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A New Regime Has Golden State Looking Like A Dangerous Sleeper

The Warriors, off a nifty backdoor cut basket that would have made Pete Carril proud, beat the defending champion Miami Heat last night, 97-95. It was their fifth-straight win on the road after a disappointing loss to Orlando at home on December 3. They’ll be looking to avenge that loss tomorrow night, and it’s worth looking at how they’ve achieved the fifth-best record in the West while missing two valuable cogs in their rotation to start the season: Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush.

How have they been able to run the table during their trip east, and what are the chances they go 7-0 after visiting Orlando tomorrow night and Atlanta the day after? It’s also worth exploring how they’re able to keep winning with their Bogut still recovering from ankle surgery last April (something the team took some grief about since they didn’t original disclose how serious the surgery had been). Bogut only appeared in four games before sitting in street clothes, something the fans in Milwaukee are pretty familiar with. The Warriors also lost a highly capable guard to stretch defenses when Rush went down with a season-ending torn ACL in just their second game.

Yet the Warriors have remained above the fray of other teams hit hard by injury (no excuses Lakers fans). Despite losing Rush and Bogut, players that add immeasurable value to the team’s offense and defense, respectively, they’ve still managed to score near the top third of the league. They’re currently averaging 103 points per 100 possession, which is 11th in the league, while giving up 100.9. That last figure places them near the middle of the pack, but with Bogut sidelined, that’s still a commendable 12th in the league.

They’ve improved their perimeter defense, too, with Stephen Curry finally healthy. It’s not as crazy as you’d think for Mark Jackson to proclaim him the best perimeter defender in the league. While that’s primarily hyperbole on Jackson’s part (no stranger to embellishments from his old commentating gig) to boost up Curry’s ego a bit, he’s been pretty good at forcing opposing guards the wrong way on high screen-n-rolls. He did it again last night against Mario Chalmers.

As a team, they’ve designed a defensive philosophy on pick-n-rolls, and stuck with it, even when the results vary. They’ve allowed over 100 points 13 times in 22 games this season, but in two of those instances the game went to overtime, and one of those overtimes games – against Denver at home – was a double-overtime loss, their second in a row after starting the year 3-3. After falling to 3-4 after that tough Denver game, they’ve gone 12-3 and haven’t lost another set of games back-to-back.

Offensively, Stephen Curry finally getting healthy (knock on wood) and staying healthy has been a big plus, as it’s allowed them to run their team a lot more efficiently without many changes in initiating the offense. Jarrett Jack has also been nice as a second or third guard and a backup for Curry, and he’s actually involved in more Curry buckets than anyone else on the team, so it’s obvious they like playing together in the backcourt.

After starting the year shooting horribly, Curry has been shooting over 48 percent on three-pointers in his last five games, and 52 percent in his last 10. He’s also been better than 46 percent as a whole from the floor during their road trip, even though he’s at 43 percent on the year (per NBA.com). He still must finish better at the rim (he’s making less than half of them there, per Hoopdata), and he missed an easy one last night after rushing a shot as Joel Anthony rotated over. But that should all come as the season progresses. You can’t fault Curry for maybe being a bit shy about contact, (even though he hasn’t been – at least noticeably) although he is shooting less at the rim than he did two years ago, per Hoopdata.

Another bright surprise on offense has been second-year sharpshooter, Klay Thompson, who was incredible while scoring 21 points in the first half last night. During their current road trip, he’s knocked down five triples on three different occasions. Last night he had five three-pointers in the first half alone. While he’s only shooting a little over 41 percent from the field on the season, he’s at 36 percent from deep, and we saw a nice couple dribble drives last night where he finished; his percentages in the midrange game will come as he focuses on more efficient shots either behind the arc or at the rim.

The seemingly young, but almost 30-year-old Carl Landry has also brought more than 12 points a night from their beaten down interior personnel. Bogut would be really nice on the defensive end protecting the rim (they’re currently 29th in the league for blocks), but Landry has the highest plus/minus on the active roster (per 82games.com), and he’s shooting back at the percentages (55 percent) that used to make John Hollinger salivate when he was in Sacramento and Houston earlier in his career.

Obviously David Lee is his brilliant self from the block on the offensive end, averaging over 19 points a game and shooting over 50 percent from the field, but he’s been better on the defensive end, too. Seriously. Per 82games.com, the Warriors are giving up more than a point less per 100 possessions when he’s on the court (106.6 off, and 105.2 on). Even though 105.2 would still be a bottom 10 defense on the whole, it’s still nice to see his presence cutting down an opposing team’s production. He’s also rebounding better than he’s ever done since coming to the West (10.9 per 36 minutes after being below 10 the last two seasons, per Basketball-reference), although, like most of his career the team still rebounds at a slightly higher clip with him on the bench.

The Warriors are still pretty thin in their frontcourt without Bogut, but if Lee can continue to provide at least average defense, and continue his usual stuff on the offensive end, they should be okay down low until Bogut gets back. The defense is something to watch moving forward though, since Lee is one of the worst defenders in the league, and a lot of people think a healthy Bogut is one of the best.

This current iteration of the team is really fun to watch get up and down. Rookie Harrison Barnes has had a couple highlight-level dunks already this season and they’re sixth in the league in pace. Last night’s game seemed to be lost as LeBron was doing his LeBron thing in the final minutes, but they held firm on defense (with an assist from the Heat, who kept going for a Ray Allen three-pointer when they would have been better suited posting up ‘Bron against the Warriors’ weak interior defense), and Jack’s pass to Draymond Green with less than a second left sealed it.

Get ready, the Warriors might actually be good this year.

Can they win a round or two in the playoffs?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.

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