(SportsNetwork.com) - For a team that has nowhere to go but up, the Golden State Warriors won't be flying under the radar anymore.
The Warriors open the 2013-14 campaign with mountain-top expectations and missing the playoffs would be considered a tremendous failure. Basketball hasn't been the center of attention in Oakland since Run TMC, the popular Golden State trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin.
Now it's pretty much the Steph Curry show and his sharp-shooting prowess from anywhere on the floor. Curry can distribute the ball as evidenced by his 6.9 apg average last season, but he can kill defenses around the perimeter and finished third in three-point shooting in 2012-13 (45.3). More importantly, Curry established a new NBA single-season three-point record by draining 272 three-pointers and became the only player in NBA history to hit 250 three- pointers and dish out 500 assists in a single season and the only player to average at least 3.0 threes and 6.0 assists.
As long as Curry can stay healthy and has no issues with those ankles, the Warriors are in good shape to possibly finish with the fourth or fifth seed in the Western Conference. They were the sixth seed in last year's playoffs and defeated the favored Denver Nuggets in six games before losing by that same amount to the eventual conference champion San Antonio Spurs. The appearance in the semifinals was the Warriors' second in the previous 22 years.
Aspirations are high for the upcoming season because Curry, power forward David Lee and guard Klay Thompson are together again for another year. Curry led the Warriors with 22.9 ppg last season, while Lee was second with 18.5 ppg and Thompson followed with 16.6 ppg. Lee is a double-double machine and posted an average of 11.20 rebounds per game. He is definitely one of the top big men in the NBA, especially in a tough Pacific Division where bigs set the tone, and led the league with 56 double-doubles last season.
Lee is another reason why Golden State has improved defensively under head coach Mark Jackson. Jackson's squad has stepped it up on the defensive end over the last two years, especially in opponents' field goal percentage (fourth in NBA; 20th in 2011-12), opponents' three-point percentage (seventh; 28th in 2011-12), defensive rebounding (first; 24th in 2011-12) and rebounds per game (third; 28th in 2011-12).
Jackson is fortunate to work with such a talented team and the powers that be picked up his team option for the 2014-15 season in July. Jackson guided the Warriors back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 and for only the second time since 1994-95. Jackson, a former NBA star himself, became just the fourth Warriors head coach since 1970 to lead a team into the postseason, joining Alvin Attles, George Karl and Don Nelson.
Jackson turned his team around from a 23-43 finish the year before, his first with the club. Jackson's squad was plagued by injuries in that strike- shortened 66-game season and health will obviously be key in his third season at the helm.
2012-13 Results: 47-35, 2nd in Pacific, Lost in West semifinals to Spurs
ADDITIONS: F Andre Iguodala, C Jermaine O'Neal, G Toney Douglas, F/C Marreese Speights, G Nemanja Nedovic
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Steph Curry SG- Klay Thompson SF- Andre Iguodala PF- David Lee C- Andrew Bogut
KEY RESERVES: F/C Marreese Speights, G Toney Douglas, SF Harrison Barnes, C Jermaine O'Neal, G Nemanja Nedovic
FRONTCOURT: Lee has established himself as a pure threat inside and is one of the top scorers among big men. However, he tore his right hip flexor in the Warriors' first game of the postseason against the Nuggets and underwent surgery in May. Lee, who made a brief return at the end of the Denver series and saw limited action against the Spurs, originally thought he wouldn't need surgery. After several opinions, though, it was decided surgery was needed.
"I feel no ill effects whatsoever," Lee told the San Jose Mercury News. "I actually feel a lot better moving around than I did even last year at this time."
The Warriors lost key contributors in Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Brandon Rush, but landed defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala in a three-team trade. Not known as a shooter, Iguodala's veteran leadership, experience and hard work can only help in this team's transition to greatness. Iguodala did say it will take time for his new teammates to adjust to him and his style. He was asked during training camp if it's coming to fruition.
"Not yet. I think it will get there though as soon as we play in the games," Iguodala said. "Games are a little different feel. It's going to take some growing pains and I'm going to have a lot of turnovers."
