Best in the West: Feltbot’s 2013-14 Western Conference Forecast — Part One

Anyone who tells you they know exactly how the West is going to shake out this season is deluded. This is probably the most wide open the top of the West has been in over 20 years. I give 5 different teams a legitimate chance (10% or better) to finish with the best record. It’s Open Season.

So when I tell you my pick for the top team in the West, you should understand that I’m only giving that team about a 20-25% chance of actually finishing on top. That just happens to be a higher percentage than I’m assigning any of the others.

What might be more interesting to you are my picks against the Vegas Win-Total lines. I’ve had a pretty good record with these historically, including last year, when I went 5-1. These lines are among the very few all year that the Vegas bookies can get egregiously wrong. Mainly because the preseason enthusiasms of the fans can have an outsized effect on them, but also because of the difficulty the experts have in forecasting the effects of new rosters and new coaches.

In reverse order (because, drama), here are my picks for the top 6 seeds in the West: 

6) THUNDER (50.5 winsno bet)

I didn’t give the Thunder a chance in the West even before we got the news that Westbrook was going back under the knife. I just don’t believe they can be anything close to the team they’ve been without a legitimate third scoring option. They downgraded from Harden to Kevin Martin last season, and in this season are further downgrading to… Jeremy Lamb? Does anyone in their right mind believe this 21 yr old, 185 lb. off-guard is ready to compete against the best of the West? I think it’s almost a forgone conclusion that Sefolosha will become their full-time two-guard.

The truth of the matter is that the Thunder are no longer contenders in the West, and won’t be again unless their roster is upgraded. And with this latest injury to Westbrook, that upgrade might have to be bigger than people think. Even if Westbrook comes back ready to go in 6 weeks, if you take away 10% of his athleticism and fearlessness, is he still a great player? Is he even a good player?

Believe it or not, I have my doubts about that. Before his injury he was a selfish, visionless pointguard who couldn’t shoot the three. If you take away from his extraordinary ability to get to the rack and draw fouls, take away his fearless offensive rebounding, take a little edge off his relentless ballhawking… what will we be left with? I wouldn’t be surprised if this Thunder team struggles after Westbrook returns.

Why am I not betting under? Because 50.5 wins is already 9.5 less than they won last year.

5) CLIPPERS (57 wins UNDER)

Everyone’s consensus pick to win the West, which has me scratching my head. They’ve got Doc Rivers coaching, true. And I really like the Jared Dudley pickup. JJ Redick is a decent ballplayer. And the Clippers are a much better regular season team than playoff team, because Blake Griffin gives a lot of opposing big men the Shaq-flu. So what don’t I like about picking them to lead the West? Let’s count the reasons:

  1. Chris Paul has Bogutitis of the right knee.
  2. Chris Paul is paired with JJ Redick in the backcourt — in effect a much smaller backcourt than Stephen Curry/Monta Ellis. Has any one of our esteemed pundits remarked on what used to be the first thing out of their mouths about the Warriors? The difference between perception and reality can be quite amusing in the NBA.
  3. Paul and Redick are backed up by Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford. Good offensive players, yes, but isn’t it fair to say that the Clippers will have one of the worst defensive backcourts in the entire league? Is that a recipe for success? Particularly given the fact that…
  4. The big men behind them, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, are poor defenders themselves. No one actually knows why, given their athleticism (intellect is rarely discussed by NBA pundits). And Doc Rivers might help. But it’s clear to me that the Clippers will be the absolute worst defensive team among the contenders in the West. Particularly given the fact that…
  5. They plan to sit the wretched free-throw shooting Jordan on the pine in the fourth quarter and go with a stretch-four or stretch-five. That’s why they added Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, right? Hmmm…. are they good defenders?
  6. The Clippers’ Pacific Division rivals, the Warriors, are going to OWN this matchup. O.W.N. Why am I so certain of this? Because they owned it last year, before the additions of Iggy, O’Neal and Speights. And because Mark Jackson is now in possession of the Rick Adelman book on Blake Griffin: guard him with your center. With no post moves, and a poor outside shot, Griffin struggles mightily when guarded by centers. Adelman tortured him with Darko. Jackson tortured him with the rookie Ezeli and the crippled Biedrins. What might a healthy and nimble Andrew Bogut do to him? As for the rest of the playbook: Lee did a superb job denying Jordan access to the rim. Like Stephen Jackson before him, Klay Thompson used his length to deny Chris Paul the midrange jumper, and the over-the-top pass. It might be Iggy on Paul this season. Game over.
  7. Chris Paul has Bogutitis of the right knee. Did I already mention that? Because no one else is, and it’s worth mentioning.

