forwards in the league and did indeed show that he is one of the best. He contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, and a career-high seven assists, while also playing typical Green defense by totaling a steal, two blocks, and corralling all eight of his rebounds on the defensive side of the ball. Another great showing by Green has really put pressure on the coaching staff to continue to start the stretch power forward even when David Lee comes back from injury.
Green brings a higher defensive ability to solidify the defensive tenacity of the starting lineup with the duo of Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson and also a vastly improved Stephen Curry. Green makes opposing offenses have to adjust game plans to not only worry about the monster interior force that is Bogut, but also Green, who is showing that he has the skill set to compete with superstar power forwards in the league, such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The big challenge that faces them in the immediate future is how to handle their team rotations and reduce the amount of turnovers. Turnovers don’t always prevent you from winning but against elite teams, you will not win when you turnover at a high rate, which was evident in Tuesday's loss to the Spurs where the Warriors totaled 19 turnovers.
Coach Kerr must find a way to incorporate the similar skill sets of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston when they are on the floor together. Both players are natural slashers and play the role of the ball handling playmaker. Neither Iguodala nor Livingston can stretch the defense out to open up the lane for the others. Ideally, Brandon Rush or Leonardo Barbosa would be the one to keep the defense at the perimeter, but Rush is still recovering from offseason injury and has not been able to show off his three-point range that he showed off during his last stint with the team, and Barbosa does not have the range at the end of his career to be a consistent threat from the outside.
David Lee should come off the bench and be the facilitator from the top of the circle as Bogut is for the starting unit. Lee could play the role of a passer, while the other players screen and roll off each other, opening them up for easy looks at the basket.
The Warriors, with the deepest roster yet, look poised to make a run for the Western Conference crown. In the words of Thursday's hype-man, Hulk Hogan, “What you gonna do NBA, when the Warriors run wild on you!”