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A Warriors season unlike any other

Trapped in Golden State

In my 30+ years of rooting for the Golden State Warriors, I have never seen them win the Pacific Division. They have come in second just once.

The only consistency Warriors fans have been able to count on is being out of contention by Christmas. Except for last year, when opening night was Christmas.

Out here in Oakland, we’re one of the fan bases around the league to whom contending is uncharted territory. It seems like just yesterday we were thankful for the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers for making us feel like we weren’t alone in this cruel NBA universe.

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The secret is out this year: The Warriors have something special brewing. As happy as I am to see a winning record —and a losing one from the #LOLakers — every time I check the standings, I still believe the Warriors have got a lot to prove.

In the last two months, the Warriors have found consistency in the in the strangest of places. Nobody would suspect that Golden State would be one of the best teams in the league in defense, rebounding, and closing out close games with fourth quarter leads. But that’s what they are doing.

Not only are they getting it done on a nightly basis, but they’re doing it without the big man that was supposed to be the key catalyst.

All we wanted to do while Andrew Bogut recovered from permanent ankle problems was stay around .500 and get the young kids some seasoning in situations that actually meant something.

I wish I were the type of guy that could just check the box score in the morning, because that is exactly what I’d be seeing if that were the case. Instead, I’m glued to the TV — or to the laptop if I’m out of the country — and am watching wins pile up instead of  losses.

We’re the ones gutting out the close ones. It’s amazing how fine the line is between a winner and a loser. I might just be a tortured Warriors fan, but I see the team straddling that line like the graphical first down marker on an NFL telecast.

I’ve talked a lot of shit about Lee’s empty calorie stat lines in the past, but he is making a legitimate case for an All-Star bid. Curry looks like the unconscious shooter that dragged his Davidson team through the NCAA tournament so many years ago.

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None of this could be possible if everyone weren’t playing a role and contributing in one way or another. Winning in the first half of the season counts for nothing if you can’t keep it up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t honor the players and storylines that made 2012 so enjoyable.

So without further ado…

Big Boy Pants Award

David Lee is having his first true All Star caliber season.  No more jokes about his lone All Star appearance being as a replacement for a crappy Eastern Conference even if he does only make it as an alternate this year, promise.

Without his nightly contributions and (for the first time) meaningful stats we wouldn’t be in this position right now.  He gets the Big Boy Pants Award because I’m sure Kobe would take Lee over Gasol in a heartbeat right now.

For years I’ve referred to David Lee’s numbers as empty calorie stat lines because he puts up big stats on terrible teams.  As long as the Warriors continue to win on nights he gets his clockwork double doubles, I will be putting a moratorium on any jokes involving his rebound numbers coming off missed free throws and battles with teammates for loose balls.

The NBA JAMS Award

Steph Curry resembles a character from NBA JAM at times.  If you’re watching closely you can actually see the vapor trails on his 28-foot three point attempts and hear the announcer yelling HE’S ON FIIIRE!  He’s only one of the best shooters in the league.

The Inconsistently Consistent Award

Klay Thompson is leading the league in three-point shots taken and is shooting a respectable 37 percent after a horrible start to the season.  His defense and rebounding are an upgrade over Monta Ellis, but his predecessor did look to set up his teammates at least some of the time.

Thompson hasn’t taken his eyes off the rim all season, literally. Even during a halftime or post-game interview he’s still staring at the hoop. The most consistent aspect of his game it is still the lack of emotion, enthusiasm and facial expressions in general.

The Sixth Man Award

Jarrett Jack is such a good sixth man/closer that nobody cares if Steph Curry isn’t a true point guard when the game is on the line. I would call him the front runner for the NBA version of this award in April and so does SI/Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe.

If you look at advanced stats you’ll see that almost every single five-man unit that involves the new Captain Jack is better off for it. He’s also hilarious…

The Rock Formation Award

Carl Landry (along with Jack) is anchoring a bench whose only competition for the title of Best Second Unit in the NBA is #FlopCity.  Landry gives us what New York can only hope Amare Stoudemire is going to give them off the bench.  Having zero dropoff when the bench comes in is a luxury that few teams have, but is now an advantage for the Warriors every single night.

The Blue Collar Award

Draymond Green doesn’t do anything spectacular, and an untrained eye might see those ugly jump shots and write him off completely. His stat line isn’t pretty, but his marks in the +/- category every night are damn near sexy.

Green lives in the trenches, embraces the team concept and makes sure his defensive assignment feels his presence even if the box score doesn’t notice it. He’s a true Warrior and already a fan favorite.

