2016-17 record: 67-15. 1st in the Western Conference. NBA Championship.
Transactions: You’ve just won your second NBA championship in three seasons. You’ve got the perhaps the greatest basketball team ever assembled anchored by two superstars who combined to win three consecutive MVP awards. You are so stacked that the shooting guard who is maybe your fourth best player would be the best player on most of the other teams in the league and your second unit is a starting playoff roster. You just treated the three teams you beat on the way to your third consecutive Finals like the Harlem Globetrotters treat the Washington Generals. You just beat a team with the greatest player ever to touch a basketball in five games. Nobody can touch you. What do you do for a follow up?
You bring everyone back and try to get even better. That’s exactly what the Golden State Warriors have done.
They started by re-upping with two-time MVP Steph Curry with a “supermax” deal that will give him $201 million over five years. After years of being ridiculously underpaid on a low end 4 year, $44 million contract extension that he signed in 2012 which many saw as a risk due to his injury history, the Baby-faced Assassin finally gets his due with the richest contract in NBA history (until James Harden signed his extension with Houston a few days later).
I don’t want to hear a thing from anyone about how Curry – or any athlete, for that matter – is overpaid. When the Warriors’ current ownership group headed by Joe Lacob purchased the team in 2010 they paid $450 million. Coincidentally that was immediately following Steph’s rookie season. They are currently valued at $2.6 billion and are the third most valuable franchise in the NBA behind the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. That meteoric rise in value is directly tied to the meteoric rise of their superstar point guard. If anything Steph Curry is underpaid given the revenue that he has generated.
When I was on a trip to Southeast Asia that saw stops in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, there were Warriors jerseys everywhere. All of them with Curry’s name and number on them. I imagine I would have witnessed a similar scene with LeBron just a few years ago or Kobe ten years ago or Michael Jordan twenty years ago. Steph Curry is now the face of the NBA in many parts of the world and he deserved to be.
The game of basketball has completely transformed over the past ten years as it’s moved out to the perimeter with an emphasis on three point shooting. It’s a point guard’s league now in many ways. Those changed are embodied in Steph Curry.
If you look at the most threes hit in a single season, Curry has six of the ten highest. Including the transcendent 2015-16 campaign that saw him hit an astounding 402 on his way to becoming the league’s first unanimous MVP. Last season’s mark of 324 is good enough for second place. Nobody has shot the three like Curry.
The closest there is to him is teammate Klay Thompson who has two seasons in the top ten all-time which only furthers to cement how dominant the Warriors are and how completely and utterly unbeatable this current Warriors team might be.
It’s not just Curry’s shooting that makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses. It’s his speed, footwork, and ball handling abilities that make him absolutely lethal and gives him the ability to penetrate inside for lay-ups or create an open shot virtually anywhere on the floor. He’s also one of the best pick and roll players in the history of basketball and he’s elevated his game to new heights on defense.
What’s absolutely incredible is that he still might not even be the best player on his own team. But don’t worry the Warriors brought that guy back too.
Kevin Durant returned to the Warriors on a two year $53 million dollar deal with the second year being a player option that will allow Golden State more financial flexibility next off-season which also happens to be one of the most loaded free agency classes of all time. KD has now left money on the table for the second consecutive off-season.
For all the (horribly misguided) criticism that Durant took for being “selfish”, “weak”, “a snake”, “a cupcake” or whatever else you want to call him for leaving Oklahoma City for the Warriors one off-season ago after the Thunder blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals against the team that Durant eventually joined, KD did nothing but make a decision that he was in his right to do so. Not only that but the same people trashing him for his decision are also the ones making an argument that you can’t be an all-time great player without a ring.
Well he’s got one now and will probably have a lot more as long as this team is together.
Ironically for all the talk of KD being selfish, it’s his unselfishness financially that is allowing the team to stay together. I’m not a big fan of players leaving money on the table. Especially ones with Durant’s injury history. One bad break can alter or end an entire career and taking less money often only helps the pocket books of billionaire owners. In Durant’s case, I do understand the logic as without his willingness to take less, it would be impossible to bring back key pieces of the Warriors second unit which is vitally important to their success.
