We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.
Can the remarkably unexpected be repeated? In 2014-15, the Golden State Warriors claimed their first championship in four decades and possibly the best NBA season since the Jordan era. At 67 wins with a +10.1 point differential, the Warriors clobbered foes with a mix of blistering offense and smothering, switching defense. Golden State was the first NBA team in league history to finish with the top-ranked defense and the top-ranked pace. This team smoked the league in the regular season and then persevered over a couple of challenges in the playoffs.
Suggestions that the Warriors were “lucky” last season likely stem less from malice than from surprise. This was the dream season that fell out of the sky. The question now is whether they can sustain success after such a meteoric rise. The offseason suggests that the Warriors can maintain something close to last season — not because they made changes, but because they largely didn’t. “Continuity” is the watchword for this team, which has returned all its rotation players. David Lee was the biggest subtraction, and he’d largely fallen out of the lineup until a surprise showing in Game 3 of the Finals. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system doesn’t expect Lee’s departure to have much of an impact, projecting the Warriors to go 60-22 (that doesn’t factor in Golden State’s schedule; this is based on talent alone):
Coming off a successful Finals run and looking forward to another, Warriors coach Steve Kerr had planned a light preseason in the interest of sustainability. Unfortunately for Golden State, that light preseason turned dark when Kerr suffered painful complications from back surgery. This development could make a repeat championship performance less likely. At the moment, it’s difficult to know when Kerr will be fully healthy and what toll his injury has taken on the team’s preparation. Luke Walton handled the preseason as interim coach, but it’s tough to exert new authority that could end at any moment. So Golden State already has had some adversity to start the season. Fortunately for the Warriors, they have excellent players who are mostly in their primes:
The best of those excellent players is Stephen Curry, whose status as greatest shooter ever is trending toward “inarguable.” CARMELO expects a slight drop-off for the reigning MVP, but that’s mostly because Curry was so crazily good last year — he still projects to have a spectacular season. (Check out his No. 4 comp!)
Curry is fighting the drop-off projection with a series of “neurological drills” that use light beams to improve the speed of his on-court decisions. Decision making is a big part of what makes him great, as Curry is nearly as adept a passer as he is a shooter. It’s hard to conceive of someone with his height and frame leveraging an even greater impact on the sport, but don’t be surprised if it happens.
Klay Thompson might be the best shooter in the game if not for his teammate (Thompson’s top two comps are all-time great sharpshooters). But he also improved as a driver and decision maker last season. Kerr’s offense benefited Thompson greatly, as the increased ball movement meant more open looks. Still, CARMELO isn’t sure whether Thompson can sustain an All-Star level of production, labeling him a “borderline All-Star.” No word on whether CARMELO saw Thompson’s lackluster Finals and came away unimpressed.
If there’s a CARMELO theme for the Warriors, it’s regression. Draymond Green, who was a Most Improved Player candidate last season, is projected to decline a bit from those heights. Over the summer, Green has worked on his post game for situations when smaller players switch onto him. We’ll see if he can beat the projection from the block. Green might be Golden State’s second most important player, as he can and does guard every position. He finished with the most first-place votes for Defensive Player of the Year last year, but he was second in the scoring system to Kawhi Leonard. Green joked that Al Gore had it worse in 2000, and he’s right: Gore didn’t get paid $82 million after he lost.
One of the smartest players in the league, ace defender, Finals MVP and all-around curmudgeon Andre Iguodala will also turn 32 years old this season. He battles a CARMELO decline by monitoring his sleep and getting the “Germany” knee operation. Iguodala isn’t a sharpshooter, but his long-windup 3-pointer must be respected — as he showed the Cavs in the Finals. He’s an above-average passer and — on the other end — excels at blocking opponent passing lanes. Every team could use an Iguodala.
Andrew Bogut was finally largely healthy last year, and he had a great season. Like Iguodala, Bogut is a defensive ace, savvy passer and consummate grump. His reputation took a hit when the Warriors benched him in the Finals, but he was a huge part of why they won 67 games in the regular season. Bogut is an elite rim protector, and much of the offense relies on what he can do off dribble handoffs.
Master of corner threes and capable of guarding power forwards, Harrison Barnes gives the Warriors lineup flexibility, though it remains to be seen if he can extend his offensive game beyond shooting open shots off the catch. To get there, he needs to work on his handle. Recently he’s copied some of the dribbling drills Curry uses in an effort to be a better playmaker.