It's been five long years since the Golden State Warriors have qualified for the postseason and 17 years since the Warriors have earned a spot in the playoffs that wasn't the last seed.
In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs, the Warriors have been disappointing over this run.
The Warriors seem to have finished their rebuilding effort and are poised to make a playoff run this season.
Emerging Young Stars
Though Stephen Curry played minimally last season, the young guard has plenty of experience running the show for Golden State. Since he was drafted in 2009, Curry has been the starter for the Warriors. Through his first two and a half seasons, he had to share the ball with Monta Ellis, who was sent to Milwaukee in a trade deadline deal.
Ellis' tendency to dominate the ball and shoot in volume has hampered Curry's development as a ball-handler, and head coach Mark Jackson will presumably hand him the reins to the offense next season. As the primary ball-handler, Curry has the independence to do what he feels next season and has more offensive weapons as well.
When analyzing Klay Thompson's rookie year, it is unfair to simply look at his season statistics, because his play was completely different in the first and second halves of the season. Thompson averaged 7.7 and 8.1 points per game respectively during January and February but increased those numbers to 16.4 and 18.6 points per game during March and April.
According to the San Jose Mercury, Jerry West pushed then-GM Larry Riley into drafting Thompson with the No. 11 overall pick in last summer's draft, and as an executive, West is rarely wrong. In fact, Thompson's emergence gave Riley the freedom to deal Ellis, knowing that Thompson could easily step into the starting shooting guard role.
Thompson also played on the U.S.A. Select Team this month, going up against the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, an invaluable experience for the young guard. These players praised Thompson's game and said that he would grow to be a terrific player in this league.
The Warriors fell into some luck this draft with Harrison Barnes falling into their laps at the seventh pick. Barnes averaged 17.4 points per game last season at UNC and showed that he is an effective scorer.
Though he didn't meet expectations for his college career, he was over-hyped out of high school and showed his maturity by choosing to stay back a year. He has drawn comparisons to Danny Granger and Joe Johnson, both capable perimeter scorers.
Barnes shot just 42.1 percent from the field last season, but his field goal percentage will likely increase in the NBA since he is no longer the primary scoring option on offense.
With Curry, Thompson and Barnes on the wings, the Warriors have arguably the best shooting perimeter trio in the league and will have no problem scoring the basketball. This is a core that will stay around for a long time, too. On opening night, the players will be 24, 22 and 20 years old, respectively. Curry is a restricted free agent after this season (assuming the Warriors extend a qualifying offer), and Thompson and Barnes will not hit (restricted) free agency until 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Rounding out the starting five are veteran big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut. Lee averaged 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds last season after putting up similar numbers the year before. Though Lee is not known as a capable defender, the forward can step out and hit high-post shots very often.
Jackson will likely run the pick-and-roll with Curry and Lee quite often due to Curry's tremendous passing and shooting skills and Lee's ability to finish around the rim or pop open for a jump shot.
Lee led the team in offensive rebounds last season (he had more than twice what the second-place person, Jeremy Tyler, had) and had to stay next to the hoop on offense. With Bogut's arrival, Lee will have the freedom to roam around the mid-range area and play as a power forward, his true position.
The centerpiece of last season's trade, Andrew Bogut will look to provide a formidable inside defensive presence for the Warriors next season. The Warriors have not had a true center in a long time, and now they have one of the best defensive centers in the league.
Though Ellis put up better offensive numbers than Bogut, any time a team needing a defensive presence can deal a guard for a center (in a league lacking true ones), it should jump on the opportunity. And that's exactly what Riley did back in March.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2006, Bogut led the league in blocked shots during the 2010-11 season, his most recent (relatively) healthy season. Bogut has been the victim of numerous "freak" injuries, but if the team is healthy, he will be a very scary foe for opposing players looking to drive into the lane.
Experience for Younger Players
It's no secret that the Warriors have been ravaged by injuries the past few seasons. However, good things do come with the injuries.
With Curry missing significant time and nearly every other key player going down, the team's younger players earned valuable experience filling in for them. In fact, the team trotted out the first all-rookie lineup (since the statistic has been tracked) in the last game of the season.
Second-round draft picks Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler each started more than half the games they played and performed admirably for the team. Though both players will have to take a step back next season, the experience they earned while starting against NBA players in the grueling 66-game season will only help them going forward.
When the starting lineup isn't on the floor, this team is still capable of putting up points and defending the rim. The Warriors acquired guard Jarrett Jack during the offseason in exchange for forward Dorrell Wright. Jack averaged career-highs in points (15.6) and assists (6.3) per game last season and will be a capable backup guard for the team next season.
GM Bob Myers extended a qualifying offer to Brandon Rush, making him a restricted free agent. No team has made an offer to Rush so far, but the Warriors say that they will re-sign him for any amount up to the mid-level. Rush is one of the league's best three-point shooters and can fill it up when Curry,Thompson and Barnes are on the bench.
The team acquired Richard Jefferson and the Spurs first-round pick (it became Festus Ezeli) in exchange for Stephen Jackson right after the Ellis-Bogut trade. Jefferson is a solid veteran who is capable of making big shots when called upon.
We all know that Andris Biedrins isn't worth his contract or good enough to be a starting center, but he can provide depth for the Warriors behind Bogut and Lee. He averaged 7.2 rebounds a game as recently as the 2010-11 season, and he can rebound well when called upon. Coach Jackson needs to make sure that Biedrins knows that he is not a scoring weapon and should not hoist up quick shots.
Hopefully, Biedrins adjusts well to his new role, and the team will have frontcourt depth. As long as defenders don't put him on the free-throw line (he shot 11.1 percent last season).
A key for the Warriors going forward will be their ability to adjust to the defensive schemes that their opponents introduce.
Thankfully, most players on this team are capable of playing multiple positions. The addition of Jarrett Jack allows Jackson to experiment with putting Curry as the shooting guard, which many regard as his natural position due to his ability to drill it from long-range.
With the No. 35 pick in this year's draft, the Warriors selected Draymond Green, a player praised for his versatility on the court. Green joined Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players to record multiple triple-doubles in NCAA tournament history. Yep, Green's pretty good.
Most of the team's frontcourt pieces are interchangeable as Lee, Bogut, Ezeli and Tyler have all showed the capability of playing either post position.
Jackson has the freedom to experiment with many different lineups due to the team's versatility.
During this playoff drought, the Warriors' management has been criticized many times for their poor decision. Just after the team's 1994 playoff season, Chris Cohan purchased the team. Cohan has been censured by the media for his reluctance to spend money. Chris Mullin, the team's GM from 2004 to 2009, made many controversial moves during his tenure.
The Warriors hired Bob Myers as the new GM in April, and Myers has shown that he is a solid GM in this league with great offseason moves. Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who purchased the team in 2010, have shown a willingness to build a winning culture in Golden State and have announced a move to San Francisco in five years. Lacob and Guber hope that San Francisco will attract big-name free agents, something the Warriors have been unable to do lately.
We just hope that that winning culture can begin now.