4) ROCKETS (54.5 wins no bet)

This is a hell of a good team, with great depth. If Dwight Howard somehow returns to pre-injury form, they’re the favorites. If he’s just OK, they’ll still be tough to beat. And even if he struggles or gets reinjured, they’ve got Omer Asik behind him.

Daryl Morey has built this team the right way around Howard: with three point shooters galore. Including three stretch-fours. Motiejunas to start — he showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. The great Chandler Parsons later. And the 6-9″ Omri Casspi.

Our good friend Reggie Williams has been rescued from purgatory. Can he shoot the three? How about Francisco Garcia? There’s no shooting dropoff behind Parsons at the small forward.

James Harden is probably the second most valuable player in the West, behind Durant. (Unless he’s third, behind Curry.) And the Rocket’s improvement will help reduce his minutes and keep him healthy.

Lin has once again spent the offseason retooling his jumper. That’s because both Patrick Beverly and Aaron Brooks are good enough to put him on the bench if his shooting falters. Did I mention this team was deep?

There will be some struggles with the system. Lin and Harden are made for pick and roll, Howard prefers post-ups.

And they do have a glaring hole in their roster: Who is their wing stopper?

But this team will contend.

3) GRIZZLIES (49 wins – OVER)

This team is perpetually underrated for obvious reasons — no superstar, small market — and this season is no different. Consider the fact that they won 56 games last season. Are they worse this season? I’m sorry, I don’t buy the idea that they were a better team with Rudy Gay — and I don’t believe their post-trade record reflected that either.

I also don’t buy the idea that firing Lionel Hollins will make them a worse team, even though he’s being replaced by a rookie coach. In fact, I think there’s a significant chance that firing the utterly incompetent Hollins will make the Grizzlies BETTER. Here’s a few of the positive changes I anticipate:

  1. Letting Tayshaun Prince shoot the 3. He was 50% from the corners with Detroit last season, but damned if I ever saw Hollins station him there.
  2. In general, a far greater emphasis on shooting the three, as indicated by the addition of Mike Miller. Was there any team in the league that so badly needed floor spacing as did the Grizzlies last year? And were so firmly denied it by their clueless old school coach?
  3. Allowing Tony Allen to guard superstar point guards, like Tony Parker. Just to mention one more time the egregious coaching error that caused the Grizzlies to get swept out of the playoffs last season.
  4. Getting Ed Davis, a promising young power forward, and Jon Leuer, a strong rebounding stretch-four, into the rotation. Hollins literally boycotted these players last season post-trade.

Zach Randolph’s play declined last year coming off knee surgery, which is a concern. But adding the solid Kosta Koufos to an already deep front line bench will be a real boon to both Gasol and Randolph.

If the rookie coach gets it right, the Grizzlies are on the verge of greatness. I think that 49 win line is a joke. This team can win the West.

2) SPURS (55.5no bet)

I was the only writer in the world who had the Spurs to win the West last season, and they were leading the pack until Parker went down in the final month. And I’m among the few who have them this high this season. They are so old now, and so increasingly injury-prone, that everyone is reluctant to believe they can excel for another season.

I’m actually in the same camp as the dubious this year, for reasons I’ll get to below. But I’ll give them the respect they deserve by picking them second.

The Spurs’ finish in the West is likely to be a binary outcome, depending on their health. If they remain healthy, they will contend for the top seed. But if they don’t, Popovich is likely to tank them down to the bottom of the playoff ladder. Why? Because playoff seeding matters very little to great veteran teams. Because Pop has nothing to prove by winning regular season games. And because Pop’s paramount concern is getting his veterans into the postseason healthy.

Here are several reasons why I think the Spurs might struggle this season:

  1. Ginobili’s hamstrings died last year. And with them, his shooting and his defense. This year their shriveled corpses are a year older.
  2. The Spurs have added Marco Belinelli, who’s now a solid player, as insurance. But I don’t expect Charles Barkley to start shouting his name.
  3. Tim Duncan performed at an incredibly high level all of last season. There is A LOT of room for his performance to drop off at age 37. Beginning with Popovich giving him more rest. We saw distinct signs of his mortality in the playoffs.
  4. The injury-prone Tony Parker frequently wears down at the end of the season. This year he’s primed to wear down even sooner. He spent the summer guiding France to the Euroleague Championship. How many times have we seen NBA players break down after grueling summers of international competition? Pau Gasol is simply the latest.
  5. Last year was a contract year for Tiago Splitter, and he landed a juicy one. Just saying.

1) GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (49.5 winsOVER)

I can hear the “homer” shouts already. But for those of you so inclined, pause for a moment and ask yourself, just how many times have I picked the Warriors to beat the Vegas line in the Joe Lacob era?

Yeah.

It’s rather remarkable that the first time I pick Lacob’s Warriors to beat expectations, I also happen to feel they’re very likely to end up with the best record in the Western Conference.

Why? Because very simply I think they have the best roster in the conference. Led by a genuine superstar, Stephen Curry. By superstar, I mean a player who completely warps defenses in the effort to contain him, and yet still regularly beats those defenses. In the playoffs.

The kind of player you can count on the fingers of one hand. The kind of player whose extraordinary abilities in all facets of the game make him the third best player in fantasy basketball.

And his supporting cast? Well, let’s consider where this Warriors roster ranks in these significant aspects:

  1. With the possible exception of the San Antonio Spurs, the highest IQ team in the league. Curry, Iggy, Lee, Bogut: all off the charts. And Klay Thompson well on his way to their level. Probably one of the highest IQ teams in league history.
  2. Hands down, the best passing team in the league. If Thompson makes the starting lineup, every single starter is capable of averaging over 3 assists/gm. And the starting backcourt of Curry and Iggy could very well lead the league in assists.
  3. Hands down, the best shooting team in the league. No need to mention Curry and Thompson. But with the additions of O’Neal and Speights, and the newfound willingness to play Barnes at the four, the Warriors suddenly have the rare ability to put 5 shooters on the floor at the same time.
  4. So long as Bogut stays healthy, one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
  5. With the addition of Iggy, potentially the best fast-break in the league. This is strictly up to Mark Jackson. It is within his power to make it so. Extraordinary rebounders and outlet passers in Bogut and Lee. Extraordinary speed and finishing ability on the wings in Iggy and Barnes. Extraordinary open-court passing by Curry. Extraordinary ability to bury the walk-up three by Curry and Thompson. Literally unguardable in the open court.
  6. With the additions of Iggy and Toney Douglas, potentially one of the best defensive teams in the league. Consider this odd line-up: Bogut, Green, Iggy, Bazemore, Douglas. How many teams have the ability to surround an all-pro defensive center with four stoppers? In a computer simulation, that lineup could beat many teams in the league by a final score of 68-66.
  7. Stoppers at every position, shooters at every position, size at every position, speed at every position. The Warriors have one of the most versatile rosters in the league. They can match up with anyone, in any style.

That is an awful lot of highests, bests, and mosts. I agree with Joe Lacob (you can pick yourself up off the floor now): the reconfigured Warriors quite possibly have the most talented roster in the league.

There are a few significant question marks. The depth at center, for one. As healthy as Bogut feels and looks right now, I don’t for a minute believe he’ll get through the season without a recurrence of his ankle arthritis. (Osteoarthritis never gets cured, never goes away, particularly in 260 lb. NBA players.) The chances of Jermaine O’Neal getting through an entire season healthy are roughly one in a million. And I am extremely skeptical of Festus Ezeli’s return this year.

But consider this, the less healthy those players are, the more Mark Jackson will be forced to play the Warriors’ BEST lineups. I refer of course, to those lineups featuring Lee/Speights at center, and Barnes/Green at PF. Those smallball stretch lineups produced the Warriors’ highest positive point differential last year, and I have no doubt will do so again this year. Especially with the addition of Iggy to reinforce the defense and rebounding.

The Warriors have another big question mark at back-up point guard. And particularly in whether they can replace the veteran second-unit and crunchtime leadership and shooting of the departed Jarrett Jack. Toney Douglas is not known for his decision making and consistency, to put it mildly.

But I’m pretty sure the Warriors can work around this issue. For one thing, they don’t need to put a purely reserve second unit on the floor. They can blend the first and second units. Particularly to start the season, I don’t think that Curry and Iggy should ever both be off the floor at the same time. I think quite often we’ll see Iggy take over the point guard duties, and stabilize the second unit.

