Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s Team USA Experience Will Pay off for Warriors

Of all the NBA teams that could use one more mini-leap from their two best players to launch themselves squarely into the championship conversation, the Golden State Warriors—with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—fit the bill best.

Luckily for them, the two will have three full weeks of FIBA Basketball World Cup experience at their backs heading into training camp.

Entering the tournament ranked No. 1 in the world, Team USA will look to capture its fourth consecutive gold medal in international competition. 

Despite a loaded backcourt, Curry and Thompson both stand to figure heavily into the rotationparticularly after head coach Mike Krzyzewski eschewed the likes of John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyle Korver in lieu of more frontcourt depth.

Judging by Krzyzewski’s recent rotational strategy, it seems likely Curry will get the starting nod in a three-guard backcourt along with James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Thompson, meanwhile, has regularly been one of the first players off the Team USA bench—he presents a combination of perimeter defense and shooting tailor-made for the FIBA game.

Based on some recent examples of international competition helping to propel players to career years, that’s good news indeed for Warriors fans.

Take Carmelo Anthony. Following a stellar showing at the 2012 London Olympics, the perennial All-Star registered then-career highs in player efficiency (24.8) and three-point shooting (37.9 percent).

Ditto for LeBron James, whose PER (31.6), true shooting percentage (64.0 percent) and three-point shooting (40.6 percent) all finished near or above career highs.

Four years earlier, it was Chris Paul who registered yet-to-be-topped marks in PER (30.0), true shooting percentage (59.9 percent) and assist rate (54.5 percent).

Or how about Tim Duncan? After a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Athens Games, he went on to average 23.6 points and 12.2 rebounds over 23 playoff games en route to capturing the San Antonio Spurs’ third NBA title the following summer.

Even Derrick Rose, whose return has commanded the lion’s share of attention in the days and weeks leading up to Team USA’s gold-medal gambit, authored an MVP season in 2010 following his first FIBA run—the same year that Lamar Odom, Rose’s teammate that summer, captured the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Such increased production isn’t necessarily true across the board, of course.

Still, there’s enough evidence to suggest at least a connection between players suiting up for international competition and better preparedness and production during the subsequent NBA season.

That Curry and Thompson stand to parlay plenty of time in tandem over the next three weeks into the regular season should only heighten the excitement of Warriors fans.

In an interview with LetsGoWarriors‘ Ryan Brown, Curry underscored the almost osmotic quality of practicing with players who, just a few weeks from now, will go back to being bitter rivals:

Really it’s nothing specific, when you are around great talent great minds you are going to get better just by surrounding yourself with those kinds of people. There are so many great minds and basketball IQ’s that you are going to become a better player and a better presence by being here…Everyone is going to get better in some shape or form and they can tell you better once we get back what it exactly was.

Thompson, too, has been quick to tout the tremendous wealth of knowledge offered by Team USA.

“I tried to pick up a lot of stuff from Kyle [Korver], who I shot with a lot recently when he was on Team USA,” Thompson told Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. “He’s great at moving without the ball.”

Facing a season in which the Warriors will be marshaled by first-year head coach Steve Kerr, Curry and Thompson’s Team USA experience—which will doubtless include plenty of time manning the backcourt in tandem—is all the more important from a chemistry standpoint.

A noted disciple of the legendary Phil Jackson, Kerr has been hard at work installing what he referred to, in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami, as a kind of hybrid triangle—an offense predicated on precise spacing and constant ball movement.

As Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes detailed in a recent column, that’s great news for Golden State’s shooters:

The beauty of Kerr’s proposed system is that it draws as much from the Triangle as it does the San Antonio Spurs’ “motion weak” offense—which features nonstop movement, attacks and counters—all designed to get defenders on their heels in space. That means a play stymied on the strong side won’t kill a Warriors possession this year. Instead, the ball will swing back to the weak side, where actions start afresh.

The ball won’t stick, isolations will disappear and aimless dribbling will be vastly reduced.

Even if Krzyzewski’s system isn’t exactly steeped in triangle principles, added reps for Thompson and Curry—to say nothing of their forthcoming acquaintance with a wide variety of international systems and styles—are almost certain to pay immediate and lasting dividends for Kerr and the Warriors.

ESPN.com indicates Golden State was one of just five teams to chart top-12 finishes in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season.

With elite defenders in Thompson, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala in the fray, the Warriors should, in theory, remain top-tier talents in that department.

Taking the next step on offense, however, could mean the difference between yet another second-round exit and a legitimate shot at Western Conference supremacy.

In the wake of Paul George’s gruesome injury, there’s been no shortage of criticism suggesting the NBA take a good, hard look at what is, financially speaking, a one-sided relationship with the FIBA powers that be. Some of it is fair and warranted.

At the same time, Team USA competition has, for many, served as an indispensible piece to their development as players—not only on the international stage, but in the NBA as well.

Vying for international glory won’t guarantee Curry and Thompson an NBA championship. But if history is any harbinger, Warriors fans can look forward to FIBA gold paying off handsomely in the campaign to come.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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Is Rebuilt Golden State Warriors Bench Enough for Next Step?

The Golden State Warriors may have missed out on the home run acquisition of Kevin Love, but minor tweaks and additions to a bench unit that struggled last year might be enough to put them in serious title contention this season.

While it’s always hard to predict what you’re going to get from a new coach, particularly one without any experience on that front, Golden State’s roster for 2014-15 does look a little deeper and more dependable than what was trotted out last season.

Part of that will have to do with health. Andrew Bogut missed time up front, and his backup Festus Ezeli missed the entire season. Starters David Lee and Andre Iguodala were also banged up for much of the year.

Simply by reverting fill-in starters back to the bench in a regular capacity, Golden State should have an improved second unit.

It’s important to note just how badly Golden State’s depth was exposed last season.

