The Golden State Warriors are off to their best start in 21 years at 23-12. They currently sit fifth in the Western Conference standings, and they are in position to make just their second playoff appearance since 1994.
Throughout the dark years (or dark decades), the Warriors still maintained one of the most passionate fanbases in the NBA. As expected, less than half a season of success has this fanbase exploding.
However, having great fans doesn't only mean having fans that support your team no matter what—it means having fans that want to win.
While the 2012-13 season has been better than anyone imagined it would be through 35 games, this season will not be considered a success until they at least make the playoffs. And next year won't be a success unless a championship contender takes the floor.
The transformation of the Warriors from losers to winners began (somewhat ironically) when they traded their best player, Monta Ellis, in March 2012.
Ellis was dealt along with young power forward Ekpe Udoh for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. The Warriors quickly flipped Jackson to San Antonio for a first-round pick and Richard Jefferson's bad contract.
The trading of a healthy star for an injured star led to a calculated downward spiral last season. The Warriors had to finish in the top seven of the draft lottery to retain their lottery pick, and the trade opened the door to do that. Stephen Curry and David Lee were both shut down due to nagging injuries, and the team got the No. 7 pick.
The Warriors used their high pick to draft Harrison Barnes, the Jackson-yielding pick to draft Festus Ezeli and traded Dorell Wright—a player that Barnes made superfluous—to acquire Jarrett Jack. They also used Ellis' absence to give Klay Thompson the starting shooting guard role.
Trading Ellis has helped the Warriors become the team they are today. Still, the loss of their star point scorer has taken away from their athleticism.
The Warriors can offensively dominate the majority of NBA teams through incredible ball movement, deadly three-point shooting and second-chance points. But when the Warriors play teams that take away space on defense and control the defensive glass, their strengths are neutralized.
It's times like these that the Warriors miss Ellis.
No single Warrior has the explosiveness off the dribble or finesse around the rim to take the ball through a set defense. Not only would this dimension help the Warriors find ways to score against elite defensive teams, but just the threat of quickness and penetration would make "Warriorball"—passing, shooting and rebounding—easier.
The Warriors defense keeps them in most games, but they won't win any playoff series unless they find ways to attack the rim off the dribble. With Brandon Rush out for the season, the only Warrior who could help address this problem in 2012-13 is Harrison Barnes. Thus far, the rookie's lack of consistency, confidence and finesse has held him back.
Just as the Warriors can score on most but not all teams, they can shut down most but not all offenses.
The Warriors currently rank ninth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They do this by limiting penetration, controlling the defensive glass, knowing their responsibilities and trusting their teammates.
However, they lack a dominant post defender. It's times like these that the Warriors miss the man Ellis was traded for.
Andrew Bogut isn't just the best post defender on the Warriors roster, he's one of the top five post defenders in the NBA. His combination of size (7'0", 260 lbs), strength and athleticism make it possible for him to control the strongest and most skilled big men in the league.
Ten of the 12 Warriors' losses have come to the following five teams: Memphis, Sacramento, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver and Orlando. These teams all have very different records, but they have imposing frontcourts.
Whether it be Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol or one of the many bigs in Denver or Orlando, the Warriors are a combined 1-10 against these five teams.
This may make it sound like the Warriors are far from contending for a title. While that may be a healthy way of looking at it for fans that tend to get overly optimistic, these two weaknesses also highlight how close the Warriors actually are.
Besides the five teams the Warriors struggle with, the Dubs are 22-2. One of those losses came in Los Angeles to the Clippers, who Golden State has beaten twice. The other came in Oklahoma City, which played in the NBA Finals last year.
In other words, the Warriors are as good as any team in the NBA when facing three quarters of the league. And while the one quarter of the league that Golden State really struggles against just happens to exist almost exclusively among teams they could face in the playoffs, the likely return of Andrew Bogut by that time should give them a fighting chance.
If Bogut does not return, breaking the playoff drought will have to do for this season.
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