Offseason Filler: Top 10 Warriors of the last 25 Years
Man, I’m really bored. You too, right? No basketball games. No important news. Summer league is over, and really, that was boring as well. No Warriors draft picks to watch in Vegas. Sure they won every game (again) and took home the championship, but come on. Only two of those guys will be in the regular rotation (maybe just one).
To force-feed some hoops into my life, I decided to create a list. The best 10 Warriors players of the last 25 years. Why 25? Because that’s when I really started understanding basketball. I could go back maybe another five years and include guys like Sleepy, Larry, Joe Barely and Purvis, but I was nine years old then. Twenty-five is better. In 1988, I had a grasp on the game I was watching.
Why not all-time Warriors? Let’s leave the players hardly anyone’s seen out of this. You know how good a basketball player is by watching them.
Plus, 1988 marked Chris Mullin’s first full campaign after rehab and Mitch Richmond’s Rookie of the Year season. It was the beginning of a short golden era for the Warriors. They swept Utah in the first round of the playoffs before losing to a tough Phoenix team. Seems like a nice bookend to the 2012-13 Warriors squad.
So 25 years it is – counting down from #10 to #1.
(Note: A player’s time only counts while they were on the Warriors. So Chris Webber’s career on the Wizards and Kings doesn’t factor in. Also, the player has to have a sustained impact on the Warriors of at least three years. No one-hit wonders like Webber or Gilbert Arenas).
10. Always the toughest, because you have to leave someone out. In this case, it’s between Stephen Jackson (2007-09), David Lee (2010-present) and Sarunas Ma … (hold up, need to Google the spelling of his damn name) … Marciulionis (1989-94).
Jackson played four total seasons with the Warriors, but his first and last were just 38 and nine games, respectively. He averaged 19.4 points (42% from the field and 35% on threes), was a solid defender and dished out a surprising five assists per game as a Warrior. He was a big factor in two of the greatest seasons of the team’s last 25 years. The “We Believe” playoff run where he averaged 19.9 points (albeit on 38% shooting) and frustrated Dirk Nowitzki in the first-round upset over the Mavs. Then, he was one of three Warriors to average over 20 points during the 2007-08 season (with Baron Davis and Monta Ellis) as the team barely missed the playoffs with a 48-34 record (most wins and best percentage since 1993-94).
He also receives credit for talking Chris Cohan and Robert Rowell into a ridiculous contract, and for being one of the best storytellers in NBA history.
David Lee just completed a season where he was named the first Warriors All-Star in 16 years and played a large role on a team that made the playoffs with a 47-35 record. Due to injury, he was not a factor in the team’s two-round playoff run. In three seasons as a Warrior, he has averaged 18.2 points (shooting over 50%) and 10.3 rebounds, but as we all know, his defense hasn’t been so hot. He is an excellent passer and helps make the Warriors offensive flow smoothly (3.2 assists as a power forward/center).
I give the edge to Jackson, with defense and playoff impact playing a big role. Can Sarunas overtake Jackson for the 10th spot?
Rooney played the game with fearless, but not reckless, abandon. It led to an injury-plagued career, but he was always exciting to watch. A Warrior for five seasons (playing only four), he appeared in over 50 games just twice and missed the entire 1993-94 season due to injury. He was a spark off the bench and rarely played more than 25 minutes a game behind Mullin and Richmond, then Billy Owens. He shot extremely well for a guard at 53% because most of his shots were at the rim due to his slashing, barreling and driving ways.
His best season was in 1991-92 after the trade of Richmond. He played 29.4 minutes and averaged 18.9 points as the team won 55 games. In the playoffs that year, he averaged 21.3 points. But injuries and a lack of playing time (14.7 points as a Warrior in 25 minutes per game) keep him from surpassing Jackson on this list.
So at number 10 we have Stephen Jackson.
9. Antawn Jamison (1998-2003)
After the Latrell Sprewell chocking debacle, the Warriors chose a new face for the franchise with clean-cut family-oriented Antawn Jamison. Unfortunately for Jamison, the Warriors gave him the keys to some of the worst teams in NBA history. He won 21 games (lockout season), 19, 17 and 21 before finally coming close to .500 in his last season (2002-03) with a 38-44 record.
