By Nicholas Steblenko
A little over a year ago, I moved to San Francisco. As an avid sports fan for many years, I was curious to see a corner of the United States ridden with both scandal and greatness through its lengthy history with professional sports.
As a young man from the east coast, where you are taught to focus on teams that “truly matter” like the Yankees and Rangers, teams with infinite amounts of money to throw at their respective sports, I was intrigued to see what the west coast had to offer. I knew, of course about Barry Bonds and the BALCO scandal, the “shoulda had it” Sharks and the A’s with their “Moneyball” ideology, but I was ready to experience things from a different perspective. The fans’ perspective.
They say first impressions are everything. The first team I ran into was the Warriors. Bad first impression.
Like Ben Stiller zipping up his fly too fast bad.
Their roster was all over the place. They had a rookie head coach who was trying to make sense of it all while losing a rising young star in Stephen Curry for the season to injury. To top it all off, there was a 6th year player who was probably seething at question of where it all went wrong. The Warriors would finish the 2011-12 season in fourth place in the Pacific division and with a record of 23-43.
I can see Stiller’s face as he let’s out that high pitched, body shaking screech now.
Monta Ellis was just a rookie the last time the Warriors were in the playoffs but boy was it a run to remember. The eighth seeded Warriors took down the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in style. There was so much promise that it just seemed inevitable Ellis would be a part of a championship run at some point in his career with Golden State.
Yet, the team I saw in December of 2011 was terrible. At the bottom of the barrel with no end in sight. It was a total rebuilding project that was just not going as planned. Draft picks like Anthony Morrow and Marco Belinelli had long since been shipped away and the team would rise and fall around the play of its lone star, who seemed to feel the weight of the failing Warriors on his shoulders every night.
At the end of last season, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob, was booed during the retirement of Chris Mullin’s jersey. The fans at Oracle Arena were showing their displeasure of the recent trading of Ellis, alongside an improving Ekpe Udoh, for center Andrew Bogut and the aging Stephen Jackson of the Milwaukee Bucks. Their message was clear. Monta Ellis, beloved superstar, was to be sorely missed by the fans of Golden State and that it was a big mistake to let him go.
Fast forward to this season and we have a whole new Ben Stiller. The Warriors are 22-10 and in 2nd place behind only the surging Los Angeles Clippers, good for fifth in the powerful Western Conference. They are doing it with complete team play, finding production off the bench from almost everyone on their roster and are battling injuries the entire time.
I don’t hear any boos.
After beating the Blake Show, and soundly might I add, it is not so difficult to see the Warriors in a favorable playoff match up later this season. Yet, with Warriors fans, and fans around the NBA shaking their heads at the end of last season, there were major steps needed to get to this point after a dismal end to 2012.
A healthy Curry, step one in the plight to success from last season, has proven to be the biggest factor so far. He is currently in the top 12 in scoring, assists per game and steals per game in the league, three categories a top point guard needs to compete in to some degree if a team wants to be successful.
A strong draft was step number two in the process and the Warriors could make a case for having the strongest draft in 2012 at this point. With the oft injured Bogut, their prize acquisition from the Ellis trade out once again, rookies Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli have been major players for the Warriors this season.
Barnes is seventh among rookies in scoring and plays a solid all around game when called upon, an excellent choice at seventh overall. Draymond Green was one of the most underrated players in the 2012 NBA draft, an absolute steal late in the second round, and Festus Ezeli has been a welcomed addition to the defensive side of the ball, ranking fifth among rookies in blocks. All around, the rookies have been a nice injection of energy to a broken lineup.
Step number three was to acquire a strong supporting cast to build around Curry and another rising young star, Klay Thompson, at both ends of the floor. That’s where Jarret Jack, a popular pick for sixth man of the year, and Carl Landry come into play. The two have been a pleasant surprise and have been providing much needed depth to the Warriors’ roster.
Wrap it all up with one of David Lee’s best seasons to date and you have a playoff contender.
Anyone missing Monta anymore?
While this team has a long stretch ahead of them still with many hurdles to jump in order to prove they are capable of a deep playoff run, the positives are all there. A young squad, growing with a relatively new coach and a sense of underdog carelessness that could see them through to greener pastures. The exact opposite of that awful first impression last December.
Hopefully Mary will forget all about last year, right Oakland?