ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: The Warriors continued their ascent under Mark Jackson – going from 23-43 to 47-35 to 51-31. Then, they fired Jackson.

Arguably, the team took a step back because it didn’t win a playoff series after upsetting the Nuggets the year prior. However, the Warriors – without an injured Andrew Bogut – pushed the Clippers, a better team than the 2012-13 Nuggets, to seven games in the first round. I’d argue Golden State improved, but so did the Western Conference.

Off the court, it was a weird year. Jackson had assistant coach Brian Scalabrine reassigned and then fired assistant Darren Erman. Questions swirled throughout the season, including during the playoffs, about Jackson’s own job security. That’s a lot of turmoil for a winning team.

Signature highlight from last season: The Warriors had more than their share of thrilling game-winning jumpers last season. I can’t pick just one two three four five, so I went with six:

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Warriors season:

Steve Kerr hitting the ground running: On the court, the Warriors were doing well under Jackson.

Was he getting the most from the team? Maybe not, especially offensively. But the bar is high, and the players are largely the same with some small improvements on the bench.

All the pressure is on Kerr, who has no coaching experience.

Even an average offensive coach should help on that end, where Golden State ranked a surprisingly low 12th in points per possession last season. But it will be challenging for Kerr to improve the elite defense – and overall picture.

Relying on a starting lineup that works: Golden State’s starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – posted the best net-rating among the NBA’s 30 most-used lineups. Only the Trail Blazers’ starters return in tact with more playing time together last year.

The Warriors’ starters have developed chemistry. They’ve performed well. And they’re all back.

Stick with what works.

Developing and implementing a bench: On the downside of having such a well-used starting lineup is the reserves often played only with each other, and those hockey-style line changes sometimes yielded negative results.

The talent is there to better integrate the bench players with the starters and find lineups that work.

Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes are reliably solid reserve options. Signing Livingston, though he’s injured, should help. Signing Rush and Barbosa could help. If Festus Ezeli gets healthy, he’s another piece.

The Warriors can become more complete.

Forgetting about Kevin Love: The Warriors seemed to be in position to trade for Kevin Love this summer by trading Klay Thompson, but they didn’t pull the trigger. Undoubtedly, there will be times Love excels in Cleveland, and everyone around Golden State – including in the locker room – wonders whether that was a mistake. It’s human nature.

But the Warriors can’t let them overwhelm what could be a very positive season.

Klay Thompson building off a great summer: Thompson, 24, is the only Warrior starter under 26. If that already-strong unit is going to progress, the pressure is on him more than anyone to elevate his game. It’s even higher considering Golden State kept him rather than trading for Love.

Thompson excelled, especially defensively, with Team USA this summer, and that could be a breakthrough for him. He’s at least in the conversation as the NBA’s best two-way shooting guard.

Whether or not Thompson gets an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, the Warriors have put a lot of faith in him.

Why you should watch: Stephen Curry will retire as the best shooter of all time. He probably hasn’t earned that title quite yet, but he’s on track. He can pull up from anywhere on the court – and often does.

This team has so many skilled players, and when its offense is humming – which didn’t happen enough last season – it’s really a thing of beauty.

As last season showed, the Warriors have a high defensive ceiling, as Mark Jackson put even Curry and Lee in position to succeed. I don’t expect to see that repeated, but if it happens, Golden State’s defense is a fun watch for basketball junkies.

Prediction: 46-36. Maybe Steve Kerr makes the Warriors better in the long run – maybe. But I don’t see him stepping in with no coaching experience and instantly making the team better – especially not in such a challenging Western Conference.

The Warriors have enough talent to remain dangerous, and I expect the offense to improve while the defense slips. The team could look much different while producing similar results, but such a transition usually means some short-term slippage.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

(Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.