Iguodala said "defense is defense" and is looking to get all of his mistakes out of the way in training camp and preseason. He is excited to play with Curry and Thompson and getting open looks down the lane. Iguodala averaged 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.74 steals in 34.7 minutes for Denver last season.
Oft-injured center Andrew Bogut can make the Warriors even more dominant as long as he can remain on the court. Bogut appeared in only 32 games during the regular season, posting 5.8 points and 7.7 boards. Bogut, a former No. 1 overall pick who averaged 7.2 ppg and 10.9 rpg in the playoffs, has displayed the ability to be an inside presence and that can take pressure off of the guards. Bogut entered training camp in great shape, losing about 20 pounds.
BACKCOURT: The Warriors have one of the more talented point guards in the NBA in Curry. Curry proved right away he can play at this level out of little Davidson and has tremendous scoring touch. He was seventh in scoring last season with a career-best 22.9 ppg and helped the Warriors average 101.2 ppg, which was also seventh. The free-shooting Curry has a history of ankle issues and that's always a concern. But when he's at 100 percent and playing with confidence, Curry is one of the best.
"Just to keep getting better as a team and individually," Curry said when asked about his expectations for 2012-13. "It's a matter of just being a hard- working unit from top to bottom from day one and I think things will kind of take care of themselves as we go through the season with how disciplined we are and the mindset going into the season."
Curry understand setting the tempo and getting his teammates pumped up is another part of his job. One of those teammates is Klay Thompson. Thompson and Curry were a dangerous duo beyond the arc and the latter sank 211 threes, which was third in the NBA. Thompson and Curry combined for an NBA-record 483 three-pointers, while Thompson was second in scoring (16.6 ppg) and three- point percentage (0.401) among sophomores. He is looking toward an even better campaign in 2013-14 and averaged 15.2 ppg in 12 playoff games.
"Just to compete, try to be the best two-way player I can be," Thompson said when asked about his mindset for the season. "I try to pride myself on my defense and hopefully continue to go on that end and get recognition for it."
BENCH: Harrison Barnes may one day be a starter for this team and enjoyed a decent rookie campaign last season, finishing fifth in scoring (9.2 points), 10th in rebounding (4.1 rebounds), 10th in field-goal percentage (.439) and seventh in three-point shooting (.359) among first-year players. His output improved tremendously in the playoffs, upping his scoring to 16.1 ppg. Barnes is big at 6-8, but needs to add more bulk to his 210-pound frame.
The Warriors took a gamble on veteran center Jermaine O'Neal, but his presence and track record of consistency can only help the bench and the younger players. Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights, Draymond Green and rookie Nemanja Nedovic will play key roles off the bench. Curry said Nedovic is a quiet player, but a gym rat who wants to learn and get better. Nedovic certainly has plenty of talented teammates to learn from.
COACHING: Jackson has made a name for himself as a no-nonsense coach who prides himself on defense, and getting stops on the other end couldn't be more important for his basketball lexicon. Jackson has helped the Warriors improve dramatically across the board on the other end and added a few defensive- minded players in the offseason. Iguodala is obviously the first one to come to mind in that respect. As previously stated, injuries will lead to Golden State's demise and Jackson cannot coach health.
Lindsey Hunter was added to Jackson's staff in September and was interim coach of the Phoenix Suns last year. The Suns went another way in Jeff Hornacek for the upcoming season. Hunter played 17 years in the NBA and can only make this roster better from experience and knowledge.
OUTLOOK: The Warriors bolstered their starting lineup and bench in the offseason and are hoping the depth will bring even more success. Chemistry, of course, will be an issue and Iguodala mentioned in training camp it takes time. Golden State has the roster to make an even deeper push in the playoffs than last season and an appearance in the conference finals isn't an outlandish prediction. The main pieces of Curry, a potential MVP candidate, Thompson, Lee and Iguodala should lead to at least 50-55 wins in the regular season and seize one of the top seeds for the playoffs.