Here’s Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk with more:

Last season when the Warriors’ starting five were on the court — Stephen CurryKlay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut — they outscored their opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions (or if you prefer 15 points per 48 minutes).

That is impressive. It also means their bench wasn’t nearly as impressive (as a team the Warriors were +4.8 per 48). …

The fact is [Steve] Kerr needs to get more out of this bench. If he can do that, and bring more complexity and motion to the offense, he’s going to look like a smart rookie coach.

By pushing versatile defensive forward Draymond Green back to the bench full-time with Harrison Barnes, the Warriors should have a pretty strong pairing at forward.

Here’s Matt Packer at BlueManHoop:

Draymond Green will continue to contribute as a super-sub at small forward and power forward. While his defense is what got him drafted, his offensive game continues to blossom as he develops range on his jump shot. He’s also an especially adept passer which makes everyone on the second unit more effective.

A big question mark is what direction Harrison Barnes’ game goes. While he may have been over-hyped coming off his explosion vs. the Nuggets and Spurs in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, he underwhelmed by any imaginable metric last year. If Barnes can regain his confidence and attack the rim again, he should rightfully become the focal point of the second unit. Ideally, he’ll also be able to spell Iguodala allowing him to play reasonable minutes and stay healthy.

Add in Shaun Livingston to backup Stephen Curry, and Golden State should be a nightmare for opposing benches to score on. Livingston’s length and intelligence made him one of the better defenders in the league last season, as he covered small point guards and stars like LeBron James all the same.

While stopping opponents shouldn’t be much of an issue for Golden State’s bench, scoring certainly could be. That was the primary problem last year, as creating good offensive opportunities in a stagnant offense was rare.

The hiring of Kerr could help on that front, as Golden State probably won’t be nearly as isolation-heavy as they were under Mark Jackson. Harrison Barnes has a lot of offensive talent, but he needs to be put in good situations.

Even if some progression should be expected from Barnes, he alone shouldn’t be expected to carry the full scoring load.

With that in mind, and with Livingston dealing with toe surgery this offseason, the Warriors bolstered their backcourt by signing Leandro Barbosa. 

Here’s Marc Stein at ESPN.com with the details:

Brazil guard Leandro Barbosa has reached an agreement to sign with the Golden State Warriors for the upcoming season, ESPN.com has learned.

After Barbosa received initial interest from the Miami Heat, Golden State has secured a commitment from the 31-year-old on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, according to NBA front-office sources.

Barbosa played 20 games last season with the Phoenix Suns, with whom he broke into the NBA in 2003-04. He’s also had stints in Indiana, Toronto and Boston.

The Warriors have been looking for guard depth and happily struck a deal with Barbosa before this weekend’s start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

If the Warriors want to play up-tempo basketball, particularly in the second unit, adding Barbosa makes a ton of sense. He can still fly up and down the court, and if his three-point shooting returns to the mean, he could be a great fit next to Livingston in the backcourt. Livingston can always take on the tougher defensive assignment and take care of running the offense, while Barbosa can pick his spots as a scorer.

Overall, this has the look of a pretty strong bench. Green is the best asset of the bunch, as he can play multiple positions and defend at an elite level. Livingston is great insurance for Curry and can slide in with the starters at either backcourt spot whenever necessary. Getting more offensively from Barnes will probably be necessary for this bench to among the league’s elite, though. 

It’s possible that if the results aren’t there right off the bat, both for the starters and the bench, that Kerr will shake things up and play with different combinations. That’s probably a good idea anyway, as the regular season should be a time for experimentation and finding the right groups. Golden State should be a playoff team no matter what, so you can sacrifice a few wins for the greater good. 

Here’s what Kerr said about the starting lineup this offseason, via Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:

“Andre [Iguodala] started last year, which he probably will [again], but there’s a lot of options that we have because we’ve got really good players in Harrison [Barnes] and Draymond [Green],” Kerr said, adding that he would likely use the same lineup as last season. “But most of it usually comes down to how the combination fits. … How do the pieces of the puzzle fit?”

Kerr is wise to take an open approach, but the rebuilt Warriors bench should provide enough production this season to supplement one of the league’s very best starting lineups. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Warriors take the next step this year and go deep into the postseason.

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Leandro Barbosa to Warriors: Latest Contract Details, Analysis and Reaction

At 31, Leandro Barbosa may not be the player he once was, but the Golden State Warriors saw a value in bringing him off the bench and adding depth to the squad this season.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the details and added another team that was in pursuit of the 2-guard:

Brazil guard Leandro Barbosa has reached an agreement to sign with the Golden State Warriors for the upcoming season, ESPN.com has learned.

With the Miami Heat also in pursuit, Golden State has secured a commitment from Barbosa on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, according to NBA front-office sources.

Asked about his free agency status recently, Barbosa had a simple response via Stein: ”Man, I’m just really focused on this World Cup.”

After being a major contributor for the Phoenix Suns from 2003 to 2010, during which he was named the 2006-07 Sixth Man of the Year and averaged double-digit points per game in four different seasons, Barbosa has bounced around the league.

Since 2010, he has played for the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and even Esporte Clube Pinheiros of Brazil in 2013 before returning to the Suns in January last year.

The Brazilian Blur averaged 15.9 points and 3.1 assists in eight games while with EsporteWhile he only appeared in 20 games for the Suns, he averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.4 minutes per game. 

Still, many folks have fine memories of his early days with Phoenix, including Mike Wise of The Washington Post:

While Barbosa is past his prime at this stage in his career, he still can provide an injection of scoring off the bench in limited minutes. Additionally, he offers the Warriors another guard comfortable handling the rock in the backcourt, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

Barbosa is an experienced player who has generally been popular with his teammates, coaches and fans alike in the past. In 2012, longtime Sports Illustrated journalist Jack McCallum talked to Justin Barrasso of WEEI.com about how beloved Barbosa was in his Suns days:

There was nobody who didn’t like LB. LB was loved. He had a kind of innocence about him, and a real work ethic with the way he approached everything. He looked at himself as kind of an open book whereas a lot of guys who come into the NBA—guys without LB’s ability or talent—think they know everything, but LB was never like that.