And while Jack’s aggressive shot-taking was absolutely essential last season, the Warriors’ addition of O’Neal and Speights — centers that can shoot — and willingness to play Barnes at the four, would make it far less so. The Warriors have absolutely no need to play 3 on 5 this season.

The last major question mark I see concerns the departure of coach Mike Malone, the man who seemed to draw up all of the Warriors’ plays last season. Can Mark Jackson and newly promoted Darren Erman handle the X’s and O’s with the same aplomb they were handled last year? As I’m not an insider, I don’t know the answer to this.

But judging from Malone’s resume before he came to the Warriors, and in particular his complicity in forcing Lebron James to walk the ball up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is little doubt in my mind that it was Mark Jackson who was responsible for the overall strategic direction that made the Warriors so good last season: Pushing the tempo, the emphasis on early offense, freeing up Curry, Thompson and Jack to aggressively look for their own shots, and the willingness to play small ball in crunchtime.

I’m a little worried that Jackson might stumble out of the gate, by starting Harrison Barnes at his worst position, small forward, and forcing Klay Thompson into an unnatural sixth-man role. I discussed this issue in my previous post. But I have faith in Jackson to get it right in the end. He earned it from me last season.

Warriors fans, this is the best Warriors team since the Rick Barry era. And this is the weakest Western Conference in over 20 years. It’s ripe for the plucking.

This is the season.

(Part Two of my Western Conference Forecast)

34 Responses to Best in the West: Feltbot’s 2013-14 Western Conference Forecast — Part One

  1. D. Dedmon is no Carlos Rogers. Roger was simply not a basketball player. He never knew what he was suppose to do on the court. Unlike Rogers, he can shoot.

    His quickness is a force to be reckoned with. Against Sactown, in 8 minutes of play he gave the Warriors four extra possession via 3 OR’s and one block shot that the Warriors scored off of. Against Utah, he again provided the Warriors in three extra possession, this time 2 steals, 2 block shots (only one of which the Warriors obtained possession). He has not committed a turnover in last 21 minutes on the court. A true diamond in the rough. Hope he makes the team.

  2. thanks again, felt boss. really appreciate how you keep things lean and mean.

    the teams on the bottom are tougher to figure, because it can’t be clear until mid-winter whether they’re trying to win or lose, but what is your best guess on UT at 27.5 ? their home court probably gets them to 18, maybe more, by itself.

  3. Thanks once more, FB. Since you’re betting, I won’t accuse you of boosterism.

    My 2 cents (which is all I’m betting):

    Throw out the results last year. A lot of rosters were depleted from a bad trade year and injuries. Look at the box scores especially for the Warriors. Getting past 50 wins is going to be tougher for all teams.

    Several teams are better this year and won’t be pushovers. Minnesota is healthy now, right? And Dallas is better. Portland made a lot of noise with 5 1/2 players, and now has more bench.

    And I had a bizarre thought. Any chance the Lakers could make some noise themselves if Kobe does NOT return soon? They have talent and a sizable front court. D’Antoni will finally have a chance to coach. Think what happened in NY with Linsanity when the starters went down. If anyone steps up, he’ll have a chance to do something. Meeks doesn’t look to be a reliable shooter, however, and I don’t know anything about Henry and Young.

    Those teams won’t make it to the playoffs, but they will have their say, maybe in spurts. It might be a matter of when you catch them.

    As for the Warriors, I still wonder if they can put enough offense on the floor for 48 minutes, unless they play Klay/Curry/Igoudala heavy minutes. Lee should be able to get more rest though. Look at how our bench compares with Houston’s in shooting. And there still isn’t a much experience on the bench, none with winning teams.

  4. great job again FB. Your years of basketball analysis come through in this well reasoned post. I am going to vegas and will be betting the clips, w’s, and griz. Any write up to come on the East?

    I agree on the mark Jackson not missing Malone. I give credibility to Jackson for his longevity in the nba when he did not have any athleticism to rely upon. He played for some great coaches and as a floor general had to learn how to work matchups ala nelson.
    By the way – you forgot a big advantage for the w’s, per Jackson – God is in charge of this team…

  5. the former prominently inactive lottery wonder b.wright has fractured his shoulder once again. his successor to the next great NC forward roster spot, barnes, won’t get to play before the red masses in Beijing and Shanghai, due to a vaguely described toe ailment.

