Golden State Warriors Season Preview

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Updated: November 2, 2016
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The Offseason Summary

OUT – Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Assistant Coach Luke Coach Walton, Marresse Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli

IN – Kevin Durant, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Patrick Macaw

The Biggest Offseason Moves

If put to a hypothetical – how many circumstances can you realistically think of where a GM would even consider making a major overhaul to a 73 win team? A team that was one Draymond Green flagrant foul away from back to back titles?

But here we are. Kevin Durant is just such a circumstance, a one in a million chance to do something nobody in basketball has ever done. To pair up two MVP’s both under 30, in the prime of their athletic peak, without giving up any core players to make it happen. To gut your greatest rival in the Western Conference whilst simultaneously pushing yourself into a different league (talent wise) than your only true rival in the East. This is the 2016-2017 Warriors – not light years ahead – but rather with each game they are going to be pushing onward into completely uncharted territory. For the NBA the pursuit of greatness has never seemed so assured. In a league where the twist of an ankle is all it takes to derail even the most seemingly predestined narratives, The Warriors are going to play the game like never before.

And it is going to be as beautiful as is it will be fun to watch. Some fans will definitely gripe about competitive balance, but it’s going to be hard to argue with the product on the court. The simple break down is that the Warriors are swapping out Harrison Barnes (a talented player, but inconsistent contributor to the warriors last season) for Kevin-Freaking-Durant ( who is a former MVP, a perennial all-star, and superstar who’s on his way to being a surefire hall of famer). On the fast break opponents are going to have to worry about guarding Stef, Durant, Thompson, Igoudala, and Green – all of whom are legitimate threats to shoot, pass, or drive from any position on the court. Last year teams had to be near perfect to defeat an average Warriors performance, and their best was too much for any challenger. This year, their average may prove enough to blow all but Cleveland, the Clippers, and the Spurs out of contention in the first two quarters.

But for Durant, the Warriors did make sacrifices. Talk of “destroying their bench” is more than a little overblown but just by looking at the summary above you see the flock of reliable big men the Warriors had to sacrifice, and their roster is now very guard heavy. They’re going to be missing the rim protection provided by Andrew Bogut, but their rebounding stands to stay at similar levels or even get better this season.

The Lineup Potential

The projected starting 5 is Curry, Klay, Durant, Green, and Zaza Pachulia. That might be the best starting 5 in NBA history and that won’t even be their best lineup.

Last year the so called ‘Death Lineup’ of Curry, Klay, Igoudala, Green, and Barnes played limited regular season minutes, but in those minutes they absolutely blew other teams off of the floor. Greens ability to defend traditional centers and Andre’s Swiss Army Knife like versatility on both ends, combined with an embarrassment of riches in shooting – proved to be tough to beat. This year, we’re looking at the Super-Death Lineup. Same soup, just reheated – but instead of Barnes, the least effective player in the Death Line Up, you’re adding Kevin Durant. When Curry and Durant run side pick and roll, teams are going to make defensive choices that only have bad answers –to sag off a little bit to defend the paint or be a beat too slow on a switch is death. Try and ice the ball handler and Durant or Curry will nail the jumper well before help can arrive. In the Clippers pre-season game we got a small taste of what that can be like. All 5 starters bombing 3’s, off the dribble, in transition, in the half-court. There’s  just no easy answer.

Their 6 and 7th men on the bench are still Andre Igoudala and Sean Livingston – both are well above average starters on basically any other team.

The Warriors are also interested to see what they have in young prospect Patrick Mccaw, and though most casual fans won’t recognize the name the Warriors training staff and Steve Kerr have high hopes for his development.  Through Summer League and the Pre-Season Mccaw is putting up some eye popping numbers including 42.9% from 3. Remember, the Warriors didn’t become world beaters overnight – they have drafted and developed exceptionally well. And in the NBA with the current collective bargaining agreement that is the only long path for true sustained success. The Warriors envision themselves as more than just the flavor of the moment, they’re looking for Spursian levels of sustained excellence.

