The ending of the 2015-’16 season was cruel for the Golden State Warriors. Yes, they won a record-breaking 73 games in the regular season. Yes, they made it to the Finals. But when you lose a seven game season-deciding series after leading 3-1, your psyche does take a hit.
Still, as the new season rolled around, it wasn’t like a rebuild was required. A couple of smart draft picks would help build for the future but the team itself was not too far from the finished article. A sane team would bring in a couple of good bench players and get ready for the new season.
The Warriors went out and bought Kevin Durant.
Now, buying Kevin Durant is a big deal for any team but when you already have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, adding Durant to your squad is the very definition of overkill. He was the last guy not named Steph Curry to be voted NBA Most Valuable Player, has been an NBA All-Star for the last seven years and was the top scorer in the league in four different seasons.
A team with excess talent?
Any sports fan who follows a team sport will tell you that you cannot simply add superstar after superstar to a squad and become world beaters. A team is built on a number of intangibles like chemistry, trust and sacrifice. While it’s now almost a cliché for a superstar to praise their teammates for the win, they are kind of right. Whether you have to get the ball in the net using your feet, hands or a stick, you need players to link up and give up scoring opportunities to allow someone else to have an easier shot. A superstar will win you matches but only a team will win you a championship.
The Warriors were a phenomenon in themselves already. They had the highest points per game last season. Curry was the first-ever unanimous MVP. Klay was sinking threes for fun and Draymond Green had finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year standings for the second consecutive year. As the Warriors added Durant to the mix, many questioned whether coach Steve Kerr had bitten off more than he could chew.
Quite simply, having three elite players who instinctively shoot rather than pass could result in a lesser effective overall game. And as the Warriors play a small-ball pass-heavy game, that could disrupt their entire rhythm. Even the best case scenario where the team’s point total per game went up, the individual point tallies would surely fall.
Also, because of the NBA’s salary regulations, the team let go of their big defender Andrew Bogut. That meant that there was no one to protect the rim and getting rebounds would be a headache.
Rub of the green
The Warriors starting lineup for the season had three insanely good shooters (Curry, Klay and Durant) and one of the league’s best two-way forwards (Green). As the season started, everyone waited to see what they would produce in their first game against the San Antonio Spurs.
They lost by 29 points.
Out came the pundits with their I-told-you-so’s. There is a lot of offence but no defence. The bench is too weak. Who will catch the rebounds?
The Warriors responded by winning won four games on the spin but again fell to the LA Lakers. Curry did not make a single 3-pointer. Klay scored 10 points in the whole game. And the defence problem did not seem to be going away.
It was then that something clicked into place. The superstars stepped up. Green started putting in massive defensive performances. Klay came out of his rut and started scoring freely. Durant picked up his defence while still scoring almost 30 points every game! And Curry, well, Steph gonna Steph.
They went on a 12-game winning streak (including a massive 149-106 drubbing of the LA Lakers where they scored 80 points in the first half). It was finally broken when the Houston Rockets defeated them in double overtime. They quickly rebounded in their next game though as they recorded the highest field goal percentage by any team this season while defeating the Phoenix Suns by 29 points. Incidentally, the Warriors haven’t lost two games in a row in the regular season since April 2015.
Quite simply, the Warriors are extremely lethal in offence and if Green can stop kicking people in the head during games, the defence looks pretty good too, with Durant growing into a rim-protector role as well.
It’s not all rosy of course. Keen readers would have noticed that there has been practically no mention of the fifth man. It’s a problem that the Warriors will try to solve over the regular season. The starting center Zaza Pachulia continues to be average at best. David West is only good enough for the bench and Kevon Looney is still getting up to match fitness. JaVale McGee is the most entertaining candidate but is too busy being a regular on Shaqtin’ a Fool to be taken seriously.
The Warriors are coming pretty close to becoming a scoring machine. Coach Kerr has manged to make a team out of four bonafide superstars. While the fifth player spot is up for grabs, the team is starting to look genuinely scary and are definite title contenders.