Golden State Warriors preview: How legit are they?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State has been one of the most surprising teams in the NBA even without Andrew Bogut, whose returned to action this week. Are they for real?

Nate Parham is one of the managing editors of SB Nation's excellent Warriors blog Golden State of Mind as well as Swish Appeal, a blog on all things women's hoops. You can follow him on Twitter at Nate P. Head over to his site for my answers to his questions about the Mavs.

Did anyone see a 27-18 record, mostly without Bogut, coming? How surprising has the Warriors fast start been from the inside?

No, and anyone who tells you they did *without Bogut* is lying to you. To describe how surprising this is, there were plenty of folks at GSoM who refused to believe this team was for real until they recently beat the Thunder (without Bogut). That would be after the Warriors had clinched the season series with the Clippers 3-1 and had beaten the Heat in Miami (without Bogut). No matter what happens going forward, this season has already exceeded most (reasonable) people's most optimistic expectations.

It's hard not to compare it to the We Believe team, but that was like an adrenaline rush that never felt truly sustainable; what makes this so remarkable - though perhaps not quite the same high - is that this is a major turning point for the entire organization, from the rookies to the coaching staff making this thing work to the front office looking not just competent but maybe even brilliant.

Yes, I'm ecstatic about this team.

Speaking of Bogut, he officially made his return on Monday before sitting out on Tuesday. How did he look and will he be operating under any minutes restrictions on Thursday?

The primary restriction for him right now is that he won't be playing in back-to-back games until the All Star Break (that would include the game in Dallas on Feb. 9). The practical reality is that he's clearly still working himself into game shape so I wouldn't imagine him playing more than 30 minutes at this point.

But otherwise, he looked great on Tuesday - what most of us expected from him was to provide a defensive presence and someone who could facilitate offense for others from the post. He did both, and I'm not even sure that numbers fully capture all that he brings.

He is the most vocal one on defense every possession, looking like a coach on the floor as he uses his vantage point from under the basket to direct his teammates. Offensively, he just brings balance - one of the biggest holes for this team all season has been the lack of a consistent post up threat. Landry is a workhorse without the ball and Lee earned himself an All Star bid on the strength of his face up game, but the Warriors just haven't had someone who could establish position, catch the ball, and draw a double in decades. When teams are forced to decide between guarding Bogut one on one and leaving anyone of the other starters open it makes this team even more difficult to guard. I don't think we've seen anything near this team's full potential offensively because there are so many intangibles that having a healthy Bogut playing (and practicing) with the team full time will bring.

Whenever you read an article about the Warriors, a lot of the credit for their start goes to their off-court chemistry. How does that translate into what they're doing on the court?

To the point above about the difficulty of defending all the options they have, making all those options true threats that an opposing defense has to respect requires that a team be unselfish and I think selfless basketball comes easier when you like the people you're playing with. I know that sounds corny, but I think it's quite reasonable to say that their play on the court is not merely enhanced by their strong bonds off the court but very likely the foundation of it.

Steph Curry shoots better from the three-point line (45%) than he does from the field (43%). That doesn't seem possible. How has he become such a statistical outlier?

It is pretty crazy; also interesting is that even his father - who was known primarily as a spot-up 3-point shooter and thus the type of player who you might imagine would do something similar - never had a season like that when he was playing significant minutes.

The long answer is described in this piece by Kevin Draper at Hoopspeak: The thing is that Curry shoots threes off the dribble - in transition, off screens, or just because his man thinks that it would be ridiculous for him to hit another 26-foot jumper - at an astounding rate, which gives him an abundance of poorly defended shots from beyond the arc.

[Ed. Note: That is an excellent piece. Some fairly eye-popping statistics and graphs]

The short answer: Curry shoots among the least shots in the league from the 0-23 foot range (according to Hoopdata) and the vast majority of those come on long 2's, shots that are much easier to contest and typically go down at an inefficient rate. As Draper alludes to, if these shots weren't going down the whole basketball world would just consider Curry a chucker; since they are, we look at him as a confident scorer.

How has Harrison Barnes, aka the Black Falcon, looked in his rookie season?

You know, I think the most important thing to note about Barnes is that he has really made major strides as a basketball player in the past year. My primary point of reference is from watching him in summer league, but he actually has a much more disciplined game now - he's taking considerably less off-balance, contested jumpers than he did at UNC and he's much more aggressive in looking to take his man off the dribble. His ball handling has also improved dramatically: in summer league, if he put the ball on the floor on more than 2-3 consecutive dribbles bad things happened, whether a turnover or a mishandle. Now he just looks much more decisive with his dribbling and far more patient in using it. Defensively, he has all the tools to become more reliable than he is currently, but guarding the three is difficult for any rookie, especially one with only two years of college experience.

I know a lot of people are hankering for him to be more aggressive, but what I'm most impressed by compared to the player we saw at UNC and in Vegas is that he is making much more patient decisions and playing off his teammates quite well overall. I think it's hard not to be pleased with his performance this season even if we all expect even more improvement. But his progress thus far is extremely impressive to me - he's obviously dedicated to becoming a successful NBA player and at his age that's as important as anything else.

Obviously the big story in the Bay Area this week is the Super Bowl. Do Warriors fans tend to support the Raiders or 49ers? How do those two fan bases tend to divide up?

Warriors fans (especially at GSoM) tend to be Niners fans, but I think it's important to note that the Raiders being in LA from 1982-94 probably still has an effect: as a kid coming of age as a sports fan during the Niners 80's glory years, the Raiders were just always an LA team to me (and heaven forbid one root for one of them) even though Oakland never really let go of "their team". So there's definitely an age component there - the Raiders have always had a presence in the Bay even when they were down in LA, but he Niners were really the only game in town at the height of the franchise's success. More recently both teams have been pretty brutal to watch (until the Niners broke through last year) so it is interesting that there's more of an even split among the kiddies these days.

In any event, I'm rooting for the Niners and really always have, though I'm a bit of anomaly in the Bay Area as well: once the Raiders did come back in town, I had a Jerry Rice and Tim Brown jersey hanging in my closet. Growing up in the East Bay it's just difficult not to get caught up in the allure of the Silver & Black.

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