Jamison was a model of determination during these terrible times, always working hard and staying positive. In his five seasons, he averaged 20.2 points on 45% shooting and 7.5 rebounds. He also developed somewhat of a 3-point shot over time that at least kept defenses honest. His greatest achievement may have been momentarily providing Warriors fans with an umbrella while we were being pissed on for a period of 12 years from 1994-2006. This Jamison piss-protection umbrella came in the form of back-to-back 50-point games in December of 2000, including one of the greatest shows many Warriors fans have ever seen. After scoring 51 points in Seattle, Jamison came home to Oakland and led the Warriors to a 125-122 overtime win over the Lakers with another 51 points. He outdueled Kobe Bryant (also 51 points), as Shaq kept yelling, “Somebody guard his ass!”
After a difficult adjustment as a “tweener” in his rookie season (9.6 points), Jamison finally found his game as a pogo-stick jumping rebounder and quick-shot artist. His best season came in 2000-01 when he averaged 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.
So why Antawn over Lee? Lee’s rebounding numbers are better, but Antawn also played small forward and was typically surrounded by volume rebounders like Troy Murphy, Erick Dampier and Danny Fortson. Lee is easily the better passer. Both play similar defense, in that if they played 1-on-1, the score would be infinity to infinity.
Jamison gets the nod for being the best player on his team for four straight years – always carrying the load and not ripping into some extremely awful teammates (Chris Porter, Vonteego Cummings, Sam Jacobson and Tim Young just to name a few).
8. Jason Richardson (2001-07)
Ten years after getting rid of a rock in Mitch Richmond, the Warriors finally picked up another one in Jason Richardson. “J-Rich” quickly grew into the role of “heart and soul” of the Warriors, especially after the trade of Jamison. Like a rock, he played 80, 82, 78, 72 and 75 games before missing 31 games in his sixth and final season with the Warriors.
In six seasons, he averaged 18.3 points (43% FG, 35% 3FG), 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a Warrior. This included some of the greatest Slam Dunk Contest performances in NBA history. He was key in the “We Believe” playoff run with 19.1 points (48% FG, 35% 3FG) and 6.7 rebounds in 11 games.
One of the iconic images for Warriors fans is Richardson screaming towards the sky and pumping his fist after a great play. Richardson had an outstanding work ethic. The two-foot leaper literally came into the league without the ability to score off one foot. Watching him learn to drive into the lane and take two steps before rising off his left foot for a dunk or layup was like witnessing a baby learning how to walk. A lot of goofy looking mishaps had to take place before he could do it.
After mistakenly getting rid of their rock in 1991 for a versatile rookie with potential (Billy Owens), the Warriors didn’t learn their lesson. They traded Rock 2.0 for Brandon Wright in 2007 and the results were nearly as disappointing.
There’s a reason so many Warriors fans still list Richardson as their all-time favorite Warrior, and placing him at #8 on this list feels just right.
7. Monta Ellis (2005-12)
Like Jamison, Monta Ellis was a high volume scorer/bad defender who could never lead a winning team. Unlike Jamison, Ellis had problems hiding his contempt for teammates/coaches and, despite a knack for passing, never seemed to care enough for making those around him better. Stephen Curry’s success after Ellis’ departure only supports this theory.
However, Ellis was an amazing talent on the Warriors and would often leave you awestruck at the things he could do on the court. Standing 6’-3” in lifts, he was very similar to Allen Iverson. A shooting guard in a point guard’s body. Fresh out of high school, it took him a while to adjust to the NBA. But in his second season, he averaged 16.5 points before looking in-over-his-head during the “We Believe” playoff run (8.0 points on 39% shooting in 11 games). He bounced back in his third season, averaging 20.2 points in the 48-win season.
Then Baron Davis left, Monta hopped on a moped and everything went downhill. He had his best season amidst chaos in 2009-10 (25.5 points, 5.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 steals), as he criticized the drafting of Curry, Captain Jack exploded and was traded, and the Warriors won just 32 games.
In seven seasons with the Warriors, Ellis averaged 19.6 points on 47% shooting, 3.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He is one of the most explosive, great finishers in Warriors history. And his beautiful drive-and-pull-up jumper was a move that made you love the game of basketball even more. Who gets that high on a jump shot?