So the Warriors keep one of the best pure scorers to ever play the game and the reigning Finals MVP at a bargain price while Durant will likely improve upon a season that saw him miss 17 games due to a knee injury but also set a career high in shooting percentage and lead the league in win shares per 48 minutes. Durant was not only a lethal scorer but also reinvented himself defensively as the Warriors best interior defender (setting career highs in blocks and rebounds and also leading the team in both categories) when questions arose about just how they would fill that role with the rim protectors they had to let go of in order to sign KD. Instead, Durant transformed into a better rim protector than most centres.
Durant’s financial unselfishness has been repaid in kind by Steph Curry’s on court unselfishness. The two-time MVP took on a somewhat diminished role offensively in order to integrate Durant into the offense. The result has been an unstoppable machine built upon a foundation of two of the best players that the game of basketball has ever seen.
Durant’s move allowed the Warriors to retain all of their key second unit pieces including Shaun Livingston (3 years, $24 million), David West (veteran’s minimum), Andre Iguodala (3 years, $48 million) and JaVale McGee (one year minimum) as well as starting centre Zaza Pachulia (one year, $3.3 million). Golden State also took advantage of their financial flexibility to add some new pieces.
In Livingston they have the perfect back-up point guard who gives them totally different look behind Steph Curry with his length. He’s an excellent defender who keeps opponents on lock down with his physicality and speed. Offensively he has an excellent mid-range game and superior post-up skills. Livingston can also play well without the ball in his hands which makes him extremely versatile in the Warriors system with his back-door cuts and post-up play. He also rarely takes a three pointer which makes him the perfect back-up for the Warriors in terms of offering a completely different set of skills.
David West returns to the Warriors for one final NBA season after finally achieving his goal of winning a championship. West is no longer the player he once was but can offer up quality minutes at the power forward position and is a veteran presence in the room to mentor younger players.
The Warriors faced a bit of a scare when 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala tested free agency but due to Durant’s willingness to take less money were able to secure the services of their most important bench player. While the price is a bit high for a player who will be 36 at the end of his contract, Iggy is coming off a season that saw him set career highs in overall field goal percentage as well as two point shooting percentage. It’s likely that Iguodala will look to extend his outside shooting as he gets older in order to conserve his energy for his most important role. His biggest value remains his excellent defense off the bench and as long as those skills don’t erode with age, he will be an integral part of the Warriors as they strive to establish a dynasty.
Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of the Warriors dynasty is that it gave us NBA champion JaVale McGee. The one-time league wide punch-line and star of Shaqtin’ A Fool has found a meaningful role off the bench with the Warriors and gave the Warriors a nice inside option on second units. McGee played the lowest minutes per game of his career (9.6) but adjusted for 36 minutes his stat-line would look like this: 23 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. Nobody is laughing at JaVale anymore.
Starting centre and league wide villain Zaza Pachulia is also back. Best remembered and rightfully hated for his foot slide on Kawhi Leonard during game one of the Western Conference Finals which took the Spurs superstar out of the play-offs and ended any chance they had of competing with the Warriors. On the karmic scale, Pachulia had kind of got his as it was his big giant head crashing into Kevin Durant’s knee that knocked the Warriors’ superstar out of the stretch run of the regular season. Still Pachulia is an effective front-court presence for Golden State. He’s really bought into their defensive system and offers them solid contributions in his minutes on the floor.
New to the Warriors this season is forward Omri Casspi who comes to the squad on a veteran’s minimum after having a down year due to injuries last season that saw him traded from Sacramento to New Orleans as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, only to be waived by the Pelicans and picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves in a disappointing stint . A healthy Casspi will rebound and offer the Warriors yet another three point threat but also a skilled play-maker from either forward spot who will give them another option to stretch the floor. The 29 year old will have a major resurgence off the bench for Golden State.
