AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 1. Golden State Warriors
The time has finally come. With NBA basketball upon us beginning tomorrow, we can finally wrap up our team preview and ranking series. With the San Antonio Spurs coming in at No. 2 on Friday, there's only one spot left to fill.
And it goes to the defending champs.
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The top of the Western Conference has been the cream of the NBA's crop for years, but this season may present the stiffest competition ever. But there's only one team that rose above it all to take home a title last year -- and that team is returning almost all of its core from 2014-15.
But still, for some reason, an oddly small number of people expect the Warriors to repeat in 2016. Even with the reigning MVP only getting better, Klay Thompson only due to improve with another season in Steve Kerr's system, and Draymond Green entering his second full-season as a starter.
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Somehow, in 2015, the Warriors' first-ranked defense flew under the radar, as so much attention was drawn to their three-point happy offense -- and if any team would be able to win a title with such an attack. But their defending is exactly what pushed that team to a championship-level -- as they were still able to lock teams down even when their jumpers wouldn't fall.
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According to NBA.com, the Warriors ranked just outside the top-third of the league in limiting opponents attempts inside the restricted area. On those attempts, their 58.5 percent field-goal percentage allowed was ninth-best in the league. They also did well forcing shots from the inefficient midrange area -- their opponents took the fifth-highest total of jumpers from that area.
On the flip side, the Warriors' offense ranked just 15th in attempts from the restricted area, but connected on those shots at the second-highest percentage in the league -- while taking the ninth-lowest amount of mid-range jumpers.
They ranked fourth in attempts and second in makes from three -- making those shots at a league-leading 39.8 percent pace over the full season.
While Curry and Thompson clearly picked up most of the scoring, Golden State still sported a well-rounded attack. Five different players posted scoring averages in double-digits, while Curry led the team in minutes with just 32.7 a night. In several ways, Kerr's unit was as Spursian we've seen a team outside of San Antonio since Gregg Popovich took over nearly two decades ago.
With David Lee as the only major personnel subtraction -- and even he was a sporadic contributor, averaged just 18 minutes over 49 games -- the Dubs are fully capable of storming through the West again -- even despite improvements across the top of the conference.
One looming issue is Steve Kerr's absence entering the season. Kerr's return date is still unknown after taking a medical leave of absence earlier this preseason, assigning Luke Walton head coaching duties in the interim. Also factoring in the loss of Alvin Gentry -- new Pelicans head coach -- the team will be without their top two coaching personalities from a championship campaign. If there's any team with sufficient talent to overcome this scenario, it's Golden State. But it's still a situation worth keeping tabs on.
Their competition will be better, but barring any significant dropoff stemming from the coaching instability, so will the Warriors. And until they pose a legitimate reason to convince us otherwise, they're in the best shape to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.
More NBA Power Rankings and Previews:
AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 2. San Antonio Spurs
AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 3. Cleveland Cavaliers
AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 4. Houston Rockets
AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 5. Los Angeles Clippers