Next up, the ascending Golden State Warriors.
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After last season, there’s a lot you probably know about the Warriors. First, they have Stephen Curry, which â€” in short â€” means they have a budding franchise superstar. For all of his success from three-point range last season, the 25-year-old has established himself as one of the top tier scorers in the league. He’s also a willing distributer with supreme ball-handling skills and court vision, averaging over 7 assists in 2012-13 while decreasing his turnovers. Most importantly, Curry was healthy for an entire season for the first time since he appeared in 80 games his rookie year.
Because of Curry’s rise, the transition from basement dwellers to lovable underdogs was an easy one for Golden State. But he didn’t do it alone. His fellow guard Klay Thompson complemented Curry perfectly, adding 16 PPG while shooting over 40 percent from deep. Combined, they’re one of the most productive backcourts in the league. The development of Harrison Barnes has given the team another scoring option, and with veteran power forward David Lee earning his second All-Star nod, Golden State might need two basketballs on the court to share the scoring wealth in 2013.
With the addition of another All-Star veteran, Andre Iguodala, the Warriors have a legitimate chance to make a deep run in the playoffs this season. They now have enough depth â€” though fingers crossed Andrew Bogut stays healthy â€” to challenge the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers as the head honchos in the Western Conference. With Iggy now on board, they’ll probably retain their title as most entertaining NBA team, but if they want that coveted Larry O’Brien trophy, they’ll need to make notable improvements on both sides of the floor.
Here are the top five things to watch for from Golden State during the 2013-14 season.
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You’ll know Kent Bazemore more for his play than his celebrations
Amid all the fun last season, do you recall the boisterous baby-faced reserve on the Warriors bench providing the sidesplitting celebrations after each play? That was Kent Bazemore â€“ and he’s truly a gem.
With every converted three-pointer, dazzling pass and show-stopping dunk, Bazemore would jump off the pine and his animated antics alone were bright enough to light up the Oracle. For a player who rarely got playing time, Bazemore never sulked or lost his passion, which eventually caught the eyes of fans everywhere. He quickly became a YouTube sensation for his signature move ‘Bazemoring’, as well as a fixture in highlight reels everywhere without stepping foot on the floor. And if things weren’t ridiculous enough, NBA 2K14 developers wanted Bazemore to provide the sideline celebrations for the critically-acclaimed basketball game.
Nevertheless, Bazemore has done his part on the court this offseason to show that he’s more than a walking party. While in the Las Vegas Summer League this July, he was arguably the most entertaining and productive player on the circuit, averaging 18.4 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game during Golden State’s 7-0 run. As a guard with a bigger and larger stature â€“ Bazemore is 6-4 with a 6-11 wingspan â€“ he was able to get off any shot he wanted with minimal discomfort.
After all his efforts over the summer, the question isn’t Bazemore’s talent so much as it’s the Warriors minutes. We’ll see if he can steal some run from more his more heralded, though less enthusiastic, teammates.
Andre Iguodala’s immediate influence
Aside from the blockbuster Brooklyn-Boston deal, the biggest acquisition for any squad this offseason was All-Star Andre Iguodala, which immediately made the Warriors more formidable on defense. The 9-year veteran is one of the premier wing-defenders in the league, someone who plays the passing lanes as intelligently as we’ve seen in recent memory thanks to his enormous wingspan. His versatility allows him to lockdown a point guard, and then switch onto a small forward.
On the offensive end, he becomes a trustworthy secondary ball-handler who can take the load off of Curry, allowing the sharpshooter to find his sweet spots on the floor. Most of Golden State’s identity last season revolved around Curry and Thompson playing off the ball anyway with the front-court setting heavy elevator screens both alongside the baseline and top of the key for the guards to get free. Iggy steps into the role of Jarrett Jack, who provided both scoring and leadership on offense last season. Jack assisted on 98 of Curry’s field goals in 2013, the most of any player on the team, and while he averaged 5.6 dimes, it was only a fraction more than Iguodala.
This should prove beneficial not only in the half-court set but in the fast break. With Iguodala at the helm in transition, they’re virtually unguardable with Curry and Thompson running to the arc and Iggy picking the opponents poison. Iggy is no slouch himself attacking the basket, so defenders will have to stay honest and if they do, he’ll find the open teammate, which is a good sign for Warriors’ fans â€“ Golden State converted over 41 percent of their transition threes last year.
For all of the acclaim he gets for his defense, Iguodala is a complete player for what’s able to do on the offense. Curry might be the budding star in the making, but Iguodala is the singular difference between a dark horse playoff team and a legitimate title contender.