The Lakers acquired aging stars. The Rockets snagged the Knicks wunderkind. The Nets spent lavishly to ensure a competitive first season in their new digs. While most of the NBA ripped up and rebuilt their rosters this offseason, the Warriors have remained relatively quiet. In fact, Golden State’s biggest acquisition was Jarrett Jack, who arrives in the Bay Area as a footnote in a multi-team deal.
The Jack trade stands in stark contrast to ones that went down in March when the Warriors controversially ended any hopes of a competitive campaign by sending Monta Ellis out of town for Andrew Bogut, then injured. In combination with another moved that saddled them with Richard Jefferson’s bloated contract, the team opened itself to a healthy barrage of criticism.
The Bogut deal, however, was the initial move toward assembling a squad that may be capable of upsetting the established hierarchy in the Western Conference. That possible outcome exists not because of a sudden influx of outrageous talent, but because the front office adhered to the most underappreciated rule of NBA roster construction — fit.
As Dallas proved in 2011, a collection of complementary skill-sets around one driving force can allow a team to compete, and win, against a collection of superstars. Golden State is in the midst of building a roster that will operate much like those Mavericks. If questions about health and coaching are answered, the Warriors will enter the upper realm of the West by coalescing to become more than the sum of their parts.
It all centers around the oft-injured Bogut. Throughout his career, Bogut has been typecast as the traditional low post center. A plodding big man meant to control games by playing with his back to the basket.
Ironically, that is the most inefficient part of the big man’s game (In his brief stint last season, Bogut ranked just 123rd in post-up situations according to SynergySports). His true value to this group comes in his performance on the other end of the floor. Since the 2008-09 season, Milwaukee teams were far stingier on defense with Bogut on the floor.
From that year to present, Bogut has posted consistently better defensive adjusted plus/minus (APM) numbers to the league’s preeminent defender – Dwight Howard. Now APM is an imperfect tool and by no means conclusively declares Bogut to be superior to Howard. Instead, those numbers are meant to illustrate the profound impact Bogut has on a team’s defense.
With the changes in today’s game, a big man who can mitigate the defensive shortcomings of an entire roster is far more valuable than one who can drop in jump hooks all game long. Bogut, like Kevin Garnett, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler and Howard, uses his size to strategically position himself on defense with great results. Howard transformed a rag-tag group of misfits into a top defensive unit. Bogut will be asked to perform a similar task in Golden State. If the numbers are indication, it’s a role for which he’s well-suited.
The player that will receive the biggest boost from Bogut’s addition is holdover David Lee. The Warriors four man has always showcased an exemplary stat line yet has been essentially a zero-sum player his entire career thanks to his sieve-like play on defense. For perhaps the first time, Lee will finally have a frontcourt partner that makes his game a net positive.
The chain reaction doesn’t stop there. Lee and Bogut will pair with what might be the most perfect collection of wings in the entire league. 3-point shooters create space and but very few teams build wing rotations capable of creating as much of it as possible. While bereft of a superstar swingman, Golden State still has an embarrassment of floor-spacing riches.
If restricted free agent Brandon Rush is brought back into the fold, the Warriors will have four players capable of making help rotations a sickening proposition for opponents. Jefferson has shot over 40% from 3 since 2010. Rush is over 40% for his career. Klay Thompson eclipsed that threshold during his rookie season and is emerging as one of the deadliest shooters in the league. On top of that Harrison Barnes’ biggest strength coming out of UNC was his ability to light it up from deep.
This group is the next best thing to having a LeBron James or Kevin Durant-type dominating the game from the wing. Well, assuming there’s player somewhere else on the roster capable of creating offense.
Enter Steph Curry.
As a shooter curling off screens or as a ball handler in a pick-and-roll, Curry has ways to send a set defense into scramble mode. While he is still more of a scorer than a playmaker at this point in his career, Curry is plenty capable of finding not only those snipers on the wing but also Lee, one of the games most underrated finishers, rolling to the rim.
Curry’s combination of basketball I.Q. and shooting makes him the closest thing this league has to Steve Nash. Smarter people than me have said as much. And all that Nash dude has done is orchestrate some of the best offenses in league history. If Curry can approximate that type of impact, look out.
The acquisition of Jack was a subtle stroke of genius as well. The veteran combo guard can not only provide scoring punch off the bench, but run the offense during stretches when Curry is weaving his way through a maze of screens. Given the shooters around him, it’d be unwise to count Jack out as a possible sixth man of the year. With a small revival from Andris Biedrins and a productive rookie campaign from Draymond Green, the bench (also including two of the four wings that don’t start) as a whole will be versatile and deep.
A playmaking ball handler surrounded by deadeye shooters. An elite pick-and-roll finisher likely to see an excess of space on his dives to the rim. And in a 7-footer center, who instead of anchoring himself on the block, will anchor the entire defense. Add it all up and in the most ironic of twists, the Warriors, by accident or design, have pieced together a roster that creates perfect symmetry. This group could be the blueprint for what a modern roster without the benefit of a transcedent talent should look like.
So brace yourself NBA fans, for once in their woeful history, the Warriors are ahead of the curve.