It is missing its oft-injured big man. But it’s not the Philadelphia 76ers.
It has All-Star candidates at point guard and power forward. But it’s not the Los Angeles Clippers.
It is an original NBA franchise that has not won a title since the 1970s. But it’s not the New York Knicks.
The best team flying under the radar is the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors start rookies Harrison Barnes at small forward and Festus Ezeli at center, where they wait for the return of Andrew Bogut. Point guard Stephen Curry is ninth in scoring and 14th in assists and power forward David Lee is 15th in scoring and fifth in rebounding.
After moving west from Philadelphia in 1962, the Warriors won the NBA championship in 1975 and not much since. They have been to the playoffs once since 1994. But at 13-7, they are fifth with a bullet in the loaded Western Conference and appear to be for real.
“We’re trying to change the culture and overcome a lot of things that we’re not used to,” Curry said.
For two decades, that culture was driven by Don Nelson, whose small lineups, point forwards and 3-point shooting centers certainly were innovative and made the Warriors fun to watch. From the Run-TMC era of the early 1990s to the “We Believe” Warriors of five years ago, Golden State has been an entertaining team.
Amid all that innovation, however, was the issue that the Warriors weren’t fundamentally sound. The book on them was to cancel the track meet, slow them down and expose their glaring shortcomings on defense and the backboards.
In his first season – one without a true training camp – Jackson’s Warriors looked to still be playing a version of Nellie Ball. With speedy Monta Ellis and his score-first mentality as the driving force, Golden State virtually ignored defense.
Last season, the Warriors were 11th in offense at 97.8 points per game – and 28th in defense, surrendering 101.2 points. They weren’t very good at getting stops, and even when they did, they were terrible at securing the ball. Golden State was dead last in rebound margin (minus-6.6) and was the only team which did not grab 70 percent of rebounds in its defensive end. In addition, only good-shooting, transition-conscious Boston was worse on the offensive glass.
Jackson took a lot of heat as a rookie coach, with many wondering if his elevation came without the education of several years as an assistant. With a full training camp this year, he began the culture change by getting his team back to basics.