It is now officially time to take notice of the Golden State Warriors. With their win last night over the Heat they have won five straight, they are firmly entrenched in a playoff spot, and are showing real signs of being able to stay there. Most impressive, all five wins have come on the road, and it’s the first time since 1979 that they have done that. For bettors the questions about a team in a situation like this are obvious: how have they been doing it, and can they keep doing it?
Relative anonymity - This team has never gotten a whole lot of attention at the best of times — especially not compared to that monster of a franchise a few hundred miles south of them in California. Despite their strong success, though, they still aren’t getting the national attention they probably should. The reason makes sense — the Lakers are stealing the large majority of California basketball attention with their struggles, and the Clippers are a story as well. That means Golden State is third in the state pecking order. For bettors, a team that is playing very well and not getting a ton of attention is a dream. They sit at 14-7-1 ATS, so betting on them has been wildly profitable for those that have done so consistently. The win over the Heat could start to change the public’s view of the team, but there is still some value to be had here. They have covered four of five on this current trip, and they fell by only half a point in the fifth.
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Coaching - Mark Jackson is in his second year with this team, and he’s doing a heck of a job. He recognized after last year that he wasn’t going to be able to get anywhere if the team was as lousy at defending and rebounding as they were. That became his focus. That didn’t mean making massive changes or overhauling what was working on offense. It just meant that everyone had to make a commitment to significant improvement. It’s paying off. Defensive efficiency has jumped from 26th in the league to 12, and on the boards it’s like they are an entirely different team. There is still room for improvement — David Lee isn’t the defensive player he should be, and Stephen Curry sometimes forgets that there are two ends to a court — but the step forward the team has taken is impressive, and it’s a good sign that this team has staying power. Most significantly, though, what’s striking about Jackson is that he has taken a team that hasn’t been relevant for a very long time, and he already has them believing that they are a contender that can beat anyone. The mental game is so important to success in this league, and so as long as Jackson’s message is heard this team will be one to watch.
Youth - The biggest area of concern is that this team is very young. Two starters are rookies —Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and Klay Thompson is in his second year. All three have been good, and Thompson in particular has been key to the success of this team. Draymond Green has been filling a bigger role as well, and he was the hero against Miami. Relying on young players becomes more and more of a concern as the season advances and the realities of the grueling year become clear, though. It’s not like the rest of the core is ancient, either — Stephen Curry and David Lee are both young men despite their experience, and even though it seems like Jarrett Jack has been in the league forever he’s just 29. There is some older talent on the team — Richard Jefferson is due back soon, and Andrew Bogut will return at some point this year — but the team will only go as far as their youth can carry them. Over the long term that makes them harder to trust than a more veteran squad would be. It doesn’t rule them out, but it’s reason for caution.
Talent - There isn’t a megastar name here, but it would be a mistake to discount the talent here. David Lee is a legitimate 20 and 10 guy. Stephen Curry is finally completely healthy and is a massive scoring talent. Klay Thompson is far ahead of expectations as a pro scorer, and Harrison Barnes has massive talent he’ll grow into. Richard Jefferson still has game left. Ezeli won’t be a star, but he has room to improve. Sometimes when a team gets off to a surprising start like the Warriors have it is because of overachieving players. That’s not the issue here. This team is playing within itself and they have room to improve. The chemistry is the best it has been in a long time — so long, Monta Ellis — and things just work. I still feel like youth means that we are a year or two away from really seeing this team shine, but they have the talent to be this good.
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