The Adonal Foyle Award

Festus Ezeli’s token starts and 14 minutes of playing time have become something of a joke.  Like Adonal Foyle and Jeremy Tyler before him, Ezeli can’t catch a pass in the lane to save his life. He is definitely a defensive presence though, and makes damn sure he gets his money’s worth when he fouls an opponent attacking the rim.

The Rookie Award

Harrison Barnes has proven time and again that — wait for it — he’s a rookie. He’s still got a ways to go but is already better than Dorrell Wright.

If nothing else, Barnes provided what was probably the best single Warriors highlight reel play since the We Believe season.  @SherwoodStrauss put it best when he tweeted: Harrison Barnes leads the team in, “Nice, do more of that!”

The Back From the Dead Award

Andris Biedrins is showing a pulse on the court! He has been inhaling rebounds at a record pace and if he weren’t averaging damn near 15 fouls per 48 minutes (in all honesty it’s only nine but it feels like more) he’d probably be getting more opportunities.

Nobody even cares that he’s still playing hot potato every time someone mistakenly throws him the ball. Just happy he’s breathing again!

The Surf City USA Award

Jeremy Tyler’s jersey has been stapled to the bench all year except for the nights he takes his talents to Santa Cruz.  If we have to watch someone fumbling passes in the lane it might as well be a guy with potential to be a contributing center someday.

The Bill Simmons Chemist Award / Animaniacs Award

Kent Bazemore’s ridiculous 12th man enthusiasm has spread through the whole bench.  His reaction to damn near every good play is almost as entertaining as the play itself.

You can’t underestimate the value of a bench that is completely enthusiastic and engaged from tip off to the closing buzzer.  This undrafted rookie has been the catalyst for this phenomenon and that’s why the team only ships him to Santa Cruz for one night at a time.

The Road Warriors Award / Who the Hell Are These Guys Award

The Warriors are 9-1 coming off a loss this season.  In years past, every single loss had major snowball potential. But this year, even Klay Thompson’s terrible body language and inconsistent play can’t bring them down for more than a game at a time.

If I wasn’t so lazy and actually researched some of this stuff, I’d find a streak like this has never happened in my lifetime as a Warriors fan.  Even if some of these wins and stats have a little bit of luck baked in — and some of these narrow margins of victory inevitably start going the other way — this is definitely something to build on. They won 12 games in the month of December for the first time since 1960 for God’s sake!

Another aspect of this season that doesn’t seem real is the team’s 11-6 record away from Oracle. San Antonio is the only team in the league with more road wins (12), and only the best teams in the league are even close.

The “I WANT WINNERS” Coaching Award

When Mark Jackson and Mike Malone came in last year, all you could do was laugh at their attempts to make this roster into a team with a defense first mentality.  I’ve taken a lot of shots at Coach Jackson for being Mike Singletary (sans pants dropping and big loud speeches) who is known as a “great leader of men.”

Now that Jackson has a roster with capable defenders, I have to give credit where credit is due. The offensive scheme still leaves a lot to be desired (to put it lightly). But throwing the Titanic in reverse, getting it off of the iceberg and plugging that gaping hole in the ship was a monumental task, executed in less time than anyone thought possible.

The Tortured Warriors Fan Award

Every long-time Warriors fan deserves an award for the shit they’ve been through over the years. After many lifetimes of blindly following this team into the wood chipper year after year, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop on this run we’re on.

They’ve gotten a few lucky wins, they’ve played down to the competition at times (see four losses to Orlando and Excramento), they’re only 2-4 in the division and are playing .500 ball in the conference.

For the first time since the We Believe squad — and 1994 before that — I’m actually watching games without yelling at the TV and going to Oracle without heckling my own team.

(Full Disclosure: I used to openly root for the visiting team to destroy the likes of Joe Smith and Antawn Jamison because there is nothing I hate more then an overpaid, entitled and SOFT player in a Warriors uniform. Since I had good seats and Oracle was a lot quieter back then I know they heard me and I know those dirty looks they shot into the stands were meant for me.)

All in all there is still a long way to go on the upswing with this team. Long story short: 2012 was a great year and moving into the year 2013 #WeStillBelieve but this time around #WeBelong!

Justin Taylor writes for Warriors Blog Trapped in Golden State. Like Trapped in Golden State on Facebook and follow @TrappdnGoldenSt to get new columns and join in new conversations.

An earlier version of this story inadvertently included an unfinished draft of the awards.

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