The Warriors also added none other than the man, the myth, the legend Nick “Swaggy P” Young on a one year, $5.3 million deal. The 32 year old is coming off by far the best season of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers that saw him become one of the best catch-and-shoot options in the NBA. Nearly half off all his attempts were off the catch and he hit 43.8% of standstill triples. Add that efficiency to the Warriors and you have another weapon who can create his own shot coming off the bench. They’re going to be even better this season. It also gives the Warriors another opportunity to give another former league-wide punch-line a shot at championship credibility.
The only significant loss for the Warriors was back-up guard Ian Clark who left for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Warriors were the best team in the NBA last season. They’ve made themselves even better now.
2017 NBA Draft: For all the pissing and moaning that the Warriors are too dominant and that the NBA is too reliant on the super-team concept, Golden State built its core through drafting and developing players. They have excellent scouting and a first class organization from top to bottom in terms of player development. So when they come and offer to buy your draft pick and you’re a rebuilding team like the Chicago Bulls, you should probably keep the player that they’re interested in.
Of course that didn’t happen. The Bulls sold the Warriors the 38th pick in the draft and when the player they got turns into a defensive player of the year candidate and Golden State remains n the NBA championship picture for years to come, remember that the key to their success is no different than it would be for any other team: drafting and developing top talent.
Jordan Bell will certainly be a huge piece of the Warriors future. He was a key piece of an Oregon Ducks team that made its first appearance in the Final Four since 1938 . He won the PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Year in his junior and final year last season and came to the national consciousness after an Elite Eight victory over Kansas that saw him explode with 8 blocks, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and a highlight reel’s worth of game changing plays.
At 6’9” and 225 pounds, Bell has no problem guarding opposing centres due to his elite athletic ability and incredible effort on defense. He is an incredible rim protector and showed off his ability consistently in the Summer League that he can use either his left or right hand to lay down a huge block. It’s an incredibly rare talent among defenders and one that the Warriors can now add to their arsenal of Swiss army knife-type defensive talents. Add to that elite-level rebounding skills and an ability to finish inside on offense.
Bell will learn under current Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green who he drew constant comparisons to last year. While I don’t know how much he will play this season – barring any injuries – the opportunity to learn under such an immense talent and become acclimated to Steve Kerr’s system will be a huge step forward in his development process.
The rich continue to get richer.
The Warriors also signed Bell’s teammate Oregon teammate Chris Boucher. who fell out of the draft due to tearing his ACL in the PAC 12 tournament, to a two-way deal.
Boucher stands 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan and could develop into a nice stretch 5 for the Warriors. He’s got excellent shot blocking abilities – averaging over three per game with the Ducks – and a growing offensive game. He’s both an excellent finisher at the rim and shot 35% from three point range next season.
Outlook: First of all, let’s take a minute to appreciate that the Warriors have not only reunited JaVale McGee and Nick Young but that they’ll likely win an NBA championship together. Somebody please get Gilbert Arenas NBA Finals tickets. Don’t let him come armed though.
What a beautiful world we live in.
Also let’s marvel at the fact that I have written just under 2500 words on this team and barely made mention of two of their four all-stars. That’s how deep this squad is. It’s just ridiculous.
Draymond Green will look to repeat on his Defensive Player of the Year performance. He’s the most versatile defender in the league with his hustle and intensity that sees him literally running all over the floor to defend on both the perimeter and inside as well. He can shut down opposing players as skilled as James Harden in isolation, he can stay in front speedy point guards like Dennis Schroder and stop them at the rim, or turn away opponents inside better than most 7 foot tall shot blocking specialists. Green also offers the Warriors unparalleled line-up flexibility with his ability to switch on to all five positions in one possession and even play centre in some line-ups. It would not be shocking if he repeated as defensive player of the year and he’s definitely headed for his third straight all-star selection.
