Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Tonight: the Golden State Warriors.
It’s been five whole years since Don Nelson’s eighth-seeded Warriors took down the top-seeded Mavericks in the Western Conference quarterfinals. How has The City followed up one of the greatest upsets in basketball history? Five years of a collective .408 winning percentage, third and fourth-place divisional finishes, and a spot squarely in the Purgatory of Mediocrity. Here in the Purgatory of Mediocrity, residents are not good enough to compete for the playoffs or attract prime talent, nor are they bad enough to compete for a high enough lottery picks. Since 2008, their earliest draft picks have been 14, 7, 6, 11, and 7. They are stuck in the middle.
So they’ve moved, they’ve shook, they’ve ushered old coaches out, new coaches in, shipped key players away and brought new pieces to the fold. But the puzzle pieces have yet to fit, which brings us to the newest Warriors software update. This version will feature shored up wing play in rookie Harrison Barnes, another double-double season from David Lee, an undisputed backcourt leader in Stephen Curry, and pick-and-rolls for days with Curry and newly acquired center Andrew Bogut. Coach Mark Jackson is one year the wiser, and damn it all if this doesn’t look like the configuration that will break the purgatorial spell. But there’s one thing we cannot forget…
The Warriors are pretty much screwed because there is no way they stay collectively healthy for an entire season.
Say it with me folks: The Warriors are cruisin’ for a bruisin’. In dealing Monta Ellis (and Ekpe Udoh) for Andrew Bogut, they signed up for a more balanced roster, better defined roles, frontcourt help for Lee and an inherent confidence boost for Curry. Except we have no idea how many games Bogut will play in a given season. It could be 80. It could be 15. Over the last six seasons of the Aussie’s seven-year career, he’s missed, on average, almost a third of each season (31.6 percent of games sat out). In fact, the Warriors traded for him in March while he was nursing a fractured left ankle that had sidelined him the whole season. For all the good Golden State did sign up for, their new toy might not make it off the factory floor.
The Bogut headaches have already ensued, as that left ankle looks like it will keep him sidelined when the season begins. We do know it shouldn’t be too long until he returns, but we don’t know when the injury bug will strike next. As Bogut told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Anyone can go on Google, research my past two injuries and realize that they’re not chronic. I do the right things in the offseason. These are just freak occurrences. These aren’t issues of being overweight or being out of condition.” And perhaps that’s even more frustrating. A dunk gone wrong, an awkward landing off a block — that’s all it could take to throw a giant wrench into the Warriors’ plans.
But this isn’t an Andrew Bogut preview, and Bogut is certainly not the only Warrior with an injury-riddled past. Another ankle sure to give the Warriors hell is Stephen Curry’s right one, an appendage that has taken off days since he rolled it in his junior year at Davidson. It caused him to missed games intermittently in his first two NBA seasons, and benched him for 40 games last year, requiring season-ending surgery. Not only that, Curry was only cleared to resume basketball operations on Sept. 20. With only a dangerously small amount of time to work on his basketball acumen and re-condition that ankle, and considering his uptempo style of play, he too could be a ticking injury time bomb.
The rest of the starting lineup looks relatively immune, but what happens when one of these guys go down? Well, Bogut gets replaced by Andres Biedrins, who too has injuries to thank for not participating in a full season since 2007-08. Assuming he can stay on the floor if Bogut goes down, his career 50.6 percent free-throw shooting isn’t inspiring. Not ideal for Golden State.
As for Stephen Curry’s backup, new acquisition Jarrett Jack might be able to hold down the fort, but all of Golden State is losing their patience waiting for Curry to develop into the star player he showed flashes of at Davidson and sporadically throughout his young career. Jack is a nice replacement, but the future of this club needs Curry to stay healthy.
“Future”, however, is a fickle bitch, and there’s only so much future for a team that has only one playoff appearance since the 94-95 season and whose last division title was in 1976. The pieces are in place for at least a competitive season out of the Warriors, but without a doubt, the pieces will break.
A sliver of hope: For all the inevitability of Curry and/or Bogut spending substantial minutes on the sidelines in fresh, custom-tailored suits, the minutes they spend together in yellow basketball uniforms will be good ones. Ellis was without a doubt the team’s best player and leader, but the power and talent vacuum his departure created will all but force Curry to step in his place, a challenge he is poised to take on. Curry and Bogut could be a potent tandem, and David Lee is a sure bet for nightly double-doubles. Klay Thompson will be able to bail out failed plays from beyond the arc. It all sets up the rookie Barnes to transition well into the NBA, benefiting from a quick-paced, well-oiled offense that will give him good looks should everything work according to plan.
Actual season prediction: It is so unimaginably hard to make any progress as a team in today’s NBA if you A) aren’t great, B) aren’t awful, or C) don’t play in a big market. The Warriors are certainly not A, nor are they B or C. Middle-round draft picks have prevented building from the ground up and their “Golden State” namesake has kept stars from shooting for the Bay Area. If the key players stay healthy for long enough, the Warriors will hover .500, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs in a strong Western Conference. If they can’t stay off the examining table, it’s 25-30 wins.
One thing’s for sure, it’s another year in the Purgatory of Mediocrity.
photo via Getty