Ranking Golden State Warriors' 10 Biggest Developments in Season's Early Going

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIDecember 31, 2013

2013 has been eventful for the Golden State Warriors thus far, with turnover-prone play, a key injury to Andre Iguodala and MVP-type performances from Stephen Curry highlighting the Warriors' season.

So what have been the biggest events? What has had the biggest effect on Golden State's play this year? Let's take a look.


Criteria for Ranking

  • Impact the development had on the Warriors' success or failure.
  • Potential impact the development will have on the Warriors for the rest of the season.
  • How surprising or predictable the development was. (More surprising developments generally received higher rankings.)


Honorable Mentions

Free Throws Are an Issue

The Warriors were fourth in the NBA in free-throw percentage in 2012-13, but they've fallen to 24th this season. They also struggle to get to the line, attempting just 22 free throws per game, 19th in the league.

Just why have they been quite so bad? Klay Thompson is shooting .765 from the line after an .841 performance last year, and Harrison Barnes has fallen off even more (.758 to .684).

Like the Warriors' turnover problem, this is an easily correctable problem: more practice! As Kawhi Leonard can attest, missed free throws often make the difference in close games. Will free-throw troubles come back to bite the Warriors?


Jermaine O’Neal’s Injury

For a team that already had questionable depth (more on that later), the loss of O'Neal for much of the season was a big blow.

Without a solid backup option for center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors need O'Neal's return more than ever. Per rotoworld.com, O'Neal had his cast removed on Thursday, and he promises to return this year.

For now, the Warriors can only hope Bogut will stay healthy, which, as history has shown, isn't the safest bet.


10. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green Proving to Be Viable Options Off the Bench

The rest of the bench hasn’t been of much help, but we’ll get to that later.

Warriors fans have to remember that Barnes isn't a finished product yet. In fact, he's far from it. The Warriors saw his vast potential when they selected him seventh overall in the 2012 NBA draft, and he has taken large strides to fulfill that potential, with generally improved numbers across the board this year.

Barnes' scoring, assists, three-point percentage and steals have all increased this year, and he filled in respectably well for Andre Iguodala during the latter's 12-game absence. Now that he is back to his sixth-man role, the Warriors need him to step up more than ever, as the rest of their bench certainly doesn't seem up to the task.

An exception to that is Draymond Green, who has been fantastic defensively, despite lacking a scorer's touch off the bench this year.

Also drafted in 2012, Green has come up with several clutch shots, including a go-ahead three-pointer against the Mavericks on Dec. 11.

His most important contributions, however, have come defensively. He averages a steady 4.4 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game, and he recorded four key blocks against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday after a three-block performance against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 23.

Like Barnes, the Warriors need Green to carry much of the load coming off the bench, because the rest of the reserves can't seem to get the job done.


9. Andrew Bogut Avoiding Injury

It's somewhat ironic that the Warriors' most significant injury this year (Iguodala's strained hamstring) would happen to one of their more historically durable players.

After all, it seems that Andrew Bogut is the one who constantly finds himself sidelined for large portions of each season. Bogut, who hasn't played 70 games in a season since 2007-08, has started 31 of Golden State's 32 games after playing 32 games all of last season—and the one missed start was due to a suspension.

He has responded by ranking ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game and 12th in field-goal percentage. His continued healthy play is of the utmost importance for the Warriors going forward.

Of course, that could be said about all five of their starters.


8. Struggles Against Western Conference’s Top Teams

The Warriors have had a tough time against the best teams in the West, much of which can be attributed to Iguodala's absence.

While Iggy was out due to injury, the Warriors went 5-7. Of those seven losses, six were to teams currently in playoff positions in the West. Since Iggy's return, however, the Dubs beat the Los Angeles Clippers and manhandled the Phoenix Suns.

That's too small of a sample size to tell just how good the Warriors can play against the Western Conference's top teams. But they'll have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves throughout the remainder of the season, and they should have a healthy Iguodala along for the ride.


7. David Lee Becoming an Elite Power Forward?

Is David Lee really elite?

According to Yahoo! Sports, Lee is ninth among big men in points per game. His rebounding total puts him at 11th.

A couple parts of Lee's game leave something to be desired, however. Again looking at his rank among big men, Lee is ninth in turnovers per game. (That seems to be a common theme for the Warriors.)

Lee's defense, which has been much maligned, is also a bit of an issue. He averages 0.3 blocks per game, which indicates he isn't much of an inside presence, at least when it comes to stopping drives.

Yet, Lee is having another solid statistical year. He's been especially fantastic as of late, including a monster 32-point, 13-rebound performance against the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 19.

