In this final stretch of the NBA regular season, the Golden State Warriors are almost a lock for the playoffs – in fact, at this time, they probably have over a 70% chance of making it.
With that being said, they’ve had a nice stretch of games since the All-Star break. A lot of this success can be attributed to Klay Thompson who has taken the initiative of driving to the basket more often. He has increased his field goal percentage, is averaging more points per game, and is still keeping up his defensive intensity. He is building his reputation as one of the better defenders in the NBA.
Usually, it’s his task to stay with some of NBA’s elite point guards. This makes him one of the Warriors’ most important players, as Andre Iguodala hasn’t exactly been playing well as of late. If he’s one of the Warriors most important factors, then he can’t be the X Factor.
Moving on to Harrison Barnes. This guy has been give a lot of criticism that I think is a bit premature. He’s in a sophomore slump, and he’s not having a terrific season. So what? Whenever Barnes breaks out, the criticism will stop and then he will be loved by the entire fan base. Sure enough, when he gets into another slump, he will be criticized more.
He may be doing just a bit more than he was at the SF position for the Warriors last year, but as a 6th Man, he’s definitely not seeing the type of output that he should be. Jordan Craword is really more of a 6th Man than Barnes is. For these reasons, I think that Barnes is going to be the Warriors’ main X Factor heading into the playoffs and fighting for the 5th seed.
Against San Antonio in the second round, Barnes established himself as a future superstar. Unfortunately for him, the bar was set too high this year and he wasn’t able to deliver. If he breaks out of his slump in a big way, on a big stage, that’s going to be advantageous for he and the Warriors. Not only will the criticism stop, but the Warriors will get a much needed boost off the bench. They will be able to rest Klay Thompson for a long period of time.
This will give the Warriors new lineups and combinations to try out, expanding their offensive game. If Barnes is able to deliver like he does selectively, the Warriors will have enough offensive firepower to upset almost any team. The bench has always been a big story, and it is slowly improving. If Barnes finds a way to put this slump in the past, the Warriors will be even better off.
Who else needs to come through if the Warriors want to make a championship run? Well, we already know that the starters are all very important, but you need more than just a few bench players. You need leadership, veteran-ship, and experience. Yup, you guessed it! Sounds like Jermaine O’Neal, doesn’t it?
Heart. This is the indisputable answer to this question. O’Neal may not be the picture of health, or one of the best centers in the NBA, but to the Warriors, he means a lot more than one would think.
When the Warriors trailed the Toronto Raptors at home on December 3rd, 2013, O’Neal reportedly motivated the team with a halftime speech. His words were enough to instill confidence into the Warriors and they came back to win the game. He talked about how the deficit was a perfect opportunity for the Warriors to prove themselves as a championship-caliber team.
While not much of a threat, seemingly, O’Neal still shows the Warriors glimpses of his gloriously youthful days back when he played with the Indiana Pacers. This is enough of a boost off the bench for the Dubs to actually win some games. He has proved repeatedly that he can “school” younger centers, defend them, and even keep pace with some of the elite ones.
For example, when the Warriors faced the Houston Rockets, O’Neal shut down Dwight Howard in Andrew Bogut’s absence. Howard scored 11 points on 4/13 shooting.
Whether it be his efficiency, or his veteran leadership, the Warriors need his qualities and play to win a championship or at least compete for one.