This upcoming season will feature a number of firsts for the Warriors. It will be the first time the organization enters a season under the ownership of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. It will be the first time any players experience the rigors of a lockout-shortened season. And it will be the first time Mark Jackson ever steps onto an NBA floor as a head coach. The team improved by 10 wins last season, and could make the playoffs with that kind of improvement this year. Here are five things they’ll need to do in order to get there:
1. Change the culture
Prior to the Warriors’ first day of training camp, Mark Jackson took the liberty of replacing all the pictures in the team’s weight room (of players shooting and dunking) with photos of guys doing something a bit different: playing defense. It might be a small act, but it highlights a big change Jackson expects to see. Because of the lockout, the coach has had very little time to gel with his new team, which might scare some because of his lack of coaching experience, but the 17-year NBA veteran has more experience as a player than any other coach in NBA history.
2. Play team defense
Only two teams gave up more points per game than Golden State last season, and neither of them made the playoffs. Knowing that a commitment to defense may be the difference between the Warriors making the postseason and sitting on the sidelines for the fifth straight year, Jackson has a simple message for his team: Play defense or sit on the bench. “With Mark Jackson coming in and demanding defense, I can understand that he means what he says and says what he means,” Monta Ellis said. “And you’re either gonna play defense or you’re not gonna play for us.”
3. Biedrins back in form
The Warriors tried hard to find a starting center this offseason, shooting for big-name free agents such as Tyson Chandler and Nene, and even getting an offer sheet signed by DeAndre Jordan. In the end, though, Andris Biedrins remains the starter. The team did pick up the infamously underachieving Kwame Brown, but it’s on Biedrins to show that he still has the confidence to rebound, score and defend like he did before stumbling into a pair of injury-riddled seasons the past couple years. There have been positive changes made since Biedrins was last seen in a uniform. He recently became a father, added 15 pounds of bulk and most importantly, he’s finally healthy.
“I’m in really great shape right now, and I’m ready to prove that I can be the old Andris that everybody knows,” he said.
4. Strong play from the bench
On paper, the Warriors may not appear to have a deep bench. After all, the likely backups for Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis (Charles Jenkins, Klay Thompson) are both rookies, and their biggest offseason acquisition was the aforementioned Brown. Don’t sleep on this bench, though. Brown adds much-needed size and interior defense, while both rookies were prolific scorers in college. Other key components on the bench include Brandon Rush, who the Warriors just acquired from the Indiana Pacers, and Ekpe Udoh, who is looking to improve on a solid rookie season. If the defensive-minded Udoh can become a consistent rebounder and add a bit of offensive polish, look for him to be one of the first guys off the bench.
5. Getting to the point
No one has questioned Stephen Curry’s play through his first two seasons in the league. He’s on the brink of stardom and is widely considered one of the purest shooters in the entire league. With that said, he routinely gets beat by bigger, quicker point guards and hasn’t developed the entire skill set necessary to play the position. He now has the NBA’s third all-time leader in assists in his corner, a coach who could help him find his groove running an offense the way Jim Harbaugh has done with the 49ers’ Alex Smith.
“We play it two totally different ways, but there’s some fundamental things that every point guard should know how to do and he knows how to exploit defenses the way that they’re gonna play us, so I’m willing to learn,” Curry said of his coach.
The Warriors jump right into the fray as they meet the hot team of the offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers, in their season opener today. Led by new point guard Chris Paul and the explosive Blake Griffin, the Clippers should present the Warriors a tough test. ESPN will carry the action at 7:30 p.m. in the nightcap of the league’s five-game kickoff special.
Despite attempts to land a high-profile big man, the Warriors’ roster is very similar to last season’s squad. Whether or not the team can overcome its defensive and rebounding shortcomings remains to be seen. New coach Mark Jackson has preached defense will be a priority, but that doesn’t guarantee wins. Look for an up-and-down season of 33-33.
Warriors by the numbers
Warriors’ record last season: 36-46
Points the Warriors allowed per game last season, tied for third-worst in the NBA: 105.7
Rebounds per game the Warriors allowed last season, worst in the NBA: 44.8