    • You invite a comparison, or a potential one. Two UNC “stars” have been overpromoted and have had to deal with artificially high expectations, perhaps at the expense of finding roles in the NBA where they might be productive, even of maintaining their health, though we hope that is not the case with Barnes. Wright has battled shoulder problems his entire career. He just wasn’t built for a major role in the front court.

      • b.wright didn’t have the public telling him how great he is since childhood, and didn’t train himself as a media shill like barnes. when barnes was a high schooler shopping for colleges, among those in his recruiting interviews were the dean of Duke’s law school, condie rice at Stanford, and his bloated greatness jordan. it would be difficult for him to resist getting the notion that he’s a chosen one with a mission to attract wealth and success. wright would have done well to become an impact defensive player and valuable role player for a team ; unfortunately, the bar has been set much higher for barnes.

        • I didn’t know that about Barnes. I didn’t follow Wright much at GSW, but then he missed a lot of games from injury. My suspicion is that too much was expected of him. He might have developed into a good backup FC, maybe.

  6. moto@2
    27.5 does seem like a real low number, but with the Jazz starting Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, their final tally is difficult to predict. Especially when you factor in the possibility of tanking, as you note. Too much of a crapshoot for me.

    As a reminder, the Sonics went 20-62 in Kevin Durant’s first year, and 24-58 the next year, Russell Westbrook’s first (and earned a “worst team in the league” moniker from Adam, just as I started betting on them). That team also included Jeff Green, Collison and Sefolosha…

    @rgg I disagree that the West is tougher this year. The Thunder and Nuggets, last year’s 1 and 3 seeds, have fallen off sharply, the Spurs might follow them, and I think many more teams in total have gotten worse than better. The Lakers are absolutely wretched, as I’ll explain in my next post.

    @buckaroo If I see any plays in the East, I’ll throw them into part two of my West analysis, coming this weekend.

    • The west is not tougher but more ambiguous and, as you imply, closer to parity, with the notable exceptions of Denver, Utah, and Phoenix. Denver, however, may still not be a pushover.

      The bottom eight will still be mediocre or worse, but they may have their moments, in spurts.

      I’m fantasizing about the Lakers of course. I’d like to see D’Antoni make another run without superstars.

  7. Rusty Simmons teases China trip tie-in with Warriors Pier 30 proposal:

    http://blog.sfgate.com/warriors/2013/10/12/warriors-arrive-in-china-to-start-huge-week/

  8. The Warriors had some systematic problems last year that has not been addressed in forming the new roster. The Warriors will continue to get to the foul line less than their opponents which hurts them because teams make a higher percentage of FT, than they do on FG attempts.

    They still have Bogut who can’t make foul shots and shot only 45 per cent from the field last year, a terrible percentage for a big.

    And the Warriors have obtained a player In Iggy who will take playing time from Barnes and some from Thompson, who gets to the foul line more than Barnes and Thompson, but who shoots terrible from the foul line.

    There is nothing to indicate that the Warriors will not commit 2 more turnovers then there opponents as they did last year.

    Iggy will provide some extra possession but not enough to offset opponents garnering more extra possessions than the Warriors.

    It would be nice to be optimistic and conclude that the Warriors upgraded their roster. But such does not seem to be the case.

    We still don’t have a back up SG for Thompson. Playing Iggy at SG hurts the Warriors for they need him to play SF to protect Bogut and Speights. Barnes is not a SG.

    The Warriors are not going to be as good shooting by replacing Landry with Speights.The Warriors lost Landry who averaged 23 minutes per game, and shot 54 per cent from the floor. He has been replaced by Speights who averaged 14 minutes per game and shot 45 per cent from the field. This is a big downgrade in shooting and there although Landry’s defense was sub-par, Speights had a very high negative rating playing for Memphis, a good team. Speights lack of offense is going to hurt the Warriors.

    Jack averaged 29 minutes per game and was a major force the Warriors averaging 5 assists per game. He is replaced by Douglas who averaged 17 minutes per game, and is not an assist man. While Douglas is somewhat better than Jack, Douglas such is offset by Douglas inablity to get to foul line and make assists. While Iggy can make assists playing him at point guard negates his defense which is needed inside.

    Iggy will help the Warriors defensively but only if he primarily plays SF.

    O’Neal is big upgrade over Bogut on both sides of the ball but can he remain healthy. He’s already injured. Hopefully, Dedmon can help inside.

    It was my understanding that Erman is a defensive man not an offensive man. So who is drawing up the offensive plays, surely not Jackson.

