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Enemy: Golden State Warriors
3SOB Forecast*: 52-30

Photo: Ray Stubblebine / Reuters

What’s up in the Bay Area?

Well, its football teams completed a relatively unsurprising split yesterday as the Raiders fell to the Colts and the 49ers eeked out a close victory over the Packers. But let us be real, we’re here to talk about basketball. In that case, I’ll start off by stating that I’m not sure how much better the 2012-13 season could have reasonably gone for Stephen Curry.

Well to be completely fair, I guess there are a handful of ways in which it could have been a little better, but you get the point.

After getting inexplicably snubbed from receiving All-Star honors, Curry began a crusade of forcibly ensuring that his name found its way into the discussion of true stardom. Following the break, he put the NBA world on notice late one February night, as he mercilessly laid the smackdown on the Knicks’ in a 54 point masterpiece at the Garden. Making the feat even more impressive is that it came on the heels of dropping 38 on the notoriously stingy defense of the Indiana Pacers, the night prior.

The taste was sour, though, for as much as Curry lit up the scoreboard in his own right, his team walked away with the loss in each of those games. But his taste of victory was not far off the horizon. And this next taste was of the real deal. The Warriors finished off 2012-13 with an emphatic showing against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, where Curry continued to fortify his stranglehold on the basketball audience.

In “Act One” of his first trip to the playoffs, he elevated his game to nearly Steve Nash proportions — averaging 24.3 points and 9.3 assists per game, while shooting 44.2% from three and 100% from the foul line throughout a monster series win over the favored Denver Nuggets. In the next round, Curry’s Warriors faltered as the Spurs employed comparatively gigantic defensive ace Kawhi Leonard to keep him grounded, but he still did manage to blast off 44 points in the double-overtime nail-biter that was the series opener.

Onto the team as a whole, the most alarming issue plaguing this Warriors team seems to be its inability to go for the throat and close out on leads. It was an exhibition of this inexplicable tendency to take the foot off the gas late in games that forced TNT anchor Reggie Miller into a hilarious on-air slip of the tongue during a post-game locker room address.

As captivating as the playoff run was, the W’s continued to keep themselves at the forefront of discussion with the off-season shocker of signing free agent defensive stopper Andre Iguodala. For a moment, speculation was mounting that they would even push for the prize of the summer with their ticket in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Ample cap room had been freed for the W’s by dumping the expiring, but caustic, contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson on the Utah Jazz.

Looking at on-court summer activity, it warrants mention that the Warriors were without question the organization that took the Las Vegas Summer League the most seriously, as they marched their way to the title of inaugural Summer League playoff champions. Propelled by the efforts of championship game MVP Ian Clark, who will be Utah-bound for training camp, and human celebration machine, Kent Bazemore, they went undefeated in summer play with a record of 7-0. Bazemore, remaining with the Warriors and fueled by the lack of respect shown by TrueHoop’s pre-summer player rankings, appears primed to ride his devastating athletic ability to breakout campaign of sorts.

In a bit of more tangentially Warriors-related discussion, for all you Breaking Bad fans out there, our fellow TrueHoopers over at Warriors World have been running a brilliantly entertaining series titled “Barnes Breaks Bad,” where they break down each episode of the current season of the popular television show with sophomore swingman Harrison Barnes.

Who are they cooking with?

PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: David Lee
C : Andrew Bogut
6 : Harrison Barnes

The Warriors roster appears to be in similar construction on the surface to the roster of a year prior, but there are some crucial spaces of the roster that will be populated by new faces. The loss of key contributors Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, and Brandon Rush (who missed nearly all of last season after injuring himself against our Grizzlies in the early onset), will sting, but Golden State hopes that the new acquisitions will offset the burn.

While Jack will be replaced by Toney Douglas on paper, it is really the swingman Iguodala that will fulfill the role of alternate ball handler. Iggy, who led his Nuggets team last season in net PER production (+4.3) and net on court/off court rating (+5.5), is even better fit for the gig, as he provides the Warriors a player that not only allows Curry to work off the ball some, as Jack did, but he does so without compromising the defensive integrity of the back-court due to size complications. In fact, Iggy’s defensive capabilities can be measured by his -4.7 on court differential in opponent scoring from last season, or highlighted more powerfully so by a combination of his own words and those of CBS Sports’s Matt Moore, in this must-read defensive profile from last season.

The other major loss, Landry, who accrued 23.2 minutes of burn per contest last season, will be attemptedly mitigated by the committee of sweet-shooting former Grizzly forward Marreese Speights, still-kicking Jermaine O’neal, and some likely incorporation of the “Phoenix four” concept of stretching Barnes and Draymond Green to the power forward slot. While he does not shoot threes, Speights will be the likely difference maker as a floor spacer, with his automatic stroke from the deep elbow.

Pairing the new acquisitions with the expected internal growth of sniper Klay Thompson, athletic freak Bazemore, potential “Phoenix fours,” Barnes and Green, and a simple blessing of health for All-Star forward David Lee, and paint protector Andrew Bogut, paints the case for the continued rise of a serious dark horse contender in the Bay Area this season.

