It’s understandable. Folks are worried. No one said this was going to be pretty.
The Golden State Warriors are 4-1 in their last five games since imploding in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals against eventual NBA Champions the Cleveland Cavaliers (No, the pre-season does not count). This would have been just another story, except that the 2015 NBA Champion Warriors were coming off an NBA record 73 regular season wins and rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Yes, the same Kevin Durant who, weeks later, signed on the dotted line to fortify the Warriors’ front line.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia.
Now that is an enviable frontline. Question is, who holds the fort in the second unit?
There isn’t an argument about upgrading a slipping Harrison Barnes with one of the purest scorers the NBA has ever seen in Kevin Durant; and while Zaza isn’t as polished an offensive presence as Andrew Bogut, he doesn’t take anything off the table. Where the Warriors failed, and miserably so, is the inability to assemble a second unit that took care of business while the starters rested.
Shaun Livingston and Ander Igoudala are the only two bench players of any significance that remained in Golden State once the summer frenzy died down. Gone is veteran leader Leandro Barbosa and his playoff chops. Gone is the hustler and rim protector in Festus Ezeli. Gone is the enforcer and floor spacing of Mareesse Speights. More importantly though, gone is the camaraderie that held that championship winning, record breaking core together.
The modern NBA game has spread out even more
The pace and space era is putting more miles on NBA players. NBA coaches now spread out and stagger their stars’ regular season minutes, saving their legs for the playoffs. This shift places greater emphasis on second units that can stand their ground while the starters catch their breath.
Golden State has a unique problem. They have a loaded first unit. Extremely loaded.
Although their bench got drubbed (they were outscored 54-16) against the Spurs, Kerr has enough firepower between Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green to ensure at least one, if not two, All-Stars are on the floor all the time. This may not work in the playoffs, when firing on all cylinders (or All Stars) becomes crucial. And that’s why we have the regular season.
Unlike in the English Premier League where every single game matters in a 38 game season decided on wins / losses / points, the NBA’s regular season games, while critical for that coveted playoff seed, are a playground for coaches to figure what works and what doesn’t, until things get real in during the playoffs.
This is an ever so slight deviation from our high expectations of the 2016-‘17 season for Warriors. Golden State will be just fine. They have two former NBA Most Valuable Players in Durant and Curry, the NBA’s third best two-way player in Thompson (behind LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard), and the NBA’s most versatile player Draymond Green. Most importantly they have a student to two of NBA’s greatest coaching minds, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, calling the shots: Steve Kerr.
If you still are worried, go ahead and find solace in this video of Durant’s shoot around on Thursday night as he was preparing to face the Pelicans. He sums up the Spurs’ loss it best: "It's one game of 82 and you f***ing guys make me feel like the world's going to end."
The best of the week
Player of the week: Kawhi Leonard
This was tough. Damian Lillard is sending a message that he wants to get back in the playoffs averaging 34 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in the week against two potential playoff contenders. Russell Westbrook is adjusting to LAD (Life After Durant) as he wrecks havoc on the hardwood, averaging a near triple double with 41 ppg / 12 rpg / 9 apg. And of course there is Kawhi Leonard who, apparently upon Coach Popovich’s request has trained with and taken a leaf out of Kobe Bryant’s book this summer. Granted his dropped a career high 35 against the Warriors, but it was this play against the reigning (and unanimous MVP) that gave him the edge this week. Savage.
Performance of the week: Anthony Davis
Game 1 vs. Denver Nuggets: 50 points. 16 rebounds. 7 steals. 5 assists. 4 blocks.
Game 2 vs. Golden State Warriors: 45 points. 17 rebounds. 2 steals. 3 assists. 2 blocks.
Yep. Davis dropped 45 on the Warriors.
The Brow has returned. ‘Nuff said.
Game of the week: Boston Celtics versus Chicago Bulls
Two other games came close: the Indiana Pacers OT win over the Mavericks, and the Memphis Grizzlies holding off the Minnesota Timberwolves at home. Then I realised it isn’t wise to bet against a 34-year-old, three-time NBA Champion who was told he could not shoot threes. Why? He drops 22 points including 4 of 6 from three-point land. Dwyane Wade is back home. He made sure everyone knew.
Team of the week: San Antonio Spurs
Is a 2-0 record in the opening week an indication of things to come? Under any other circumstances, I’d say no. However, when you beat the fully healthy “Super Team” Warriors on their home court, you have a reason to believe. (Unless you are Kawhi. He doesn’t smile.)
How exactly do Gregg Popovich and the Spurs organisation move seamlessly from losing the greatest power forward in the history of the NBA to pounding the 2016 NBA Finals Runners Up by 29 points will remain a mystery to the basketball world. The Spurs looked seamless on court, almost like they began preparing for Duncan’s departure from way before he decided to hang up his boots. As a Popovich fan, I can contain my excitement for this season.
- Coach Eric Spoelstra coached his way to his 400th career win as Head Coach. Congrats Coach! Here’s hoping Whiteside carries you to the Promised Land once again.
- James Harden may have found his rhythm in his new roles as the Houston Rocket’s PG. He dished out a career high 17 assists.
- Now that he is retired, former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash has dived head first into his love for football.