So no, his signing isn’t one of the sexier news pieces in the NBA’s free-agency period. Still, Barbosa could end up being an important contributor, and perhaps quite the popular teammate, too.

A career 39 percent three-point shooter and 46 percent shooter from the field, Barbosa has always had the stroke to be a reliable scorer. His efficiency will provide a boost offensively whenever he’s on the court.

 

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Predicting the Biggest Changes We’ll See from the Warriors Next Season

The Golden State Warriors entered the offseason looking to make a big splash, and while they didn’t necessarily make the biggest one, they made enough waves to stay in contention in the brutal Western Conference.

Change is on the horizon, however, and as the last two seasons have proved, changes are necessary. Fans will no longer be content with 50-win seasons and merely making the playoffs after such a long stretch of drudgery.

A new bar has been set, and it will be up to new head coach Steve Kerr to help them get there.

The Warriors have championship aspirations, and with the roster currently assembled, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they achieve their ultimate goal.

A new approach must be taken, though—an approach that goes away from much of what has gotten them to where they currently are. Stars like Andre Iguodala must be allowed the freedom to live up to their names. The ball must flow freely, even if it means taking the ball out of Stephen Curry’s hands every once in a while.

Most importantly, however, they must get the most out of the entire offense, spreading the playing time among the role players and granting the starters the rest they so desperately need during the games.

These were not points of concern under the tutelage of Mark Jackson and, not surprisingly, the Warriors faltered down the stretch. Under Kerr, the full potential will be unleashed.

 

Andre Iguodala will play a bigger role in the offense

Iguodala was one of the most polarizing players in the league last season, as his peripheral numbers didn’t set the world on fire. In fact, at 9.3 points per game, 4.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds, you would have to go back to his rookie year to find a season so statistically weak.

Despite all that, what became clear as the season progressed was that regardless of whether or not Iguodala was filling up the box score, the Warriors were better with him on the court. In fact, he made them 6.63 points better, according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat. Only LeBron James and Chris Paul added more value to their teams.

What, then, can we expect from Iguodala going into next season? Well, if Kerr is to be believed, even more.

Kerr realizes what he has in Iguodala, and it is so much more than just the spot-up shooter he became under Mark Jackson. Iguodala is a devastating player moving without the ball, and he has the ability to finish at the rim in traffic. He has always been an excellent cutter and with the exceptional passing in the starting lineup, he will be found.

A player as talented as Iguodala cannot be wasted like he was last season. Getting the most out of your players is a key component to coaching, and this is an area where Kerr will shine.

 

Move away from isolation

Ask most random fans on the street about the elite offenses in the NBA, and the Warriors probably pop up more often than not. For so long they were all offense and no defense. Last year, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Warriors were a defensive juggernaut, ranking in the top 10 in numerous stats including field goal percentage, points and rebounding. The offense, on the other hand, just barely squeezed into the top 10. For a team boasting the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, that is inexcusable.

The Warriors were one of the most isolation-reliant teams in the league last season, running it over 10 percent of the time, and the results were not pretty. They shot just 38 percent from the field.

Jackson far too often fell in love with exploiting mismatches at the expense of ball movement. For a lineup filled with elite passers like Iguodala, Curry and Lee, it was the most counterproductive offense the Warriors could run.

Fear not, however, Warriors fans, because it appears that Kerr will be taking the opposite approach. In his introductory press conference, Kerr told reporters that ball movement would be at a premium in his offense, via Bruce Jenkins of SF Gate:

I think the team can get better offensively. There’s a lot of skill out there, with (Andrew) Bogut and Lee being such excellent passers. I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement, with the bigs being utilized as passers from the elbows and the block. We’ll have some elements of the triangle offense, but we’re not going to look like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. In today’s NBA, you have to run, play fast, score early. The rules dictate that. I want to encourage even more running than the Warriors did last year. But I want to have it flow into an offense that utilizes our skill level and take some of the pressure off Curry.

With Kerr at the helm, a free-flowing offense will be the result. Look for the Warriors to regain their offensive aura.

 

Fewer minutes for the starters

We all love to see the stars on the court as often as possible, but in order to see them perform at their highest levels, they need an appropriate amount of rest during games. Far too often the Warriors lost games in the fourth quarter because of sloppy play and turnovers.

While it’s easy to blame the players for this, execution gets harder and harder when exhaustion sets in.

That’s on the coach.

Mark Jackson did a lot of good things for the team, but where he failed miserably was with his substitutions. He did not fully understand how to mix his lineups and as a result, the offense stalled when the bench came in. The starters would be rushed back in without the proper amount of rest.

That’s going to change this year.

The additions of Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush shored up the biggest hole on the roster last season: guard depth. Along with Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, the Warriors now boast one of the deepest benches in the league. Kerr will utilize that bench and ensure that his stars have fresh legs when it matters most.  

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Why Shaun Livingston Is Key to Deep Postseason Run for Golden State Warriors

With all of their key cogs returning, the Golden State Warriors are prepared for another run at the playoffs. However, in order to advance farther than the first round this year, athletes outside of the team’s main core must step up and contribute significantly.

Last season, the Warriors’ bench provided subpar play, with hoopsstats.com indicating that the group finished in the bottom 10 in numerous statistical categories.

Through the addition of a couple new pine pieces, Golden State’s reserves seem poised for a better performance.

