The Golden State Warriors start off the 2011-2012 season on Christmas day vs. the Clippers at home in Oracle Arena. The Warriors are facing a new-look Clippers team including new additions Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler. The Clippers are a well-rounded athletic team especially with players such as Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Ryan Gomes. With a shortened season (only 66 games), the Warriors will have to get used to playing tough matchups at a faster pace. After playing the Clippers, the Warriors play the Bulls on Dec. 26th, the Knicks on the 28th, and the 76ers on the 31st, all at home. To view the rest of the Warriors schedule, click here.
The Warriors starters this season are the same from last season, so there weren’t any personnel changes in that department. Stephen Curry is still the starting point guard, Monta Ellis is the starting shooting guard, Dorell Wright is the starting small forward, David Lee is the starting power forward, and Andris Biedrins is the starting center. Last season, the Warriors had a horrible bench that wasn’t productive enough to relieve the starters of some minutes. This season, the bench is much more well-rounded and should be more productive in all statistical categories. The backup point guard position is yet to be determined, but it will either be Charles Jenkins or Ish Smith. If Stephen Curry is unable to play in the season opener because of the sprained right ankle he sustained during Tuesday’s preseason game, then one of these two point guards will most likely start in his place.
The first guard off the bench will most likely be Klay Thompson. The rookie shooting guard/small forward had a miserable preseason shooting 6-25 from the floor, and 0-8 from behind the 3-point line. However, Mark Jackson and Warriors management expect big things from this rookie and believe the only way that he will improve and become effective is with consistent playing time. The next guard off the bench will either be one of the backup point guards or Brandon Rush, who the Warriors acquired in a trade that sent Lou Amundson to the Pacers. Rush is a shooting guard/small forward who is known as a great defender and rebounder. With Klay Thompson’s offensive abilities and Brandon Rush’s defensive prowess, these two guards will be a great combination for providing backup minutes for Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright. Dominic McGuire who can play both small forward and power forward will also come off the bench and provide lock-down defense and rebounding. Chris Wright, a training camp invitee who made the final roster, is also a small forward and power forward combo player who can provide backup minutes for Dorell Wright or David Lee. The first power forward/center off the bench will most likely be Ekpe Udoh, who hopes to follow up a promising rookie season with an even stronger sophomore season (hopefully injury-free). Kwame Brown will also fill in some backup center minutes along with Jeremy Tyler. These players will make up the Warriors general rotation throughout the season.
Based on the two preseason games that the Warriors played against the Kings, it seems as though Mark Jackson has already had an impact on the Warriors’ defensive scheme. It appeared as though the team had really improved upon help defense, traps/double teams, and man-to-man defense fundamentals. The offense struggled at times, especially in the second game because Stephen Curry was injured, but the fact that the Warriors were able to stay in the game because of their defense shows a lot of improvement already. To see highlights from both games click the links below:
I predict that the Warriors’ record this season will be 36-30. I believe this will also be good enough for the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Hornets and the Nuggets both made the playoffs last season, and I don’t believe that they will again this season. The Clippers, with their new and improved roster, will take one of those spots, so there will be one playoff spot available for the Warriors, Rockets, Suns, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Utah. The Warriors can beat out all of those teams, and will therefore earn the 8th spot in the NBA. The top 8 teams in the Western Conference will be (in order): Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, and Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors’ record will be good enough to make the playoffs, but the most important reason why the Warriors are good enough to make the playoffs is their improvement in depth. The Warriors’ bench is much stronger than it was last year because it is much more balanced. At each position there are at least 2 backups, and each bench player brings a different skillet than the other. For example, Dominic McGuire, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown are really known for their defense. Ish Smith is known for his speed, Charles Jenkins is known for his all-around game, and Klay Thompson is known for his amazing shooting ability. A strong bench that can play quality minutes is key to a team’s success. Another factor that will lead this team to the playoffs is their coaching staff. Mark Jackson is an inspiring leader that demands hard work. Read more about Mark Jackson here. In addition to an influential head coach, the Warriors are lucky to have some of the strongest assistant coaches in the league such as Mike Malone, Pete Myers, etc. This coaching staff also has various skillsets and, generally, has lots of experience coaching or playing in the NBA. Lastly, if the Warriors are to remain healthy throughout the season (especially players like Udoh, Biedrins, Lee, and Curry), they will definitely make the playoffs. If Stephen Curry is able to stay healthy, he will have a breakout season and will have a great chance at making the All-Star team (if the team has a good enough record). Based on all these factors, the Warriors are set to have a playoff-worthy season based on great defense, great coaching, and great chemistry.