    While the defense may be better, the offense has clearly taken a step backwards. It can only be effective if the Warriors run and that is something wants to do nor how to have a team run. We haven’t seen outlet passes close to half court nor how to finish a break.

    This team is fatally flawed both with regard to it’s roster which is not deep, and the if Jackson continues to start Bogut is going to start such does not bode well for the Warriors doing well in the first quarter. It appears that Jackson will be forced to play other starters way to many minutes as we have seen in the past. And if Douglas performance returns to where it was before he played for the Kings, the Warriors are in a world of hurt.

  9. when you use the phrase ‘fatally flawed’ Frank, do you mean they won’t make it to the post season ?

    the brain trust was prepared to improvise this year and wait to see how the market went for their pile of expiring contracts, until the UT miracle, which was something Myers worked extremely hard for but by its nature impossible to predict. the UT deal accelerated the roster turning process but by no means were they ready to commit to going all-in for a serious championship run, with two drafted euro rookies and four second year guys on the roster (including the starting center for the most games last year who’ll be inactive for most of this season). among other issues to sort out, bogut and barnes’ long term future with the team. the younger player will likely get an additional season to establish who he is, but what he does in the near term will affect their roster changes in ’14, and in that respect he’s like the other second year guys.

    lacob’s goal is to secure home playoff dates, and a favorable seed, but that isn’t always the highest seed. when we see them take the plunge into the lux tax to add a key veteran, we’ll know they’re earnest about chasing the trophy.

  10. Gosh, I check out for a few months and the site devolves to this.

    Dudes. You need me.

    Here’s the deal:

    - Bogut/Lee is not a winning combination. Both are fine players and excellent human beings, whatever, but they do not work together well. If the Ws start Bogut/Lee they will finish most 1st quarters in a hole. Unfortunately, there’s very little doubt the Ws will start Bogut/Lee.

    - Starting Harrison Barnes compounds the problem. He is at best “average.” Maybe he’ll be better someday. Maybe he’s more effective as a “small 4.” Maybe he’s a marvelous human being, whatever. But throughout the early part of the season the Ws will be starting Barnes over Thompson. A non-defending, minimal-offense, minimal-rebounding, no-handles, no-assist guy. Damn. Barnes over Thompson? Are you kidding me? How quickly will Jackson be able to pull Barnes without humiliating him? Not strictly a basketball decision, but one that will be crucial to the team’s success.

    - By the time Ezeli returns, he’ll be playing behind Dedmon.

    - Last spring I recommended the Ws look at Jermaine O’Neil. Glad to see they took my advice. When healthy, JON is a full-size above-average C with more offensive skills than Bogut. The Ws 3-or-4-or-maybe-even-5 center roster is theoretically an ideal situation for JON at his age. But it ain’t going to work out that way. Bogut starts, Speights is 1st off the bench, then Dedmon gets spot minutes. JON is relegated to short-minute novelty lineups like “twin towers,” and covering for a busted Bogut, whenever that comes about. Good guy, good player, but we’re not going see him play much.

    - Marreese Speights. Gawddamm, this guy has skills, smarts, size -everything. But here’s the deal. I’ve managed people for 30 years, so I know this for a fact: winners win. They may be weak or wacked or sick or whatever, but they win. Normal people don’t win as much as winners do, even if they have all the advantages. Marreese has it all, but he is normal people. He will help win games, but will not win games. Big difference.

    If a comparison would help explain the difference between winners and others, here’s one: Jarrett Jack. Short, slow, not a great athlete, so-so shooter and an infuriating teammate sometimes. But he makes crunchtime shots for the win. Jack is a winner. Speights is great, but he’s not like that.

    Which leads to my biggest concern about the Ws. I think it’s important, though it’s impossible to quantify:

    There’s no Mr. Big on the team this year.

    Mr. Go-To.

    Mr. I’m Going To Win This.

    Curry, Lee, Iggy and the rest are all fantastic players, but none have that edge. Whatever it is that makes Kobe, Paul Pierce, Ginobili or Parker, Lebron or Dwyane get those 10 extra close wins every season. That game winner guy.

    As mediocre as Jack was in so many ways, he was that for the Ws last year. As fine a players as Iggy, Curry, Thompson and the rest are, none of them is that.

    That’s 10 tight-game wins, off the top.