One critical bench signing is 1-man Shaun Livingston, whom the Warriors inked to a three-year, $16 million contract. Livingston, who is coming off a strong season with the Brooklyn Nets, will play a pivotal role in determining whether or not Golden State makes a deep run in the postseason.

There are two ways he can successfully aid the Warriors’ efforts: employ his athleticism and size offensively, and utilize his length and quickness defensively.

Standing at 6’7″ and possessing the skills of a point guard, Livingston serves as a matchup nightmare for any opposing floor general he faces.

Play up on him, and he’ll use a quick first step to attack the rim with a dangerous blend of control and ferocity. Give him space, and he’ll work his way inside, utilizing a surprisingly well-developed post game to either hit a turn-around jump shot or score near the hoop.

While the 28-year-old is hopeless as a shooter—he shot a pitiful 16.7 percent from three in 2013-14—he will bring an effective playing style all his own off Golden State’s bench.

Rather than lighting defenders up from distance and shooting pretty floaters in the paint a la Stephen Curry, Livingston will instead drive the lane to climb the ladder for an emphatic slam.

Also, since this type of aggressive play will consistently draw the defense inside, the 1-man will use his court vision to find open teammates as well.

Within 16 feet of the basket last season, Livingston produced an efficient shooting percentage of 49.4 percent, including 56.6 percent shooting from within three feet. In addition, the point guard generated 11.5 points as well as 4.5 assists per 36 minutes.

Clearly, the nine-year veteran is a force to be reckoned with offensively.

Livingston’s impeccable mixture of athleticism, height and skill allows him to operate an offensive system in a way most guards can’t. His presence will improve the output of the Warriors’ bench, and this will prove essential in helping the team succeed come playoff time.

Much like on offense, many of Livingston’s first-rate qualities will positively impact Golden State’s defense as well.

The Warriors’ bench was ineffective on the opposite end of the ball last year, finishing 19th in points allowed per contest at 32.3, per hoopsstats.com. With his top-notch lateral quickness and lengthy 6’11″ wingspan, Livingston will give Golden State a versatile defender capable of containing and pestering elite-level opponents.

A good indicator of how impactful the 1-man can be is evidenced by the Nets’ defensive rating with him on the court compared to off it.

According to NBAWowy.com (h/t Warriors World), Brooklyn’s rating was 4.2 points better when Livingston was on the floor. The Nets finished the year among the top 15 in points allowed per game, with the point guard’s efforts proving pivotal in accomplishing this feat.

Sporting an astounding 8’9.5″ standing reach, the floor general thrives on altering opponents’ shots as well as occasionally swatting poor attempts away.

He’s also exceptional when it comes to help-side defense, as he understands when to rotate and how to adjust to various situations.

Livingston is a stud defensively. He’ll improve the Warriors defense by serving as a reliable point/wing defender off the bench.

Currently, the 1-man is nursing an injury to his right big toe, but he is expected to suit up by the arrival of opening night. Once he gets back into the swing of things, he should assist in Golden State’s cause.

The play Livingston puts forth will be critical in helping the Warriors pull off a deep postseason run. He boasts the necessary attributes to enhance the team’s bench production, and his overall approach to the game can certainly fit well with Golden State’s shooter-heavy roster.

With the point guard in the fold alongside another new pine player in Brandon Rush, rising bench athletes such as Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green and the Warriors’ superb starting five, this team is set to build upon last season’s playoff performance.

If all goes well, look for Golden State to surprise fans and skeptics alike by advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals—if not farther.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Josh Haar is a NBA writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JHaarNBA.  

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How Golden State Warriors Can Properly Deploy Andre Iguodala Next Season

Andre Iguodala‘s game is starting to take a new shape. The Golden State Warriors should adjust accordingly.

Iguodala saw his scoring totals plummet during his first year in Golden State, watching his points-per-game average drop all the way to 9.3, the lowest since his rookie year.

Save for a slight bump during the 2012-13 season, his scoring has fallen in each of the last six seasons. Team switches, role changes and general age regression have all contributed to this decline in output. Now, as he enters his 11th year in the league, it should be time to make some changes.

This isn’t to say Iggy can’t score or contribute offensively. He’s still one of the best-passing small forwards in the league, and he’s actually improved as a shooter and decision-maker in recent years, knocking down 35 percent of his long-range attempts over the past three seasons.

But stylistically, Iguodala is changing, as all players do, and it might be time for the Warriors to take him off pick-and-roll duty—or at least limit him in that role.

Iguodala can still be a secondary ball-handler, but he may not be a guy you want to turn the offense over to for long stretches anymore, considering how important the pick-and-roll has become in today’s NBA.

It’s not like Iguodala was ever a brilliant pick-and-roll guy to begin with, even though his reputation may say otherwise. His lack of production may be more of a scoring issue than a distributing one—he can still aptly create for others off the dribble—but he’s not perfect.

Iguodala had a 14 percent turnover rate on pick-and-rolls he ran last year, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), not exactly reliable for a guy who was running those plays relatively consistently for the Warriors. 

He has a theme to his turnovers, as well. They tend to be one of three types:

  • A failed pocket pass
  • A botched, jumping, 180-spinning, cross-court pass
  • A charge

The passes share a common denominator: They happen when he guesses where his teammates should be, instead of where they have actually headed. 

Still though, Iguodala is actually a quality distributor out of the pick-and-roll. He has tremendous vision, and because he possesses a controlled handle paired with quick feet and a powerful frame, he finds ways to create for other guys, especially Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Those no-look pocket passes and cross-court heaves can pay dividends. 

Iguodala does a nice job of finding shooters on the wings out of those sets, often flinging the rock across the paint to teammates on the opposite side of the floor. He’ll hit his roll men, too, but often, Iguodala is looking either to distribute on the perimeter or score at the rim when he’s dribbling around picks.