I can say with certainty that I will again be making this entertaining unit an immediate addition to my NBA League Pass bookmarks, and I strongly advise you all to do so as well.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: Drew Shiller / USA Today

Lee Eric Smith: 

I’m mad at these guys. For had they not shown their youth and inexperience, they would have finished San Antonio in the second round and met the Grizzlies in the WCF, where I think the Bears would have punched a ticket to the Finals. Alas, the basketball gods spake otherwise. These days, it feels like the Warriors are where the Grizzlies were just a few years ago, following a second-round exit — they are more experienced now, still have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and have added Andre Iguodala to the mix to form a pretty scary perimeter attack along with the better defense Iggy will bring.

When healthy, David Lee and Andrew Bogut, make a pretty potent frontcourt tandem as those guys are in the same class (a few seats back, but still in the same class) as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. And yet, there are so many questions here, mostly about health. Steph stayed healthy most of last season, but David Lee and Andrew Bogut have proven to be somewhat fragile. I think these match ups will come down to shooting. Golden State can certainly get hot, and if they do it’s trouble for Memphis. But the Grizz defense should be able to disrupt the shooting enough to take the season series 3-1.

Katee Forbis:

This enemy is my least hated NBA team. The Golden State Warriors are a young team with talent to spare. They also have a loyal fan base and are, in my opinion, a likable organization all around. That being said, when ANY team is playing the Memphis Grizzlies, that team is the enemy. I expect the Warriors to be the exciting team to watch this season.

Steph Curry is obviously going to shoot the lights out most games, and with the new additions to the team, the Warriors have really done a great job at filling out some of the holes that were present last season. One player that Grizzlies fans will recognize is Marreese Speights, who played for the Grizzlies from January 2012 to January 2013 when he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Speights signed with the Warriors in the off season. But the biggest addition the Warriors made was adding Andre Iguodala, a player that challenged the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs last season when he was with the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors went on to win the first round, but Iguodala made a significant impact averaging 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2 steals per game in the series. Iguodala is one of the best wing defenders in the league and should fill a major hole in the Warriors defense.

The Warriors had some exciting games last season with their offense, but their offense was still no match for the Grizzlies, who were able to shut Golden State down, winning all three matchups last season. Adding Iguodala will definitely cause some problems for the Grizzlies offense which is lacking in comparison. The Grizzlies will have to do their best to lock down Steph Curry and the Warriors with the defense that Memphis is known for. Luckily, the Grizzlies have Tony Allen, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Allen will have to perform at a high level in order to keep the Warriors from lighting up the Grizzlies lackluster offense. The Golden State Warriors are young and hungry, and the Grizzlies better come to the court with the bigger appetite

Jack Winter (of Warriors World):

The Grizzles swept three games against the Warriors last season, but that doesn’t paint an accurate portrayal of how these teams stack stack up against one another for 2013-2014. Golden State not only revamped its roster after a surprisingly active offseason, but center Andrew Bogut – crucial in general, but especially against bigger frontcourts – will be fully healthy, too.

The Warriors’ summer overhaul wasn’t a direct corollary of their playoff success, but it’s easy to see how the acquisition of Andre Iguodala figures into Mark Jackson’s small-ball plans. Golden State’s hand was forced into space and speed in the playoffs without David Lee, and the result was a relentless barrage of three-pointers, respective breakout performances from Steph Curry and Harrsion Barnes, not to mention a near underdog run to the Western Conference Finals. How often the Warriors will utilize similar lineups this coming season remains to be seen, but Iguodala’s unique versatility on both ends of the floor gives them another player capable of thriving in that environment. While smaller quintets haven’t worked as well in the past as most would assume against the Grizzlies, that Golden State will undoubtedly play them on a nightly basis is certainly a curveball worth monitoring for whoever the opposition.

But Bogut remains perhaps the Warriors most important player against Memphis, and his remarkably spry playoff performance is an indicator of more good things to come. The Aussie isn’t a traditional star, but a hugely impactful two-way player in the mold of Marc Gasol; that individual matchup should delight by itself when these teams meet. Golden State remade its bench after losing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry as a result of signing Iguodala, and acquired Jermaine O’Neal and Marreese Speights to pickup the frontcourt slack. Neither is starter-level and each has obvious deficiencies, but their big bodies will be helpful against the Grizz nonetheless. The same goes for Festus Ezeli once he recovers from injury. The Warriors fleet of big men isn’t the caliber of Memphis’ or maybe even close to it, but is one of the deeper post rotations in the NBA nonetheless. Basically, the Grizzlies shouldn’t own the paint when facing Golden State the way they did in 2012-2013.

The Warriors meet Memphis four times this season, and another sweep for the latter seems unlikely. Golden State is a better team now and boasts a more balanced roster from top to bottom. Does that mean the Bay’s team is better than the Grizzlies? Absolutely not, and it’s easy to imagine these teams fighting for position in the middle of a crowded Western Conference playoff field. And should they match up in the postseason, the Warriors have done enough since April to make it far too early to predict a winner. These teams seem evenly matched, and should make for must-watch basketball when they face off against one another. Lucky for us, that will happen early and often in 2013-2014.

When and Where do they square off?

November 9th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
November 20th: 9:30PM at Oracle Arena
December 7th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
March 28th: 9:30PM at Oracle Arena

For more Warriors content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Warriors World.

*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.

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