The Golden State Warriors: A 5-man wrecking crew
Theoretically, a basketball offense would be the perfect symphony between five equally-talented players on court, each designated to do their primary jobs to perfection, and then help out with additional jobs to solidify the symphony further. The point guard should create. The shooting guard should shoot. The small forward should be the glue between the perimeter and the post. The power forward should dominate the key. The Center should work even further in, securing offensive boards and mastering the game with his back to the basket.
But in practice, rarely does the sum of the results fit together so perfectly. There are always missing links, there are incomplete pieces, there are those who can do three jobs and there are those who can barely hold on to one.
Consider the 2013-14 Golden State Warriors the closest we could get to that perfect offensive symphony.
Ever since Andre Iguodala returned from his early season injury, the Warriors starting unit has been on fire. The five-man unit of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut has been the NBA’s best starting five in terms of point production. All five men know their responsibilities, and all of them are in the NBA’s hierarchy in their respective positions. As a result, the Warriors – who were briefly dangling outside of the crowded Western Conference playoff places – now find themselves holding on to a sturdy 29-19 record at 7th place in the West.
The season started with high expectations for the Warriors, who were last year’s Cinderella Story in the playoffs; they had quickly become the neutral’s favourite side, playing an exciting brand of basketball led by the explosive outside scoring tendencies of Curry and the always-reliable post dominance by Lee. They upset the third placed Nuggets in the First Round and even shook the eventual Finalists San Antonio with a couple of wins. The off-season addition of do-it-all, defensive-minded swingman Iguodala promised to propel them even higher and strengthen their inconsistent defense.
But a slow start, coupled with an early injury to Iggy, raised some red flags and warning signs about this team. Despite the usual brilliance of Curry and Lee, this team just wasn’t coming together like many expected it to. Luckily, Iguodala returned by mid-December, and soon the wins returned too. The Warriors soon went on a seven-game road trip where they won the first six games, nearly making history in the process. The excitement and success were back, and every opponent – home and away – was struck with fear.
Now, the starting five are all back, healthy, and contributing, as the Warriors showcase solve that five-man jigsaw puzzle nearly every night. Curry, who made the All Star team for the first time in his career and was voted in as a starter, is one of only six players in the league scoring 24 or more points per game this season. But what makes this season extra special is that, along with a career high 24 points per game, Curry is also averaging a career high 9.1 assists – which is second in the NBA only behind point god Chris Paul. He’s also averaging a career-high in steals (top five in the league). It’s safe to say that he is this team’s motor, creating more for the offense with his points and assists combination than any other player in the league.
Then there’s his backcourt mate and one-half of the ‘Splash Brothers’, Klay Thompson. Thompson has been in a slump – relatively – over the past few games, but has enjoyed a breakout season nonetheless. Now in his third season, he is averaging a career-high 18.8 points per game and is also passing and rebounding the ball at career-best numbers. Even as a younger player, he was known as a solid defender for his position, but Thompson’s ability to get hot from the three-point line has made Golden State one of the league’s most dangerous perimeter threats – the Warriors are top three in the NBA in three-pointers made and three-point shooting percentage.
But shooting and scoring are only valuable when you can stop your opponents from doing the same on the other end, and this was one area where the Warriors seemed to struggle a little in recent seasons. Last season, they ranked 19th on the defensive end. This season, more consistent play from the healthy big man Andrew Bogut has solidified Golden State in defending the post, and they reached out to sign Andre Iguodala to become their primary defensive weapon on the perimeter, a player with the skill-set to guard the league’s toughest scorers, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.