ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: The Warriors ultimately overachieved when all was said and done in 2013, getting to the second round of the playoffs and taking the eventual Western Conference champion Spurs to six games before their season was ended. For a sixth seed entering the playoffs with just 47 wins and having to go through the team that finished with the best home record in the league in the Denver Nuggets, it was a bold step forward for a club full of young talent.

Signature highlight from last season: It’s tempting to give Harrison Barnes the nod here for his incredible dunk over the Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic, but Stephen Curry’s breakout season was the main reason for his team’s unexpected level of success. As a result, enjoy the 54 points Curry dropped on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, even though the scoring barrage came in a losing effort.

Key player changes: Golden State landed a big-name free agent in Andre Iguodala, who would appear to be a perfect addition to the club on both ends of the floor. But they lost a couple of key role players in the process.

  • IN: Iguodala, who the team signed to a four-year, $48 million free agent contract. Marreese Speights was signed to a three-year deal in the offseason, Jermaine O’Neal and Toney Douglas are in place on one-year deals, and Nemanja Nedovic was Golden State’s first round pick in this summer’s draft.
  • OUT: Jarrett Jack is gone, signed by the Cavaliers in free agency. Carl Landry signed a multi-year deal with the Kings, and seldom-used Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, and Brandon Rush were all traded to the Jazz in a salary dump to clear enough cap space to land Iguodala.

Keys to the Warriors season:

1) Integrating Iguodala: Andre Iguodala is an interesting player, in that he’s one of the more well-respected wings around the league who can impact the game more on the defensive end of the floor than with his scoring. The Warriors were good but not great in both categories last season — 10th in the league in offensive efficiency, 13th in defensive efficiency. Iguodala should help in both areas, and whether he or Harrison Barnes is the one relegated to the second unit, the team should see an immediate impact made by both players in their new roles.

2) Replacing the depth that’s departed: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry both left in free agency after playing key roles for the Warriors a season ago off the bench. Jack was often times on the floor playing crunch-time minutes in three-guard lineups alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He averaged almost 30 minutes per game, and it’s unclear at this point how those minutes will be distributed this season. Landry, meanwhile, played all 82 last year and averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds in 23.2 minutes per contest.

Barnes or Iguodala anchoring the second unit will replace a good portion of that production, but there’s still a void that needs to be filled there if the Warriors are going to exceed what they achieved last year. Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green may be pressed into greater roles, and whether or not they’re ready for them may partially determine how the team fares.

3) Curry making the leap to superstar: There’s no question that Curry is coming off of a breakout season, taking the crown as the game’s purest shooter with very little resistance. He averaged close to seven assists per game, too, but may have to up his production in that category even more for his team to continue to thrive, while cutting down on the turnovers as head coach Mark Jackson suggested this offseason.

Curry is poised to make the projected leap, and if he does so as expected, the Warriors’ unique collection of talent will be even more trouble for teams to stop.

Why you should watch: The aforementioned Curry is becoming a must-see player, and he along with Klay Thompson make for one of the more exciting backcourts in the league from a long-range shooting perspective.

Prediction: It took 56 wins a season ago just to make it to fifth in the Western Conference by the time the playoffs began, and if that’s the case again, it’s tough to see the Warriors finishing much higher than the sixth spot they earned last year. But this season more than most, playoff seeding won’t matter all that much in the West, where the top six teams can all make a strong preseason case as to why they should be favored to finish at or near the top of the standings.

Golden State has some interesting pieces in place, but there are questions surrounding Iguodala’s fit and whether or not they’ll be able to replace the bench production that was lost. A playoff berth seems like a lock; beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.