It's been another great year for Lee, who is undeniably becoming one of the game's best power forwards.


6. Surprisingly Solid Defense

Defense wins championships. That's the cliché, but it might not necessarily hold true this year. We've been trained to believe that the best teams in the NBA are those with the best defenses, but four of the top six teams in opponent scoring this year have losing records.

The Warriors stand apart from those other top-six teams, tied for ninth with 98.9 points allowed per game. That is a significant step up from last season, when they ranked 19th.

Much of that improvement can be attributed to the addition of Andre Iguodala, who is one of the NBA's best defenders. But other players have stepped up too. Klay Thompson, who certainly isn't perfect, looks much better defensively this year.

Also, having Andrew Bogut healthy plays a big part. The Dubs' starting center was injured for the majority of last season, but he's played in (and started) 31 of the Warriors' 32 games this year. His steady 1.7 blocks per game and overall solid inside defensive presence creates plenty of problems for the opposition.


5. Klay Thompson Emerging as a Serious Scoring Threat

In need of a second scoring option after Curry, the Warriors looked to Thompson to continue his solid play from 2012-13.

Thompson has actually proved to be a bit more efficient than Curry this year, with a better shooting percentage (.453 to .444) and an ever-so-slightly better three-point rate (.414 to .413).

The improvement for Thompson over last season has been dramatic. He has improved his shooting percentage and three-point percentage while taking more three-point shots and more overall shots. He's also averaging 38.1 minutes per game, fifth most in the NBA.

Thompson has struggled a bit lately, but his huge improvement has nevertheless drawn praise from Mark Jackson, who raves about his shooting guard. "He's a top-five (shooting) guard in this league," Jackson said, via the San Jose Mercury News. "And I'm being respectful."

That is up for debate, but what's certain is that Thompson is looking much more polished this year, and his ability to score efficiently will go a long way toward determining Golden State's success this year.


4. The Bench Showcasing the Warriors’ Lack of Depth

When the starters come out of the game, it has been, to say the least, a struggle.

Statistically, the Warriors are just about the worst team in the NBA when it comes to bench performance. According to hoopsstats.com, the bench is 29th in scoring, 30th in assists, 29th in field-goal percentage, 30th in free-throw percentage...you get the idea.

Sixth man Harrison Barnes filled in nicely for Iguodala during his absence, and Draymond Green has proven to be a solid off the bench. But after those two?

Marreese Speights hasn't impressed anyone, and Toney Douglas is averaging one assist per game. Kent Bazemore has looked equally bad, with a PER of 6.7. Oh, and Jermaine O'Neal is out for most of the season.

In short, the bench hasn't played well. They have looked better as of late, including a 24-point, 23-rebound, five-block performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. But the lack of depth appears to be a long-term issue.


3. Andre Iguodala’s Injury

The effect of Iguodala's injury can't really be overstated. The Warriors' records in games with and without Iggy tell the tale. With him, they're 14-6; without him, they're 5-7.

Iguodala's value really goes beyond his statistics. His defense is, of course, his primary asset, as he is widely considered one of the best defenders in the NBA. He's also an excellent all-around player, excelling at passing, rebounding, getting steals and even scoring when he needs to.

Iggy's injury showed the Warriors just how important it will be for their best wing defender to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.


2. Turnovers Remaining a Major Problem

Curry is the main culprit, which we'll discuss shortly. But he isn't the only problem. Iguodala averages 2.4 turnovers per game, and Lee is right behind him with 2.3.

This is a problem that Mark Jackson has constantly harped on, and for good reason. As a team, the Warriors commit the second-most turnovers per game in the NBA, trailing only the 9-21 Philadelphia 76ers.

This is a particularly frustrating problem because it's easily correctable, and, if corrected, would drastically improve the Warriors' chances of making a deep playoff run. Golden State's number-one priority should be to correct their turnover issue before the playoffs begin.


1. MVP-Caliber Play from Stephen Curry

Curry emerged as an elite player last season, but this year, he's really stepped up his game. The biggest improvement comes in his passing and playmaking, as he's averaging a career-high 9.6 assists per game. That's good enough for second in the NBA, behind Chris Paul.

On top of his spectacular passing, Curry is tied for sixth in the NBA in scoring. His efficiency on three-pointers is down (.413 success rate this season, .453 in 2012-13), which means his career-high total in points is a testament to his improved ability to drive to the hoop.

Curry's Achilles' heel remains his penchant for turnovers, as his total of 4.1 turnovers per game this season ranks behind only Kobe Bryant, who has played in only six games. If Curry can improve his ball security, he will become a legitimate candidate for the MVP Award.


All statistics courtesy of ESPN, unless otherwise noted.


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