But he always left you wanting more – from him and the team.
6. Latrell Sprewell (1992-97)
Coming in at #6 is a dude that choked his coach and went after a teammate with a 2×4 (and left people wondering why he had a large piece of wood so close to the practice facility. Did he carry it with him to practice everyday in an extra large gym bag? … “Water bottle? Check. Sneakers? Check. Giant piece of wood in case I need to crush someone in the face with it? Check.”).
But Spree was an all-around beast on the court. A great defender (man-up, team, steals and blocks), could shoot it from deep, drive the lane and finish powerfully (his ferocious two-hand dunks were awesome), a solid passer and a motivator of crowds. But like Monta, he grew sour when management traded away his talented friends. I guess I’d be pissed too if Webber was replaced by Tom Gugliotta.
The loss of Webber and injuries to Mullin and Hardaway (followed by their departures) left Sprewell as the team leader and it was a role his personality and demeanor was not equipped to handle. Like his famous collections of pit bulls, when things got ugly, he snapped.
In six seasons with the Warriors, Sprewell averaged 20.1 points (44% FG, 33% 3FG), 4.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He averaged 22.7 points as the Warriors were swept 3-0 by the Suns (93-94) in his only playoff appearance. He made All-NBA and All-Defensive that season and played in three All-Star games as a Warrior.
5, 4, 3.
Nevermind. Number 10 on this list was not the toughest. It’s figuring out five, four and three. Alphabetically by last name, they are Stephen Curry (2009-present), Baron Davis (2005-08) and Mitch Richmond (1988-91).
I’ve moved these guys around several times. If I write this tomorrow, it might change again.
Steph is Golden State’s Golden Boy and the most popular Warrior with the most buzz since Chris Mullin. But we’ve just barely seen him at his best (which was February through April of 2013 at over 25 points and 7.5 assists per game), and that really may not have even been his best basketball yet. He’s the only current Warrior on this list and may end up #1 before his career is over.
Baron Davis brought life back into the Warriors and their fan-base as the leader of the “We Believe” squad. It feels like we all knew his time was lightning in a bottle as Baron and his bad knees always made him an injury away from crashing back down to earth. And that’s what happened when he left the Warriors to chase Hollywood dreams with the Clippers. But he had two amazing seasons that Warriors fans will never forget.
Mitch is my all-time favorite Warrior. His departure after three years destroyed the hearts of fans, ended Run TMC – one of the most exciting team’s in NBA history that was a big man away from a dynasty, placed some sort of weird injury voodoo bug on the team (or maybe that was Chris Cohan) and was a trade Don Nelson described as the biggest mistake of his career. And Nellie’s made a lot of big mistakes.
Let’s break it down.
I went to Twitter for some help with the Baron/Steph ranking and received mixed responses. Steph is fresh in everyone’s minds, with games of 54 and 47 points late in the season and a 12-game playoff run of 23.4 points and 8.1 assists per game. I am being careful with all this recent buzz and trying not place him too high on this list.
In four years, he’s battled ankle injuries and averaged over 20 points just once (22.9 last year) while also being a below average defender. He’s had one great year and one great playoff run. His career averages are 19.2 points (47% FG, 45% 3FG, 90% FT) and 6.1 assists.
His 54-point game was certainly better than any single game Baron or Mitch ever had. Steph’s playoff run last year was among the best in team history. But was it better than Baron during “We Believe” or Run TMC Mitch? Not really.
He hasn’t sustained it long enough to beat our either of those guys. Not yet at least.
So Curry comes in at #5.
Michael Jordan called Richmond the toughest 2-guard he ever faced; both offensively and defensively. Don’t take that comment lightly.
For most of his career, Richmond arguably trailed only the greatest player in the history of the game as the NBA’s best shooting guard (though Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars and Clyde Drexler may disagree). And the Warriors traded him for an unproven rookie that ended up being a flop. Richmond would walk through a brick wall to win a game. Billy Owens took a nap before reaching the brick wall.
Richmond was short for a 2-guard, but was stocky and strong as hell. He is what Eric Gordon fans dream of. He had an outstanding jumper, could bully his way into the lane and finish at the rim. If a taller opponent blocked his path, Richmond would forcefully dunk over him. He wouldn’t necessarily jump over opponents; it was more like blasting his way through and cramming the ball down by any means necessary. Defensively, he was like a thick moving wall that frustrated many great players.