Those pick-and-rolls will look something like this (with a hat tip to Tim Hardaway Jr. and all the space he gives Thompson on this attempt):

Iggy pick-and-rolls made sense last year—in principle.

The Warriors offense can be dangerous with two of the league’s best shooters on the outside as an athlete handles the rock in the middle of the floor. But, like on that Thompson three, Golden State developed a bad habit that entailed everyone standing around as Curry tried to get open. If that didn’t work, it became Iguodala’s duty to bail everyone out.

Now, Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry says he and new coach Steve Kerr could play Curry off the ball more than we’ve seen in the past, which naturally means someone else will have to handle the rock more. Gentry said as such to KNBR radio in San Francisco (h/t to the Bay Area News Group):

I think if you talk to Steph, I don’t know if he wants the ball in his hands that much at all like it’s been in the past. It’s one of the things we talked about with Steve Nash in Phoenix as he got a little bit older. It’s very tiresome when you come down and basically have the ball 80 percent of the time and you’re creating shots and everything for yourself as well as other players.

I think we’ll try to alleviate some of that with Steph as far as pitching ahead and getting the ball from one side of the floor to the other, running some pin-downs for him where he can come off and catch-and-shoot, and as I said, try to create easy baskets for him. By ball movement, I still don’t think it’s going to affect Steph one way as far as the shots that he gets, the assists that he has.

Curry scores in ways no one else can off the bounce, though letting him run off screens and spot up could give him open opportunities. However, that would likely place the ball in the hands of Iguodala, and there’s one major flaw that makes the Warriors’ small forward a struggling pick-and-roll player: He’s not a threat to put the ball in the hoop out of those sets.

Iguodala averaged a troublesome 0.43 points per pick-and-roll play last season, per Synergy. And the problem wasn’t necessarily the Warriors or the Mark Jackson system, because the once heavy-loaded offensive player scored just 0.61 points per play as a screen-and-roll ball-handler for the Denver Nuggets the previous season.

Though he’s improved in recent years, Iguodala’s never been a shooter. And because of that, he doesn’t command much respect from defenders, who are happy to slide under screens against him, comfortably letting him fire away off the dribble.

This postseason play against the Los Angeles Clippers is no exception:

J.J. Redick is in Australia he’s so far down under that screen. He couldn’t be less threatened by Iggy’s jumper.

Redick’s goal is to take away dribble penetration and make sure Curry doesn’t end up with the ball. He doesn’t prioritize contesting the shot and winds up not even closing out on a wide-open attempt.

That’s mainly because, though Iguodala has improved his jumper, he hasn’t done so off the dribble.

Even in hitting a gaudy-for-him 35.4 percent of his shots from behind the arc last season, Iguodala did most of his damage as a catch-and-shoot threat, making just 35.1 percent of his pull-up jumpers and 20 percent of his pull-up threes. Considering the space he often got on those limited opportunities, it stands to reason that such a percentage should be higher.

We think of him as a struggling shooter, but that’s really just when he’s forced to create for himself. Case and point: he sunk 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last year, in line with the percentages of known dead-on shooters like Kevin Martin and Wes Matthews. (His success as an off-ball contributor is just another reason the Warriors might be prudent to consider playing him in that role more often.)

Still, because Iggy isn’t accurate off the dribble, his pick-and-roll style doesn’t slide as well into the Warriors’ gestalt as it may seem. 

Late-career regression is only natural. Iguodala is 30 years old. No one should expect him to be the player he was back when he scored close to 20 points a night for the Sixers, putting up those numbers as a dribble-heavy expected star on disappointing teams. And the defensive stalwart, who remains one of the NBA’s elite perimeter stoppers, merely needs to adjust his style, not change it completely. 

That’s what happens when careers progress.

Players change. Everyone does it, even the greats. Actually, especially the greats. 

Tim Duncan has gone from a back-to-the-basket, volume scorer to a relentless screen-setter who moves the ball and scores the occasional inside or mid-range basket. Kobe Bryant became a little more post-up dominant with age. Iguodala, who cuts proficiently and benefited mightily from the space Curry and Thompson can provide, has the tools and mindset—seriously, how many players are smarter than he is?—to build that alteration into his game. 

Just like a coach has to make half-time adjustments, players make mid-career modifications. 

The Shaun Livingston acquisition will help remove some of the offensive burden from Iggy’s shoulder’s. And though Thompson is a work in progress as a dribbler on the perimeter and as a facilitator for his teammates, Team USA has actually let him run some pick-and-roll, and he’s looked particularly comfortable in doing so.

You want a small sample size? You’ve got it right there.

Realistically, the Warriors probably won’t rely on Thompson as any sort of distributor next season. That means Iguodala is going to get the rock often, even with the acquisition of Livingston, who can be one of the best off-the-bench guards in the NBA if he can stay healthy. And letting Iguodala command the attack on occasion is fine.

He still drives and dishes. He is particularly skilled in finding teammates as they run off screens. And he’s a Ferrari in transition. But Kerr can put his team in a better position to succeed by limiting Iguodala’s pick-and-roll attack.

If the Warriors take away some of those privileges to reform him within their offense, he could end up improving on his first season in gold.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNTrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Aug. 25 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Report: Klay Thompson ‘pissed’ Warriors considered trading him

Ric Bucher has a column up at Bleacher Report examining the aftermath of the Warriors sticking their toes in the “trade for Kevin Love” waters then deciding against jumping in. The column revolves around the notion that the Warriors were the aggressors in the talks with Minnesota all along until they ultimately decided that trading for Love wasn’t in their best interest. Meanwhile, both Klay Thompson and David Lee were left in limbo while the Warriors mulled over if they truly wanted to pull the trigger. According to Bucher, the Warriors were so serious about landing Love, they even had a trade lined up with Orlando to bring in Arron Afflalo as Thompson’s replacement. The Warriors tried to downplay their interest in trading Thompson and Lee, but it became obvious that they were seriously considering moving both and that apparently didn’t sit well with Thompson. In fact, he is said to be “pissed” about it. [Warriors GM Bob] Myers’ attempt to be as honest as possible is appreciated, b…

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Warriors’ Pursuit of Kevin Love Leaves Scars with Klay Thompson, David Lee

There is no column in an NBA box score for playing through an injury, just as there are no bonus clauses in contracts based on defensive assignments accepted to cover a teammate’s ass. It’s why such players, especially ones whose place or paycheck in the league already is secure, are to be treasured.   

