This is part four of the Contender Series, one where I’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the best NBA teams, taking into account previous history of play and capability of flipping the switch and getting into playoff mode. In this part, I’ll analyze the Golden State Warriors.
Why Golden State will win:
Do I really need to tell you why the 63-7 GSW will win? It is similar to saying: Will Curry win the MVP? The answer to both questions, albeit the second more than the first, seems to be yes. A team that won the title last season returned even more motivated this season and the result has been a top two, possibly best ever, regular season team in history. They have been demolishing opponents at the tune of the number 1 offensive rating and 5th defensive rating.
Stephen Curry has put up arguably the most dominant offensive season we have ever seen. It combines volume with efficiency in a magnificent way, one that reaches his pinnacle when he launches bombs from near half-court. His current 32.0 PER would rank number one all time. His 300 plus 3-point bombs are already the highest ever in a season, all of this with splits of 50/45/90 on his way to average 30 points, 6.5 assists and 5 rebounds. At the end of the season we could witness the first unanimous MVP (only LeBron ever got that close with only one vote not going his way back in 2013). We could say a lot more but we will leave it at that.
However, let’s not ignore Curry’s backcourt mate, Klay Thompson. Ever since last season’s decision of not to trade him to Minnesota for Kevin Love, Thompson has become a star in this league, who one can argue can get even hotter than Curry when he is hitting shots. Despite all of his offensive powers (22 points in 41% from deep) he is also a lockdown perimeter defender that can guard the 1, 2 and 3 (or even the 4 in small ball lineups). Then we have Draymond Green, the ultimate glue guy, a do-it-all 6’7 power forward/center that represents the full force of the small-ball revolution. He can guard both forward positions, and the center while acting as one of the best distributors in the league and making 3-point shots (which allows GSW to run 5-out lineups). While I do not personally view him as a superstar, Green is a crucial part of this team and their creation of matchup problems, one the other 29 teams in the league would love to have.
Finally there is also their depth. They can go 10-11, or even 12 deep in the playoffs, something we do not do not usually see (except from the Spurs). From Harrison Barnes (who is expected to command something not very far from a max deal this offseason), Iguodala and Bogut to Ezeli, Livingston and many more.
In terms of conference competition the threat is obvious. The San Antonio Spurs, who held Curry in check just this past weekend, are also on pace to have one of the most dominant seasons ever as well. However, if the Warriors can implement their pace and their shots fall (which happens about 99% of the time) not even a well-oiled Spurs machine can stop them. The Thunder and Clippers have arguments to battle with them and perhaps steal a couple of games but almost nobody seems them hanging around in a seven game series with these Warriors. In the Finals, it will almost certainly be the Cleveland Cavaliers wanting vengeance (although one has to consider the Raptors as challengers to the Eastern Conference crown) and after watching LeBron go up 2-1 last season against the Warriors it would not seem far-fetched to think a fully healthy Cavs team could win. But that would be ignoring how improved these Warriors are from last season (which already included a close win and a blow out in the Cavs home court) and how the Cavaliers do not seem to be hitting their strides this close to the postseason. At this point in time, it’s the Warriors title to lose.
Why Golden State will not win:
As in my Spurs article, it’s sort of unfair and nearly impossible to point out the possible weak points of this team. We could point out at their apparent disinterest in games against lower tier teams, which included a beat down by the Lakers (The LAKERS!) and numerous close games against teams they should be running out of the building. In these games, we witnessed a perhaps to fluid style of play, with many careless turnovers and below average defense. While no one expects this to be the problem come postseason, it is still one that the Warriors need to keep in mind.
Their defense is not as good as last season. They are actually allowing 104 points per game (which ranks 21st in the NBA) which, while reflecting the high pace at which they play, still represents an increase of nearly 5 points from last season and they also dropped in terms of defensive rating despite remaining in the top 5 (from 101.4 to 103.6).
One can always point to the luck factor as it pertains to injuries. Many have invoked their luck last season in having the team almost always fully healthy. But it was not that long ago Curry was an injury prone player. A fast paced system may also increase the changes of ankle spraining or other injuries regarding fast movements. We can only hope that is not the case this season as history seems to be in the making.
The chasing of the 95-96 Bulls record could also prove problematic. While Kerr has said rest will take precedence, one has to wonder that, with them being so close they will almost certainly want to go for it. Again, we do not wish anything like this to happen, but going all out in the final games of the regular season could lead to injuries and fatigue that, come postseason, could prove to be fatal, especially with their style of play.
In terms of competition, we have to mention the Spurs. It will be a battle of pace, one where if the Spurs can assert their style, it will create a lot of difficulties for Steph and company. It was just two finals ago when the Spurs ran over the Miami Heat and talks of greatest finals team performance emerged. If those Spurs return, the Warriors are in for a long series. There is always the possibility the Thunder find an identity and just throw Russell and Kevin Durant at the Warriors and outgun them. In the finals, the Cavaliers could finally gel and become one of the most talented Big 3’s assembled, and push Golden State to their limits (note that Golden State in theory has to go through either the Spurs or the Thunder before meeting the Cavs). The problem? It involves a lot more things going right for others and wrong for Golden State than what it takes for them to win. At this juncture, one cannot make a convincing argument that the Warriors will not win.
By: Step-Back J