Warriors Chasing Down Greatness
The Golden State Warriors are, on paper, a playoff team. The difficulty for the franchise in recent years has been staying healthy.
Stephen Curry recently had what is hoped to be a minor setback with yet another ankle sprain. Warriors head coach Mark Jackson downplayed the injury, saying Curry would be available to play today if the Warriors were in the playoffs.
Additionally, the team has taken a very cautious approach to Andrew Bogut’s return from a broken ankle suffered back in January. There’s no explicit timeline set, but the team assures that Bogut has not had any setbacks.
At full strength, the Warriors are a load offensively. Defense hasn’t been Golden State’s calling card in recent years, but Jackson has made it his mantra. With Bogut in the middle, the Warriors may be able to get the necessary stops to win close games.
Of course that presumes Curry and Bogut can get, and stay, healthy.
Jackson is confident in his team, despite a poor showing Monday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
“We’ve got better players,”Jackson told HOOPSWORLD. ”My ownership and my management – led by Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and Bob Myers – did an outstanding job of getting depth at every position. When you talk about getting a Carl Landry or when you talk about getting a Jarrett Jack – in case anything happens to Steph Curry or even if he’s healthy having a legitimate guy backing him up – we brought toughness in. We had three steals in the draft that are as high-character guys as you can find in this draft or any draft. We’ve got guys who are all about winning and that’s how we got better.”
The Warriors added Harrison Barnes (7th), Festus Ezeli (30th) and Draymond Green (35th) to the active roster this season. Barnes has started five of seven exhibition games, averaging 9.6 points on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range.
Ezeli has thoroughly impressed Jackson, even as a rookie.
“The backup center job was wide open; he won it, deserves it,” Jackson said.
If Bogut is not ready for opening night, Jackson is confident, “[Ezeli] is my starting center.”
Landry was a key acquisition for the Warriors, a steady veteran with playoff experience.
“During the offseason, I met with the front office,” Landry said. ”Something about those guys, and that winning mindset, that winning spirit, that just drove me to come and sign with Golden State. I think that we have a good chance to be special this year. Over the last few years, the team hasn’t had much success, but we have a good group of guys in this locker room, and if we put it all together, I think we should be alright.”
In addition to trading for Jack, the Warriors re-signed Brandon Rush, who is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.
Jackson has been a bit surprised by his backcourt’s improvement defensively.
“People won’t give credit for this, because the first thing you look at [in Klay Thompson] is his ability to shoot the basketball. He’s good as there’s been,” said Jackson. ”But he has played incredible defense this preseason. He’s buying in and if you asked me who were my two-best perimeter defenders, I would tell you (Brandon Rush is an elite defender), my two best have been Steph Curry and Klay Thompson If you would have said that to me before, I might have shaken you.”
Thompson was either in the gym all summer or playing pickup games with his teammates and appears poised for a breakout season.
“My defense improved this year. I feel like last year, I had a big learning curve as a rookie,” Thompson said. ”I put a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball this summer, and I feel like I improved vastly in that area.”
Jackson said nearly the entire roster was in Oakland after Labor Day, working together early.
“They bought in. I’ve got guys that will show up at the practice facility at night wanting to watch film or work on something,” Jackson said. “I’ve got an incredible group that really wants it. It’s been a lot of fun but the big thing is sustaining it. We’re going to take some lumps. We’re going to face some tough times but we’re going to be very excited about what lies ahead.”
Jackson tried to set a defensive tone last year but, by his estimation, he didn’t have the players to execute that vision. Given how potent his team is offensively, a slight improvement defensively could yield very positive results.
“The bottom line is that we didn’t have the characters to make the system run,” Jackson said. ”We’re an inside-out basketball team. We’re a push the basketball-type team. We have great shooting. I wouldn’t just say in today’s game. I’m a basketball historian and I watch Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot the basketball every day. It’s a tough time figuring out two guys in the same backcourt that shot as well. I know for sure it wasn’t Reggie Miller and I.”
Outside of their letdown Monday against the Clippers, the Warriors have shown that the message is getting through this preseason.
“Honestly, it’s defense. That’s the one thing that Coach Jackson was talking about the first day of training camp: defense,” Landry said. “Defense wins games, we all know that. We just got to take one game at a time right now. We can’t worry about the seventh seed, eighth seed, or this happens, or that happens. We can’t worry about that, we just got to worry about us and take it one game at a time.”
Thompson believes the Warriors are a playoff team.
“I expect to be in contention, especially for the playoffs,” Thompson said. “We have a very good team this year. There’s a lot of depth, especially when healthy, we got a lot of depth, a lot of youth. I think we can surprise a lot people.”
Jackson, in his second year, may have the right personnel but what he needs now is a clean bill of health from Bogut and Curry.
The team seems to have good chemistry and Jackson’s message is a strong one.
“I’m going to chase down greatness, not goodness,” Jackson said. ”I demand that from my team and I’m going to do that as a coach.”
The Warriors open the regular season on Oct. 31 in Phoenix against the Suns.