The Golden State Warriors have two such players in David Lee and Klay Thompson. Two players they seriously considered dealing to the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer to acquire Kevin Love. Two players they must now convince to fill those invisible columns and ignore they were nearly sent away as a reward for their previous service.

Most probably know what Lee and Thompson have contributed to the Warriors’ recent rise to relevance, but it bears recounting for two reasons. One, because of how perfunctorily so many were willing to see them moved for Love, perhaps not fully appreciating their part in the Warriors’ renaissance.  

And, two, because it now appears they aren’t going anywhere, and Warriors management has some fence-mending to do if it wants to assure that such sacrifices and ass-covering is done with the same enthusiasm that fueled the team’s recent success.   

Two years ago, Lee played well enough to be the Warriors’ first All-Star in 16 years and help them to their first playoff appearance in six years. He played in 79 of 82 regular-season games only because he was willing to battle through a bruised knee, a sprained ankle and a sore back. He also missed one game on a suspension for shoving Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Without all that, the Warriors probably wouldn’t have seen the postseason, what with forward Brandon Rush lost for the season in the first week and center Andrew Bogut limited to 32 games.

Lee’s first career trip to the playoffs appeared to end in the first game when he suffered what the team at one point announced as a season-ending torn hip flexor. Eleven days later he was hobbling onto the court for Game 6, playing a single Willis Reedesque minute that inspired a deafening roar from the crowd and an emotional wave that contributed to a series-clinching victory.

Thompson has made similar sacrifices, including an iron-man run of playing 182 out of a possible 183 games. Despite being a 6’7″ shooting guard with one of the most textbook and trustworthy jump shots in the league, he has dedicated himself to becoming a lockdown defender. He did so well in that regard that the Warriors asked him in practically every game to guard the opponent’s biggest perimeter threat, whether that be an explosive point guard such as Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, or such elite scoring 2-guards as James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. He averaged 18.4 points and scored at least double digits in 74 of 81 games, and yet there were critics who had the nerve to question why there were nights he didn’t have his legs to score 20 or, regardless of all that on-the-ball defending, didn’t average more than three rebounds a night.

Ask any GM or scout and they’ll tell you Thompson is one of the best two-way players in the game, yet he hasn’t sniffed either All-Star or All-Defensive team recognition. To make matters worse, teammate Andre Iguodala did receive All-Defensive first-team honors last season, even though injuries left him a shell of himself and forced the Warriors to give Thompson the assignments Iguodala was expected to fill. “Klay is a much better defender,” said one former Warriors assistant coach. “It’s not even close. It’s all based on reputation and stats. The truth is, Dre is always gambling on the weak side.”

Thompson handled all of that without complaint. The reward? A summer wondering if he would be dealt to the league’s moribund Minnesota outpost.

The Warriors not only dangled both him and Lee in talks with the Timberwolves, league and team sources say, but they apparently initiated the conversation. Various reports on the deal’s likelihood of going down bubbled for several weeks, and while GM Bob Myers declined to address the subject directly, he certainly didn’t discourage the notion that Thompson and Lee were available for the right price.

“Right now, I think it’s unlikely,” Myers told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “Right now, today. … But I will say this: If you asked me last year at this time would we be in a situation to grab an [Andre] Iguodala, I would have said the same thing.”

League sources also say they could’ve dealt Harrison Barnes to Orlando for Arron Afflalo in conjunction with the Minnesota deal, which would’ve given them a reasonable substitute for Thompson.

Eventually, they passed on everything because there wasn’t a strong consensus in the organization that they’d definitively be better. And when it became clear that Love would be headed to Cleveland instead of a Western Conference rival, such as the Houston Rockets, it made the need to roll the dice even less enticing. 

Myers’ attempt to be as honest as possible is appreciated, but it has come with a price. While attempts to reach Lee or his representatives were unsuccessful, a source close to Thompson said the shooting guard is “pissed” that the Warriors legitimately considered moving him.

The natural refrain is, “Grow up” or “grow a pair” or, perhaps more delicately, “Hey, it’s a business. Deal with it.” Which Thompson and Lee no doubt will. They wouldn’t have had the success they’ve had without a hard-hat mentality.

But there’s a way to go about pursuing a trade that doesn’t invoke collateral damage or repercussions. First, don’t aggressively pursue one to the point it’s beyond denying and then not be willing to pull the trigger. If you’re moving players who have been good soldiers, do them a solid by trying to move them somewhere they’d welcome; otherwise, you’re sending the wrong message to the rest of your team that quiet sacrifice doesn’t really earn you anything. One executive also warned that getting right with the players’ agents after a failed trade is just as important.

Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with the Warriors exploring a deal for Love. While one scout said his team would have a field day forcing a Curry-Love combination to defend pick-and-rolls “all day long,” another league talent expert is convinced that Curry and Love are a far better offensive combo than Thompson and Curry and that Love would’ve benefitted the entire team. “I’m way on an island with this, but I believe Love would’ve made everybody on that team better,” he said. “I just value a range-shooting 4 more. Shooting guards are replaceable.”

