When the Warriors acquired Andrew Bogut last year, he was supposed to be the final piece that would push the franchise back into the playoffs. A versatile two-way center, Bogut would anchor their defense and provide a low-post presence that the team's phalanx of shooters could play off of. Instead, the 7'0 Australian has been hampered by injuries, looking like a shadow of himself while playing in only 31 games this season. But rather than fold, the Warriors young players, aided by a few smart free-agent acquisitions, have been one of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season. As a result, Golden State will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The 2007 team, of course, is known for the "We Believe" slogan and their improbable upset of No. 1 seed Dallas, the first time an 8 seed had beaten a 1 in a seven-game series. Six years later, Andris Biedrins, who played sparingly in the playoffs and has an even smaller role on this year's team, is the only player left in Golden State. The next year, after the Warriors were one of the best teams in NBA history not to make the post-season, the front office began systematically disassembling their roster. The last four years have been a gradual process of wandering through the desert of the NBA lottery, but the franchise has (mostly) made solid draft picks, which has allowed them to slowly build from the ground up.
All three of their perimeter starters came in the draft -- Stephen Curry in 2009, Klay Thompson in 2011 and Harrison Barnes in 2012. Curry, despite questions about his athleticism and position coming out of Davidson, has become one of the NBA's best young guards, narrowly missing out on an All-Star berth while averaging 23 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds on 45/45/90 shooting. Thompson, whose game replicates Curry's in many ways, averages 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 42/40/85 shooting, giving the Warriors one of the best shooting back-courts in the NBA. Barnes has had an up-and-down rookie season, but his athleticism and shooting ability at 6'8 210 should make him a long-term starter at the small forward position.
Upfront, with Bogut missing in action for most of the season, they've relied on free agent acquisitions David Lee and Carl Landry. They signed Lee, their first All-Star in over 15 years, from the New York Knicks in 2010, giving him a six-year $80 million contract that was widely panned at the time it was signed. Landry, meanwhile, has thrived on a one-year deal after slipping through the cracks in free agency. A skilled big man without great athleticism, he's averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds, giving the Warriors a second scoring option upfront that stretches the defense. Along with Jarrett Jack, another veteran free agent who's making a run for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Landry has given the Warriors a calming influence in the locker room this season.
Perhaps the glue to this year's unlikely success is second-year head coach Mark Jackson, who has made a successful transition from the broadcasting booth. Everyone knew the Warriors were going to be able to score points this season, but most questioned their ability to defend, even with Bogut. Jackson has been able to conjure up miracles all season, coaxing a group with mostly below-average defensive abilities to the 14th best defensive rating in the NBA. The question, both for the post-season and the future of the franchise, is whether the personnel on hand have any more room to grow on the defensive end. For now, Warriors fans will rejoice in only the franchise's second post-season appearance in the last two decades and hope that the magic can continue for just a few more weeks.