Green is also an elite play-maker. He lead the Warriors in assists last year and is an incredible passer. He doesn’t waste any time once he gets the ball, dishing it off and then getting himself into a position to make a play. Green is able to excel in transition and off the pick-and-roll which makes him an invaluable option for the Warriors at all times. He can finish plays but generally serves at the initiator of a historically dominant offense.
Klay Thompson remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He’s an absolutely superstar in his own right. A perennial all-star and one of the best three point shooters of all time who is simply in the position of being behind on the same team as three historically great players in Green, Curry and Durant. Believe me, Thompson would be by far the best player on most other NBA squads for his offensive capabilities alone. He averaged 22.3 points on 46.8% shooting including 41.4% from three point range and hit 268 threes last season which was 7th highest in the history of the NBA but still second behind Curry.
If Thompson’s offense wasn’t enough to cement his status as a superstar, he’s also an elite level defender and can help the Warriors win games just through his play on the back-end. He often receives unfair criticism when he goes cold offensively because most casual fans don’t realize the effort that he puts forward on the other end of the ball – particularly in the playoffs where his D becomes even more important. It was his ability to lock down Kyrie Irving or JR Smith that allowed the Warriors to dominate Cleveland in the Finals. He even switched onto Kevin Love at times without difficulty. He’s a relentless and athletic defender who receives not nearly enough credit for it because he plays alongside the defensive juggernaut that is Draymond Green.
The Warriors addressed one of the only weaknesses they had last season in the off-season and that was the frequent inability of anyone outside of their four all-stars to create their own shot. The additions of Casspi and Young will change that and give Steve Kerr even more line-up flexibility to throw at opposing teams. They were already virtually unbeatable and now they’re even better.
I’d also expect a big leap from second year player Patrick McCaw who will get more minutes with the departure of Ian Clark and the tendency of Nick Young to be very effective on the wing. The 21 year old showed the offensive ability and defensive tenacity that endeared him to Steve Kerr and I’d anticipate a minutes increase and bigger role in the rotation this season.
It’s hard to wrap my head around just how deep this team is. It’s not inconceivable that their second unit could probably contend for a top four seed in the East. I mean it’s an embarrassment of riches. Last year they could deploy a line-up of death with Green and Durant in the front-court, Iguodala on the wing and Curry and Thompson in the back-court. It’s impossible to defend against or even account for. It’s the perfect position-less line-up that can stretch the floor and create an infinite number of mismatches.
Well think of the line-ups of near-death that can be created by inserting Casspi to hit threes or Swaggy P on the wing or Livingston for defense and length. I mean you can make a line-up of second unit death and completely out-match many squad’s starting line-ups. It’s absolutely absurd how deep the Warriors are and how well they have managed to add pieces that fit perfectly within their system.
There is no way to beat this team. Short of a major injury or the Cavs signing a bought-out Dwyane Wade and dipping him in the Lazarus Pit or some other miracle that LeBron can perform, there is no team on the planet that they can’t out-match, out-gun or outmanoeuvre with line-up flexibility and spacing the floor to render even the stingiest defense impotent.
It’s just unfair. But they did all the right way. Curry, Thompson and Green were drafted and developed and formed the core of a team that won 73 games. They were able to add Durant because the players they properly nurtured and made into stars created an environment that he wanted to come to and knew he could thrive in.
Now they’ve got the greatest team ever assembled in my view. There simply are no weaknesses and every single player on the team has a defined role that they are capable of executing to perfection.
It’s probably a foregone conclusion that Golden State is going to repeat as NBA champions and claim their third title in four seasons. I could probably stop doing team previews here but I won’t because that remote possibility that somebody can knock them off is what will keep us watching beyond marvelling at the sheer perfection that the Warriors will have on the court this season.
The question isn’t even about whether the Warriors will be great. It’s about how great they can be. As long as this line-up is intact, there’s no telling what they can achieve.
The ceiling is the sky.
Prediction: 69-13. 1st in the Western Conference. NBA Champion.