He averaged 22 points en route to winning Rookie of the Year as the team won 43 games in 1988-89. He helped lead the Warriors to a first-round upset sweep over Utah and averaged 20 points in eight total playoff games.
Tim Hardaway was drafted the next year to form Run TMC, and with additional firepower, Richmond still continued his production at 22 points per game. Run TMC mania was off the charts as the Warriors led the NBA in scoring and set a team attendance record while selling out all 41 games. If you lived in the Bay and didn’t have a Run TMC T-shirt during this time, you deserved to get beat up.
In 1990-91, Richmond’s third season, the Warriors won 44 games (their best record in nine years) as Rock averaged 23.9 points. He helped lead the team to another first-round playoff upset (kind of the team’s thing now that I think about it), this time over the Spurs in four games. Golden State then stole a game in Los Angeles from the powerhouse Lakers and lost an OT game in Oakland before falling 4-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals. He averaged 22.3 points in those nine playoff games.
Then the Warriors traded him. I’m getting so mad just writing about Richmond. I still haven’t forgiven Nellie. Nor should I. Just watching those Run TMC specials on NBA TV leading up to Mullin’s Hall of Fame induction; the chemistry between those three guys may be unmatched among any sports trio ever. We witnessed it for three years on the court and it was obvious that off the court friendship played a big role in their success.
The Warriors won 55 and 50 games in two of the three subsequent seasons without Mitch, so his trade didn’t cause an immediate downfall. But it has to be the first bullet listed when discussing the fall of the Warriors’ golden era.
Mitch comes in at #4 on this list.
While Baron played four seasons with the Warriors, Richmond actually played in more games during his three years (234/17 playoff versus 227/11 playoff for Baron). But Baron gets the nod over Mitch because of his larger impact on the Warriors teams he played for. He was the unquestioned leader. He inspired his teammates and fans, and struck fear in his opponents.
Injuries allowed the Warriors to get him cheap from the Hornets in February of 2005 (Davis for Speedy Claxton and an old Dale Davis). He never reached NBA superstar levels, but was as close as it gets for all three-and-a-half of his seasons in the Bay.
After teasing fans for 28 games after the trade in 2005, an ankle injury sidelined Baron for 28 games in 2005-06 as the Warriors won 37 games. But in 2006-07 he made magic happen. The Warriors won nine of their last 10 games (and 16 of their last 21) to finish 42-40, barely sneaking into the playoffs. Baron had games of 25 (twice) and 31 points during that 10-game stretch and notched a triple-double in the final playoff-clinching game. He increased his productivity during the playoffs with 25.3 points on 51% shooting, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. In the second round, he had the greatest and most timely in-game dunk in Warriors history, soaring above the much-taller Andrei Kirilenko for a ridiculous one-handed reach-back tomahawk.
Baron sacrificed his body for the Warriors in 2006-07, playing all 82 games as Golden State led the NBA in scoring and finished 48-34. It was their best record in 14 years, but it was also the NBA’s best record that didn’t make the playoffs since the 16-team format was instituted in 1983-84. The West had eight teams with at least 50 wins that season. Baron never again played for the Warriors, but was also never the same as a player due to injuries.
With Warrior averages of 20.1 points, 8.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds, Baron Davis finishes #3 on this list.
2. Tim Hardaway (1989-96)
The term “killer crossover” was coined for Tim Hardaway.
Lightning quick with a knuckleball jumper that always dropped when the Warriors needed a big shot, Hardaway had a three year run where he averaged 22.9 points (48% FG) and 9.7 assists, 23.4 points (46% FG) and 10 assists, and 21.5 points (45% FG) and 10.6 assists.
He was a predator on the basketball court. Crouching low with an intense stare, sweat dripping from his forehead as he the scanned the court and hypnotized opponents with a slow steady dribble. Either lulled to sleep or nervous from anticipation, he’d strike you with his killer cross so fast and intense that it left you immobile. Next, he’d attack the rim and either finish or find an open teammate for an easy basket. Or if he had you back peddling, he’d pull-up for that ugly jumper.