Where he’s not alone is also suggesting Curry and Thompson never will reach their full potential together, the premise being that Thompson never will evolve into the scorer he could be and Curry won’t be forced into carrying a heavier defensive load.

“You have to have everybody take the defensive challenge if you want to play for a championship, anyway,” said one former player with a championship ring. “Steph is ultra-competitive. If you asked him, ‘Do you want to score 25 or be a two-way player and MVP candidate’ he’d say ‘MVP candidate’ for sure. But you have to challenge him to do that.”

Perhaps new head coach Steve Kerr will do that. Perhaps Kerr can neatly evade the issue of alienation by telling Thompson and Lee that he fought to keep them, which is why they’re still with the team.

As a first-year head coach replacing one as beloved in the locker room as his predecessor, Mark Jackson, Kerr’s to-do list already is rather thick. Not losing two starters in Thompson and Lee will help the team’s continuity. Its dedication to those invisible columns? Only time will tell.

 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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Realistic Expectations for Shaun Livingston’s 1st Season with the Warriors

Shaun Livingston is 28 years old and entering his 10th NBA season. By normal standards, this would place him squarely in his prime.

Livingston’s path has been anything but normal, however, and this makes it difficult to assess where he is along his career timeline.

The Los Angeles Clippers drafted Livingston No. 4 overall in 2004. The 18-year-old phenom was projected to be a franchise point guard due to his fluid athleticism, ridiculous length and tremendous ball handling, passing and court vision.

He was both tantalizing and disappointing during his first three seasons. He would show flashes of brilliance and potential, but also struggled to assert himself on the court as most superstars in the making do.

Then, a horrific knee injury derailed his career. He was hurt on Feb 26, 2007 and did not return until the beginning of the 2008-09 season. He appeared in only 12 games for two different teams that year, and 36 games for two teams the following year.

He finally regained a rotational role for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010-11, but continued to bounce around even as his game and body returned to form. The Golden State Warriors will be Livingston’s 10th team in as many seasons.

While his lengthy catalog of injuries and NBA teams make Livingston look like an over-the-hill NBA veteran, there is also an argument that he is just now hitting his stride.

Despite being drafted in 2004, Livingston has only played in 466 games. A player with no injuries or DNPs reaches this number before completing their sixth season. That isn’t to say that Livingston doesn’t have mileage on him—almost every part of his left knee was decimated in that injury—but rather that he is still relatively inexperienced. 

One could argue that Livingston is actually less experienced than someone who plays their first 466 games within six seasons. He has only had consistent minutes in four of his 10 seasons, and has had to relearn how to play after his injury, making the first part of his career somewhat of a wash.

Last season was, in a certain way, Livingston’s first real season as an NBA player. He got hurt when he was 21, an age at which many players are still in college. Since then, his career has been about recovering and finding roster spots. Last year, the Brooklyn Nets gave him a big role, and he set career highs in games (76), starts (54) and minutes (1,974).

In Brooklyn, he also found a system that worked for him. Playing alongside other ball handlers and shooters allowed him to operate from the post, where he is as effective as any guard in the league. With Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams drawing defensive attention and spreading the floor, Livingston was able to act as a point forward offensively.

The Warriors’ front office took note. They aggressively pursued Livingston early in free agency, realizing how perfectly he fit their roster and how many needs he simultaneously addressed.

There are many parallels between Golden State and Brooklyn.

Andre Iguodala, like Pierce, is a natural swingman who can play small-ball 4 due to his decent outside shot, great strength and defensive IQ. Klay Thompson can shoot off the dribble, from the high post or in a catch-and-shoot situation, much like Joe Johnson, and similarly struggles to score inside. Both have the size to play small-ball 3.

Curry is a far superior outside shooter to Williams, but both are threats from deep who can create with their dribble as well.

New Warriors coach Steve Kerr is attempting to implement a triangle-esque offense. While Jason Kidd did not run a triangle in Brooklyn, he did run similarly fluid-yet-deliberate half-court sets. Livingston’s smooth-yet-cerebral game should fit right in.

There’s more to the Livingston signing than how he complements Golden State’s starters, namely his ability to back them up.

He should make a very good third guard in Kerr’s rotation, as he can run the bench offense, run the point next to Thompson or spell Thompson at the 2.

That third role will be especially intriguing. Thompson and Curry are known as great partners due to their unreal shooting, but the biggest reason they fit together is Thompson’s defense. He will guard the more-dangerous player in an opposing backcourt, whether they are a 1 or a 2. Livingston, who is also 6’7″, is similarly versatile defensively.

With limited cap flexibility this summer, the Warriors were able to use their one real resource—the full mid-level exception—on a player who fits into virtually every type of lineup.

That malleability is not the only reason Livingston’s three-year, $16 million contract is a bargain, though. Since 2013-14 was Livingston’s first full NBA season, there’s also potential for dramatic improvement despite his age.

Let’s briefly fantasize about a best-case scenario.

After finally turning the page last season on his long journey back from his horrendous injury, Livingston begins to trust his body like he did when he was younger. He combines that with the mental toughness and confidence he’s gained through all his adversity, and becomes the best backup point guard in the NBA.

It doesn’t take much revising to turn that best-case scenario into a cautiously optimistic one. Say he just continues to build on the confidence that he regained last season; this would still be a career year for him.

Health permitting, he should keep trending upwards over the course of his contract. This means that by year three, the Warriors’ option to retain him for $5.3 million could be awfully useful.

Of course, health may not permit. Livingston is currently out as he recovers from toe surgery, and while he should be ready for opening day, he’ll still be playing on a surgically repaired left kneecap, ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus.

That will remain a reality until the day he retires. For now, the Warriors hope that his unconventional career path leads to some delayed gratification.

 

 

Stats and contract figures courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and HoopsHype.com.

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David Lee or Draymond Green: Who Should Be the Warriors’ Starting Power Forward?