Losing Andrew Bogut and his rim protection hurts, but his playoff performances had begun to slowly degrade from a generous “inconsistent” to an unacceptable “non-factor”. Indicating just how dire things are, The Warriors are even taking a serious look at using Javale Mcgee.  Javale has yet to give a resounding answer either way to “Are you a basketball player or a meme” debate, but the Warriors are exceptional evaluators of talent and potential. Trends shift quickly in the NBA, it was only a few years ago that Roy Hibbert was a no question max player and GM of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey tried to hold out for two first round picks for Omer Asik,  both entirely due to their perceived value as rim protectors. But behemoth centers that are a zero on offense or defense, have seen their value plummet with the parallel skyrocketing of small ball and pace and space, spread pick and roll offenses.

 

The Keys to the Season

One word. Chemistry. This lineup change is a natural fit, and barring Draymond Green, there aren’t any red flags one can point at (unlike, say, the doomed Lakers “Super Team” of 4 years ago) that might make integration on the fly more difficult than average. But the Warriors are a well-oiled machine, behind Curry, Thompson and Green are secondary and tertiary stars – their meteoric rise will be dampened somewhat, at least on an individual level, by Durant’s arrival. Durant too will have to adjust to a motion offense, to moving without the ball, to radically reducing his isolation attempts that have been the calling card of his 8 year career.

But while chemistry is far from a given, I’d bet on it being good and being good fast. Besides Greens occasional volatility (read: profanity laced halftime melt down) the Warriors core guys are solid teammates and they have a lot of trust in their system. Kerr has played with the best and everyone recognizes how solid is he as far as understanding his player’s mindsets and what they need. And yes, Durant has had a ball dominant career to this point – but he was the best player on a team with limited offensive options besides Westbrook, and has personally cited that one of the most appealing parts of playing for Golden State was their move the ball “egoless” offensive style.

And winning, as they say, solves everything. For the same reason that Igoudala swallowed his role as sixth man, this team will figure it out – the potential is just too great for ego to get in the way.

 

What kind of season can we expect?

No team in NBA history has won 67 or more games in three straight seasons; in fact no team has come particularly close. But this team is made for it. The ceiling for these guys is higher than any team I’ve personally had the chance to watch, similar to the Lebron, Wade, Bosh Heat trio but with none of the fit issues, way more shooting, and a much deeper roster. This team is going to have a better offense then a team that won 73 last season – the only way they’ll lose games is by beating themselves.

Every player and coaching staff member has been doing their best to lower expectations for the regular season. Nobody wants to win 73 games again. But how much worse can they realistically be? People forget that the Warriors rested their starters more than anyone but the Spurs last year, only instead of resting them for whole games from the outset – the Warriors did their best to rack up a point total so savage in the first 3 quarters, that barring a few key games – Curry, Thompson, and often Green would end up sitting large parts or all of the 4th quarter. That adds up.

And things figure to be much the same in that regard at least. The warriors just have so much talent in their first 7 players that they often won’t need 40 minutes of heroics from Durant or Curry to put them over the top.

Ironically Kerr will probably be the largest obstacle to the Warriors coming close eclipsing their own record, one gets the feeling that last year he’d rather have rested guys than go for the record – and right or wrong, sees the pursuit of 73 has at least in part to blame for their failure at the ultimate goal. The finals collapse will provide Kerr the political capital required to sit Curry, Durant, Green, and Thompson if the Warriors even threaten to get to record breaking territory.

All that being said I fully expect this team to win 70 games and claim the championship for the 2nd time in 3 years. They just have too much talent and the fit is just too perfect. As far as a worst case scenario? A loss in the conference finals to one of the Clippers or Spurs, but without serious injuries this just doesn’t figure to be likely. Hell, the Warriors can lose Curry or Durant, and they’d still be favored in just about every game they play – that kind of depth isn’t supposed to be possible.

So what is the floor for these guys? Barring a team plane crashing, I can’t see any world in which they win less than 60 games – and I think the odds of this team hitting their floor are extremely low.

But with all this potential comes perhaps the most pressure and scrutiny that any NBA will ever have faced (arguably only comparable to the Heat trio 2011 campaign). And under the pressure, every key actor on this team wilted when up 3-1 in a playoff series – Durant included. Lebron goes into this season and the seemingly inevitable finals, with what can only be deemed a massive psychological edge both as the defending champion and the underdog.

This Warriors team is going to play basketball but it’s unlikely we’ll recognize it except in the vaguest terms. They’re not just playing for a championship or a dynasty; they’re going to be playing to take the form of the game to new heights. And if that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know why you like basketball.

 

 

2 Comments

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