After just four seasons, a devastating knee injury ruined one of the greatest starts to an NBA career (Hardaway reached 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster than any other NBA player except Oscar Robertson). He missed the entire 1993-94 season, then played just 62 and 52 games in his final two Warriors seasons. He was traded for Bimbo Coles and an old Kevin Willis.
Read that last sentence again. Yeah, I’m cussing too.
While never the same player, despite losing a step, Hardaway resurrected his career in Miami and had several excellent seasons.
In seven seasons with the Warriors (six when you take out 93-94), Hardaway averaged 19.8 points (46% FG, 36% 3FG), 9.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He helped lead the Warriors to the playoffs during his second and third seasons, averaging 25 points, 10 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 13 games.
He was amazing in his first playoff appearance, averaging 25.2 points (49% FG) and 11.2 assists in 1991 as the Warriors beat the Spurs before Hardaway gave Magic Johnson and the Lakers everything they had in round two.
He and Mullin led the Warriors to 55 wins in 1991-92, but disappointingly lost 3-1 to Seattle in the first round as Shawn Kemp basically made Alton Lister his bitch and Warriors fans everywhere threw household items against the wall. Hardaway averaged 24.5 points, but shot just 40% with 7.3 assists.
He was an All-Star in 1991, 92 and 93 and made All-NBA twice as a Warrior.
1. Chris Mullin (1985-97, 2000-01)
From 1988 to 1993, Mullin averaged 26.5, 25.1, 25.7, 25.6 and 25.9 points. He shot between 51-54% each of those years.
Those five years were his only healthy and sober prime years with the Warriors, but man, were they amazing (and that last fifth season, he played just 46 games due to a ligament tear in his thumb).
One of the greatest shooters in the history of the game, you expected every “Mully” shot to go in. He wasn’t quick. He couldn’t jump. His bench press numbers were not impressive.
But he was crafty. Hiking up those already short shorts and crouching into defensive position, Mullin was fairly easy to beat, but many times, his devious hands negated his lack of quickness. He averaged 1.6 steals for his career, snatching over two per game during his prime and still managing around one per game as an old man.
He loved to shoot. Ask Warriors equipment manager Eric Housen, who famously followed Mullin back to the practice facility after home games to shag balls for him into the wee hours of the morning. Some basketball fans claim to count jumpers instead of sheep to help them sleep. Mullin shot jumpers instead of sleeping.
After the thumb injury, Mullin never again averaged 20 points as more injuries began to pile on and age crept up on him.
Mullin was an All-Star from 1989-93. He is the only NBA superstar on this list. And maybe just the fourth superstar in Warriors history with Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond. Warriors fans truly have had it rough.
As a Warrior, he was a member of the famous Olympic Dream Team. He took home gold in 1984 (as a college player) and 1992. He was All-NBA First Team in 1992, Second Team in 1989 and 1991, and Third Team in 1990.
His 1988-89 season is legendary. Playing all 82 games after coming out of rehab, Mullin averaged 37.7 minutes, scoring 26.5 points with 5.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals. He shot 51% from the field – as a volume outside shooter.
He was also one of the best shooters in the game during a time when teams did not utilize the 3-point shot. In his first four seasons, he took just 0.5, 0.8, 1.6 and 1.2 threes per game. By comparison, Curry has averaged 5.6 over his first four seasons, taking a high of 7.7 last year. Mullin should have been shooting almost that many per game with an offense catered to getting him open looks beyond the arc. For his career, it’s surprising that he shot just 38% from deep (compared to 45% thus far for Curry), but his offenses were never built to get him space and open looks from that range.
He battled injuries for four seasons with the Warriors before being traded to Indiana in 1997 where he experienced some well-deserved playoff success. The Pacers waived him in 2000 so he could finish career with one last season on the Warriors.
Mullin finished with 13 seasons as a Warrior, averaging 20.1 points (51% FG, 86% FT), 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals. His Warriors made the playoffs five times, with Mully playing 33 games and averaging 20.8 points. He averaged 29.4 points in eight playoffs games in 1989, 23.8 in 1991 (8 games) and 25.3 in 1994 (3 games).
His jersey is retired at Oracle and he is your greatest Warriors player of the past 25 years.