The offseason for the Golden State Warriors has been full of both ups and downs. Baron Davis bolts for L.A., leaving many questions about the fate of the team. The Warriors, though, did anything but sit around and mope over their loss. They were able to lock-up Monta Ellis for the future, sign powerful swingman Corey Maggette, trade for point guard Marcus Williams, and draft the talented Anthony Randolph, all in just a few months. The loss of Baron Davis seemed to be sustainable due to all the acquisitions, and looked like everything might be okay after all, but that all came to a crashing halt when Monta Ellis injured his ankle. With no date set for Ellisí return, the team is in the hands of Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, and third year point guard Marcus Williams, who will be forced into the position of leading the team. The loss of Ellis for any part of the season hurts, and Golden Stateís playoff chances seemed to go right out the window after his injury. If Captain Jack can rally the troops in the Bay Area until Ellis returns, the Warriors have a shot, but it is a long shot at best.
Offense: Last year, the Warriors led the league in scoring at 111 points per game. This year, they could get close to that number, but without Baron Davis, and without Monta Ellis for a certain period, it will be hard to match that number again. Before the injury, Monta Ellis was going to be put into Baron Davisí former position of being the starting point guard, and running the team. Monta Ellis has yet to prove that he he trulyhas playmaking abilities, and wonít even have that chance until he gets back. Marcus Williams, who Chris Mullin has compared to legendary point guard Mark Jackson, is being thrust into the starting job with just nine career starts under his belt, all in New Jersey. In his third season, Marcus Williams now has the chance to shine, or possibly falter under the pressure. If Williams can drive to the basket, and make passes to an open Stephen Jackson or a cutting Corey Maggette, he should be just fine.
Outside of Marcus Williams, the Warriors seem devoid of playmakers. Stephen Jackson will share the burden with Marcus Williams, but he is not a true playmaker. In Don Nelsonís offensive system, though, the team may be able to get away with it. Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette will be carrying the brunt of the offensive load, unless management makes some sort of trade down the line. Jackson proved to be invaluable in the clutch last year, but so did Ellis, and his presence at the end of games will surely be missed.
Defense: The Warriors averaged 111 points per game in 2007-08, leading the league, but gave up 108.8 points, also leading the league. Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins were the top defensive players in Golden State last year, and should be once again this season. Corey Maggette has never been a great defender, but he can hold his own, and should be a good enough replacement for what Mickael Pietrus brought to them defensively. One huge problem the Warriors encountered last year was that they had no reliable replacements for Andris Biedrins when he needed rest. The addition of Ronny Turiaf answers that question, and his high-energy game should fit in perfectly with Nellieís style. Turiaf is one shining addition to the teamís defense, and his signing was a very underrated move this offseason. Having Ronny Turiaf and Corey Maggette in the rotation this year should improve the team defensively, but they still have some issues that were not resolved. Overall, donít expect too many changes on the defensive side of the ball for this team, as they should be toward the top in points allowed once again this season.
Strengths: Having two wing players as talented as both Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson is always a plus for any team. Both players will likely complement the other very nicely. Jackson will score many of his points from the outside, whereas Maggette will bring his strong inside game to the team, which is something the Warriors have clearly lacked the past few years. Assuming Monta Ellis returns before the year is through, the Warriors could have one of the most deadly inside-out offenses in the league.
Weaknesses: The obvious choice here would be their defense. I believe, however, that the biggest weakness for the Golden State Warriors is their lack of true leadership. With Baron Davis, the Warriors had a leader. He was a bit quirky, but a leader, nonetheless. Monta Ellis has all the qualities to become a great leader in the NBA, just ask his number one fan, Chris Mullin. At the tender age of 22 (almost 23), Ellis canít be expected to take over for Baron Davis right out of the blue. Corey Maggette is a veteran player, but seeing as he is in a new territory, and has never been an outright leader on any other team, he gets the pass. Stephen Jackson is really the only guy that this young squad can look to. He has the experience, he has the vocal authority, but he has never been put into a position to be a teamís leader on the floor. Jackson has the tools, but can he handle the pressure? That question will likely be answered at some point this season.
Five Players to Watch:
Stephen Jackson- Earlier this offseason, there was a story about how Stephen Jackson wants a max contract, after seeing all of these other players around the league getting big money. Well, with Baron Davis in another county, and Monta Ellis out indefinitely, this year is Stephen Jacksonís opportunity to prove that he is a max-contract, go-to-guy kind of player. Jackson is always been heralded as a great teammate by his fellow payers, but this year he has to prove that he can carry those fellow players when they need his help. This is the most important year of Stephen Jacksonís career, will he step up?
Corey Maggette - Last year for the Clippers, Corey Maggette had shown that he could be a consistent outside shooter, as he hit over one three per game, on 38% shooting. That will help in Don Nelsonís offense, but Maggetteís most valuable asset is his ability to use his brute force to get to the basket. Corey Maggette is annually in the top-ten for both free throws attempted, and made. In fact, back in 2004, he led the league in the makes category. Hitting free throws at an 81% clip, while taking an average of 9.7 free throw attempts per game is staggering, and if Maggette is smart, he will stick to his roots of do or die basketball which will get him, and the Warriors, many easy points.
Monta Ellis Ė This youngster was ready to supplant Baron Davis as the teamís top player from game one of the upcoming season, but after suffering an ankle injury, that day will have to wait. Monta Ellis has a great blend of speed and intelligence that allow him to get just about anywhere on the floor. He has a solid mid-range game, and can find the open man when he canít get a shot. His loss will definitely hurt this team, but if the Warriors can stay afloat in the West, and Ellis returns before the season is through, he could possibly push them into one of the final playoff spots. Ellis has shown great potential, and hopefully he gets a chance to show his true value at some point this season.
Andris Biedrins Ė Andris Biedrins is usually the forgotten player on this team. The thing is, he doesnít really mind. Biedrins does the quiet, dirty work for this team, and it can be argued, that he is essentially the teamís most valuable player. He has nice footwork under the basket, and is quicker than most centers in the league, which helps him get to the rebound so often. He is a great help defender, and has the size to matchup with the other bigs around the league. Biedrins has never been considered a good scorer, but he does have a nice touch around the basket. If he wasnít so shy about taking some of his own shots, he could put up an easy 15 points per night. After all, he did lead the league in field goal percentage at 62.6%. This year, Biedrins should come out of his shell, and expect bigger scoring returns from the Latvian center.
Al Harrington Ė Al Harrington is coming off a rather mediocre season, and with both Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph waiting in the wings, his days seem to be numbered. Harrington can bring great value to a team, considering he has the strength to score on the inside, but can hit the three as well. If Harrington can step up his game in the absence of Monta Ellis, he might continue to get 25 to 30 minutes a night. The more likely scenario, though, has him being traded, or sharing minutes with the young bench players.
Playoff Hopes: An appearance in the Finals seems out of the question, and the playoffs seem out of reach as well. If the team can bond together and add some defense to their fiery offense, they have a shot. Most likely, though, expect them to be outside of the top ten out West.
Prediction: 4th Place, Pacific Division