With depth and continuity, Warriors angling to replicate Spurs model

Off to their best start in two decades, the Golden State Warriors are using a roster full of quality players and the growth of their backcourt to fashion themselves into true contenders, writes Jonathan Raymond.

At 5-0, the Warriors are the last unbeaten team to start the NBA season. Ezra Shaw / Getty Images / AFP / November 8, 2014
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The lone team left standing unbeaten after the NBA’s first couple weeks aren’t the San Antonio Spurs or LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

Not the Grizzlies or Rockets, who started on long winning streaks, or Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers, either.

No, the last team to have avoided the indignity of defeat in this young NBA season are the Golden State Warriors.

It might seem a remarkable development for longtime fans. This year’s 5-0 start, following their road win over Houston on Saturday night, is the club’s best beginning in 20 years, going back to a 5-0 start to the 1994/95 season.

They would win only 21 more games that year, kicking off an exceptional stretch of futility that included a solitary play-off appearance in 18 seasons before they made the post-season the last two years.

Those last two Warriors teams were good, but not great. Consistent play-off trips were a more than welcome scene in the Bay Area, but nobody mistook Golden State as a true title threat.

It’s too early to say, of course, whether these Warriors, under new coach Steve Kerr, are indeed great. They beat Sacramento on opening night, which is looking increasingly impressive, and the hurting they put on the Clippers is certainly eye opening. But they also beat a Houston team without Dwight Howard or Terrence Jones and the Lakers, which no one should mistake for statement wins.

All told, though, the early returns are promising.

Stephen Curry is playing like a top five player, and when you have a top five player it’s hard not to be a contender of some stature in the NBA. Klay Thompson is justifying the glowing internal evaluations that caused the club to back out of a trade for Kevin Love and their defence, anchored by Andrew Bogut, has been excellent (a radical recent development for Golden State, who spent years being among the NBA’s worst defensive teams).

The Spurs showed what a deep, cohesive roster can achieve last season. That’s partly why the Warriors chose continuity with Thompson over the tantalising “super team” model Love would have been a part of (and, in Cleveland, did become part of).

The Warriors drastically improved their bench with the likes of Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston, reliable NBA veterans who can capably shepherd a second unit through the minutes when the starters need a rest. Andre Iguodala can shift between the starting line-up and bench as circumstances require, always boosting the five-man defensive unit when he’s on the floor. Festus Ezeli, returned from injury, can be the interior presence Golden State so desperately lacked whenever Bogut wasn’t on the court last year.

That doesn’t even account for the likes of David Lee, who’s had an injury hiccup to begin the season but is still one of the best scoring power forwards in the league and a key in the Warriors’ remarkably shooting-reliant offence. Or Draymond Green, a defence/rebounding “glue” guy who can bang around inside, adapt to multiple positions and even has an eye for more than the occasional bucket.

Harrison Barnes, too, might yet improve, and even if he doesn’t, is still a young player capable of doing a few interesting things on the court for 10-20 minutes a night if need be.

The point being that Golden State have something like 10 players who can be given a chunk of important minutes, that respond well to each other and play as a capable unit even if Curry or Thompson isn’t on the floor raining threes.

It’s a formula the Spurs used to win a title last season, and while the Warriors don’t have Tim Duncan (or Gregg Popovich), the quality is here to mimick, if not exactly duplicate, what the defending champions did.

Out to one of ther best starts in team history, it’s looking at least possible that San Antonio model won’t be impossible to copy.

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