If there ever was a team that threatened to change the fabric of the NBA, it is the Golden State Warriors. Last year, not only did they post one of the greatest season records, statistically speaking, but they did it with such style and panache that the rest of the NBA sat up and noticed. But as they went down in seven games to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, in a series for the ages, one thing became apparent: they are far from unbeatable.
This year, in a crucial offseason moment, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. By signing the four-time scoring champion, one-time Most Valuable Player and sureshot Hall of Famer, the Warriors have assembled a starting lineup that essentially redefines the definition of a super team.
There have been a few super teams in the last decade. Boston Celtics won a championship with a team comprising Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. LeBron James formed his own Big Three at Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, winning two championships in a successful stint. But this Warriors team is in a whole different dimension altogether.
Before the Celtics assembled their super team, they had a dismal season, winning a paltry 24 games. Miami won only 47 before James made his much maligned decision. The Warriors, when they signed Durant, were coming off a record-setting regular season, reaching the NBA finals. They already have a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry, two other All NBA and All Star nods in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Hell, even their sixth man Andre Iguodala is a Finals MVP. Now, they have added Durant into the mix.
In a league that is already struggling with top heavy conferences, the Warriors have set a precedent that could further damage the league's reputation, besides making for one sided contests that nobody really enjoys. This year’s (and the next: Durant signed a two year contract) NBA season could be the most boring of all time. Or would it?
The Warriors: going small
It’s important to understand what makes the Warriors such a dangerous team. Generally, teams rely on at least one or two big players, who provide rim protection and rebounding abilities. The Warriors instead go small. All their players, save the lone big man, are quick on their feet, can easily switch positions and space out the floor. More importantly, everyone can shoot the basketball, from within and beyond the three-point arc.
Durant is an offensive genius. As a player almost seven feet tall, he possesses the ball handling abilities of a point guard and the shooting range of a shooting guard. He can also use his ample height and wingspan to block shots and collect rebounds. With this impressive arsenal he fits right into the Warrior’s small lineup.
For the last two years, defences across the league have found it difficult to guard the perimeter against the Warriors, leaving Curry and Thompson to drain three-point buckets. Now, they have to contend with Durant. If defenders run to Durant, Curry and Thompson will get open shots. If they don’t, he can shoot, drive and dunk, creating an impossible proposition for defenders.
We have a sliver of hope though.
Last year, though occasionally, the Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder showed that if the Warriors' premier shooters are made to work for their shots, their offence begins to slow down. By taking advantage of a lack of a dominant big man in the lineup, teams can out-rebound the Warriors, creating second chances. Then, there is the problem of who gets the ball. Last year, the Warriors had a beautiful, fluid offence, outlined by a zipping ball movement on the perimeter and more often than not ending in a three-point swish or an open layup.
With a player like Durant, who is used to many ball touches in a game, the Warriors will have to reshape and restructure their offence a bit. It remains to be seen how successful they will be in doing that. As is evident from their near thirty-point blowout to the San Antonio Spurs in their first game this season, they have plenty of issues to iron out.
As a basketball fan, there is, however, plenty to look forward to this season. Even if the Warriors become the dominant force they currently are on paper, the least we can expect is scintillating basketball. The Warriors are a pretty team to watch and one can only hope that some team in the Western Conference challenges them.
There are candidates in the Los Angeles Clippers and the perennial old guard of the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers have a talented roster that has always underperformed. This may be Chris Paul’s last chance with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to finally cut loose and perform when it matters. Over at the Spurs, Tim Duncan has departed and Pau Gasol, another champion veteran, has been signed to replace him on the offensive end. Kawhi 'The Klaw' Leonard will arguably win the Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but keep an eye out for Rudy Gobert at the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are a strong defensive team and if their offence can keep up pace they will be a strong contender in the Western Conference.
The Eastern Conference is, unfortunately, not as interesting with almost no one pipped to beat LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving should have received a major confidence boost after his clutch shot in last year's final game and, maybe, we will see the beginning of a partnership mirroring the Shaq-Kobe one during Lakers' championship runs. Boston, though, have really upped their game and while the Raptors, Pacers and Hawks can all shave a game or two off the Cavaliers, Lebron should make his seventh consecutive trip to the NBA finals, a staggering individual achievement.
Speaking of individual brilliance, Russell Westbrook’s fallout with Kevin Durant should manifest in his continuing bullish performance. James Harden, now assigned a full-time point guard position in a reshaped offence, will stack up points and assists. The young turks at Minnesota Timberwolves and Lakers are expected to have breakout seasons. And last but not the least, spare a thought for Dirk Nowitzki, a champion remnant of the '90s era, still shooting fade away jump shots. Basketball is a team sport, sure, but is often punctuated by individual performances, maverick characters and players constantly setting their own legacy or chasing others. If team basketball becomes boring, we can always find solace in these individual stories.
It is easy to hate the Warriors and declare them the super villains of the NBA. And while there is merit in doing so, we must keep in mind that super teams have failed in the past, numerous times. If the Warriors indeed live up to their promise , it will mark the beginning of an era that will be emboldened for its sheer lack of competition. This season would then be a drab affair, a daily shark versus minnow contest. But if someone indeed stands up the Warriors, it will have the standing of a historic David versus Goliath battle. Who doesn’t enjoy a good underdog story?