Bernucca: Why are Warriors the NBA’s biggest surprise?

The best team flying under the radar has two rookies in its starting lineup. But it’s not the Charlotte Bobcats.

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.

“I understand the fans and the organization and the history of this team, but that’s not my history,” second-year coach Mark Jackson said. “Our history is last year and this year.”

“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.

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  1. says

    i think it depends on which side of flint you live on. If you live west of flint, I -475 ploabbry doesnt help you much. But living on the north end or east side like myself I dont use I 75 hardly at all, i rarely maybe twice a year go to miller road. There is so much traffic especially when people are coming and going from up north. Unless you are in your 50′s or older you ploabbry dont even remember Flint without I475 and have become acustom to using it and unless you work downtown or go to college downtown most people in the suburbs dont go to flint and getting rid of the highway isnt going to bring more people downtown. Fix the crime rate first if you want more people to visit downtown Flint. You may not have Buick anymore but now you have the colleges and the highway is still much needed.

  2. Ben-Jammin says

    An good, experienced NBA writer does not say things like “Last season, things got so bad that Jackson actually started five rookies in one game.” You know full well that the Warriors were in heavy TANK mode to keep their draft pick. That doesn’t support your argument – it just makes you look foolish.

  3. Jim says

    @A.J. Did you expect the Cavs to be good? If so, you might be the only one.

    I can’t say you are wrong regarding Golden State being the biggest surprise, but my vote would be for the Bobcats. I realize as of right now they are not in the playoffs, but the fact that they have been competitive is shocking.

    • Chris says

      The Bobcats have been surprising, but the qualification was the BEST team flying under the radar. And with the possible exception of Atlanta, I think that team has been Golden State. Thanks for reading

      • Jim says

        Headline says biggest not best!

        I’m just being jerk, I get what you are saying. And for best surprise I would agree, it is Golden State.

        But besides the Lakers, who is the biggest team letdown? Pacers?

  4. A.J. says

    Nah. The biggest surprise are the Cleveland Cavaliers being this bad. How is it possible for one guy to leave, and then absolutely no improvement since their 26-game losing streak season. Can’t even blame Irving being “hurt” (with a minor injury on a finger on a non-shooting hand, but they’re looking to tank again so they’re sitting him), they were 2-8 before he sat. It’s like a poor man’s Sacramento over there.

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