    So, Felt my friend (Hi! Long time no chat!), I won’t be betting on a kickass Warriors record this season. An awesome roster! But a marketing-driven starting lineup, no Mr. Big Shot, and they aren’t going to sneak up anyone this year.

    The Ws are going to finish with about the same record they had last year. A team full of winners (who you completely overlooked in your article) is going to beat them out for the best record in the West.

    So sayeth the Hat, brothers and sisters.

    • good to hear from you again — the hat with the hat came back. the only teams with winners that weren’t covered in felt’s part one are Dal and LA/bussies. or are you picking a different ensemble altogether ?

      your supposition that jack was responsible for ten tight game wins is based on how he did with curry on the court, often with thompson and/or lee as well. can you be sure what will happen when iguodala shares those court mates ? are you asserting that it’s not possible for curry to emerge with the big shots, playing w. iguodala rather than w. jack ?

      do agree w. you, in so far as how difficult it will prove to be for the team to exceed the ‘vegas line of 49.5 wins ; my guess, they’ll end up within a game or two either way of that line.

      • Hi Moto!

        Of course Jack’s teammates enabled his crunchtime performances. Having the Splash Bros on the floor gave him wiggle room. But he never shied away from the limelight. He took and made game-winners. Lots of daggers. I haven’t looked, but I’d be willing to bet his crunchtime shooting averages were significantly better than his overall stats. Especially considering the small average winning margin of last year’s Ws, we can easily credit Jack for 10 of the team’s wins.

        Check Iggy’s history: great player, not a closer. Not with Denver and not with Philly.

        Curry: Great, amazing, game-warping player. Cool under pressure. But not a Jack, Kobe or even a Monta Ellis. Don’t take my word for it. Just review those old Nellie game tapes. Or ask coach Jackson, who assigned the Killer Closer role to Ellis, then Jack, over Curry.

        Re my mystery pick for Best in the West, let me blat some weaseltalk first: Age and injury invalidate anything we might guess.

        But what makes a great team? Great coaching, great players, depth, flexibility, and a closer who never backs down at hero time and can ALWAYS get off a good shot. Dallas? Check, check, check, check and check.

        For comparison, look at last year’s Denver team. Great coaching, fine players, some depth, but little flexibility – and no Killer.

        Dallas arguably has 3-4 Killer Closers on the roster this season. If they can keep games close until crunchtime, they’ll win more than their share. In a league with an average winning margin of less than 5 points, that’s a huge advantage.

        Finally, a little more weaseltalk: My faith in the importance of closers might seem a little, well, mystical to some, and I’m fine with that. I can’t explain it, and won’t try. It’s a “gut” thing. Your guts may vary.

        Also, I won’t dispute anyone’s negativity about the Mavericks. Every bad thing that can be said about them is probably true. But they’re only going to be an “average or worse” team if they have critical injuries. Which they may well be prone to, given the average age of the team. Nevertheless.

        Injuries are a risk to every team. Just ask Curry, Lee and Bogut.

        • folks who are writing off Dal for the post season are ignoring one obvious number — 41, their wins last year. carlisle is one of the elite coaches, the preacher is not. they’re certainly a dark horse for the bottom three seeds.

    • Welcome back Hat.

      You make a very good point. The Warriors are going to miss Jarrett Jack badly, especially in crunchtime. Replacing him with Iggy is particularly problematic, as Iggy is not an off the dribble shooter, and has failed repeatedly in the clutch in his career, as any Philly fan would be glad to inform you.

      I disagree with you about Curry, though. I think he can be one of the great closers in the game. I believe we’ve already in seen it, in the NCAA tournament, and in his first year under Nellie. I won’t go into the idiocies of rookie coaches, but the chief problem last year was that opposing teams put their best defender on Curry and blitzed him mercilessly. It simply made sense to go to another ball handler and great shooter in Jack.

      This season, if Mark Jackson gets it right, the Warriors have the ability to close the game with 5 shooters on the floor. That will make it almost impossible for opposing teams to blitz Curry as they have in the past — it will be suicide. I think this year they’ll have to pick their poison: die by the Curry shot, or die by the Curry pass.

      Kind of like playing San Antonio. Who is their Mr. Big Shot?

      • And another thing…

        If you iso Curry at the top of the key on the game’s final possession, will he shoot a higher or lower percentage than Kobe Bryant did his prime?

        We don’t fully know the answer to that yet, because Don Nelson was the last coach Curry had who was smart enough to do it.