As the Golden State Warriors roll closer to the start of training camp, a big question still remains with the new coach Steve Kerr’s offense, will David Lee or Draymond Green get the nod as the starting power forward?

The players play two contrasting styles: Lee is more an offensive juggernaut, while Green is the get-in-your-face, workmanlike player who can guard every position.  The decision will be a tough one to make, but let’s break down both of the players’ strengths and weaknesses before suggesting a game plan.

 

David Lee

David Lee has been known to put up big numbers throughout his career, but until 2012-13, the numbers were relatively meaningless, since he never made the playoffs.  Lee normally finishes with a double-double on most nights, and his season averages mostly prove the same (18.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG).

In 2012-13, Lee led the league in double-doubles (56), but this past season, Lee was only above average.  He finished further down the ladder in 17th place with only 34. 

Offense is in the forefront with Lee, since that is his best skill.  He is an adept passer, can hit mid-range jumpers and can score with either his left or right hand.

However, Lee is often criticized for his defense and his salary.  One is a killer on the micro level; the other hurts the Warriors on a macro level.

His defense has been an albatross, as Lee is mostly left behind when he encounters quick feet or dazzling moves.  He has tried to improve his limited skill set, and the effort is there, but the results are not always pleasing.

According to Bruce Jenkins from the San Francisco Chronicle, the pressure is on for Lee:

Lee will occasionally make a brilliant play on defense, but the normal result of an above-average play against him is a foul on Lee.  Lee averaged three fouls per game on the season, as he ranked tied for 21st overall and fifth for his position. 

As for Lee’s contract, he is crippling the Dubs from improving into a team that has NBA championship aspirations.  He makes $15 million this season and $15.5 million next season.

The one benefit that Golden State has going forward is that Lee will be a free agent in 2015-16, so he will be an expiring contract during next year’s free-agency period.

Kerr has to weigh the effect of Lee losing value if he sits Lee versus the overall effort he can provide on the court.  Lee needs to improve his range, as Kerr is looking for a stretch-4, and Lee did not impress based on his results last season.
 

Draymond Green

Green is a hard worker who is defensively instinctive and is not afraid of anyone, including LeBron James.

Green has improved significantly from his rookie year to his second year in the league.  He has looked a lot calmer with the ball and hasn’t been afraid to hit key shots at crucial times in the game.

Coach Kerr should like the fact that Green can stretch the floor more than Lee, as Green is known for hitting a clutch three-pointer more often than not.  The only problem is that Green is smaller than the average power forward, as he measures up at 6’7”.

Green also has a problem, because he really is just a forward or a tweener.  When the Warriors go small, he can easily play the power forward position, but with his size, Green is logically a small forward.

So, Green masquerades as a power forward and has a significantly deeper range than the starter at the 4 position.  Green shot 33.3 percent in 165 attempts from behind the arc last season.

As Green states in an interview with Dime Magazine, he will be looking to solidify that range in order to truly be a stretch-4.

However, Green’s focus is not entirely on the offensive end.  His line from last season was 6.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in almost 22 minutes.

Green had a 97.7 defensive rating for this past season, ranking him fifth-best in the league.  It doesn’t matter where Green lines up, as he makes a significant impact on both sides of the court.

Green has a very high basketball IQ and succeeds with positioning, anticipation and the desire to outduel his opponent.  He is ready to battle it out in preseason and the regular season to get a starting gig.

 

Coach Steve Kerr’s Preliminary Thoughts

In a July 11 interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr said that Lee looks like he will be starting:

I love David Lee, and I think he’s going to be our starter, and he’s going to score a lot and be our slasher and our interior scorer. But we need to complement that with some perimeter shooting from that spot, too.

The Mercury’s Leung further noted that Kerr, on August 7, stated Lee was in a very stable position going forward:

Klay Thompson and David Lee, who were players in trade talks involving Love, were named by Kerr as having “automatic” starting spots along with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut when a boy at the Warriors Basketball Camp at Tice Valley Community Gym asked the coach about the lineup.

Based on the preceding information, Kerr will look to have Lee as the starter going into the season.  However, Green should not look at the comments as a defeat, but as an opportunity to get quality playing time moving forward.

In the same interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the Mercury’s Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr spoke about how he may use Green as a stretch-4.

You saw Draymond make five threes in Game 7 (of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers), which is one of the reasons why the Warriors almost won that game. We need some shooting out of that position.

Green is more adept at shooting from the perimeter, and he can prove his skills to Kerr in camp and on the floor during the season.

 

The Best-Case Scenario

David Lee looks to be the starter going into the season, but he should consider the starting job in name only.  Lee will not be used in the key moments of the fourth quarter, and he probably will not be used when the Warriors need to spread the floor.

Lee primarily has the job, because he is one of co-owner Joe Lacob’s favorite players, he was the first real free agent to come aboard for the new ownership, and he puts up significant numbers.

Oh yeah, it doesn’t look good for the pocket book if Green is starting with a salary under $1 million over Lee and his $15 million annual salary.

Green will have a pivotal role on this team going forward, as he will be used in a variety of capacities.  Coach Kerr will rely on him to stretch the floor and will play him when he needs the team to get physical.

Early analysis from CBSSports.com on Green states that he is the “best forward prospect over Harrison Barnes.”  Green needs to use this momentum to his advantage and assimilate into Coach Kerr’s new system.

If Green can successfully master the system, he can increase his playing time whether at the small or power forward position.

As for Lee, he is getting closer to the end of his contract, and at age 31, he is probably in the final stage of the most productive years of his career.  In order to secure another substantial contract in Oakland or somewhere else, he needs to show his value this season.

Lee will get the starting gig, but Green will have the biggest impact of the two.  Green will be on the court in the final minutes and anywhere else Coach Kerr needs a stopper.

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