        But I have a sneaking suspicion…

        • I certainly think it’s possible for Curry to step up. He’s got skills. But for some reason he has never been an NBA coaches’ choice for closer. Maybe “good shooter” and “scorer” are different things. Steve Kerr didn’t close out Bulls games.

          I also don’t think you create closers. Closers WANT the ball at the most critical moments. That’s a personality trait, not a skill. It’s maybe even a sickness.

          Re San Antonio, is that a trick question? The Big Shot guys are Parker and Ginobili with a stone-cold Leonard coming up fast. The Spurs have better shooters, but not more sure scorers than those 3. Not in crunchtime.

          • Ginobili is no longer. But my point is that it’s not all that predictable who will take the Spurs last shot: they hit the open man.

            The Warriors obviously lack big game experience. Little doubt in my mind, though, that if you put 5 talented players on the floor, they will eventually figure out how to close.

    • Welcome back, Hat!

  11. @moto Beware the Utah bet if you’re still contemplating it. Trey Burke just broke his finger, which could slow his learning curve considerably.

    • thanks, but have never laid money on the outcome of a game. suspect that the 27.5 is within two games of the final number, and will serve the house’s purpose well enough to provoke wagering.

  12. Welcome back Hat your assessment is right on.

    Moto, impossible to predict whether Warriors make playoffs given unexpected injuries on both the Warriors. We should know kind of team the Warrior after 15 games played regardless of their tough schedule. Am not optimistic.

    • would not be surprised if the team is two or three weeks behind their stronger opponents in early Nov. with the rookies, second year guys, new players, new coaching staff, and week in the PRC. we expect plenty of gloomy conclusions from you, Frank, by around Thanksgiving, but it could very well take them until mid-Dec. to jell and figure things out, and another month past that to establish their identity.

  13. @buckaroo It’s shameful how poorly I follow the Eastern Conference compared to the West, so I’m probably missing something. But I don’t spot any obvious win total wagers. The Pacers should be even better this season, but they’ve been nudged up to 53.5. And I think the Wizards will be much improved, but that’s already reflected in their 41 line. The Knicks could disappoint — Stoudemire probably won’t play a game, both JR Smith and Shumpert have injury concerns, and Bargnani is healthy (jk) — but they’ve been nudged down already to 49.5.

    The Cavs are reflecting a huge leap, from 24 to 40.5 wins, which strikes me as very unlikely. Particularly given the injury history of Varejao and Irving. I don’t want to bet against that Irving/Jack 4th Q backcourt though. There are few better.

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  15. Since we all want the Warriors to succeed most posters go out of there way to say the glass is half full rather than half empty. There is no doubt that Curry and D.Lee are superior players and Iggy as well. There is a tendency to find other players as top notch when in my view they are not.
    While Moto you see the only problem of the Warriors jelling and that not taking place until January, such does not exactly inspire confidence. You limit gloom to the beginning of the season. We all have our opinions. If we’re wrong so be it. But I fully understand most fans wanting to be optimistic even though there are telltale signs there may be trouble in River City.

  16. Hi FB. I hope your predictions all come true. However, I’m of the opinion that this year at least, there seems to be a good deal of parity in the West. Second tier teams such as the Mavs, Wolves, Nuggets, and Blazers all will be competitive and will cause problems for the top teams, particularly on their home courts. I don’t expect many teams to get to the 55 win mark.

    As we’ve seen this past year, injuries to key players will have a huge impact on this season. Already, players are getting banged up and will miss the start of the season. What would the W’s have done with a healthy Lee and HB in the Spurs series? What would the Thunder have done with a healthy Westbrook in the playoffs? Kobe-less Lakers falled short. Having Galinari on the Nuggets roster may have swayed that series. I see more of the same this year. During the off-season, I was comforted by the fact that the W’s had a depper team than in years past. However, these few preseason games have not boosted by confidence in the bench. I am in agreement with many W fans share in my skepticism over our backup point guards. TD is simply not a quality PG. He’s not a great passer nor does he have a consistent offensive game. But what really makes me nervous is the fact that MJax will understand this and play Curry 35-40 mins/game, just what we don’t need. This might be the year to try out the point forward approach using either Barnes and/or Igoudala as the primary ball handler. I hope I’m wrong.

  17. Iggy and Thompson will be the primary ball handlers when Curry is resting. It’s one of several reasons Klay will come off the bench. The other being that they need Klay’s scoring with Curry out. Isn’t this obvious?

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