The Golden State Warriors feature so many obvious storylines that it’s not worth rehashing them all in significant detail here, an article essentially meant to rehash major storylines before the season. We’ve already covered the big Warriors issues over the last few weeks — how they will come back from blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in last June’s NBA Finals, how Stephen Curry and Co. will search for an encore to a record-setting season, and how newly added superstar Kevin Durant will try to win back the love of the basketball world. These points have been discussed at length over the offseason and figure to be prime topics of conversation throughout 2016-17 and perhaps beyond it. Get used to them if you haven’t already.
If anything, the challenge with this season’s Warriors isn’t pointing out what could be interesting about them, but conceiving of them as a real basketball team that has to play 82 games and then try to win four games in four separate playoff series. A dramatic collapse at the end of a historic season and the biggest non-LeBron free agent acquisition ever have marked them as a superteam, the sort of group that cannot be watched without simultaneously addressing what they mean to the future of the NBA as a competition. Before any games have been played, Golden State feels more like a concept than it does a team.
That feeling should begin to dissipate when they play their first game together. Opponents will begin to figure out how to defend four All-NBA talents at the same time, head coach Steve Kerr will show how he plans to stagger minutes and work around the Warriors’ clear lack of interior depth, and the team’s biggest names will attempt to turn an All-Star Game lineup into a humming machine. The media will be able to discuss how the superteam functions, not what it means for the NBA’s middle class, and some of the most extreme responses to the team’s creation will be pushed to the margins. There should also be plenty of highlights to remind everyone that a ridiculously talented team is pretty exciting.
Plus, it should be fascinating to see how all these big names adjust to their new roles. Curry is still the unquestioned main star as a homegrown talent, but he has never had to share with a player as ball-dominant and gifted as Durant. Draymond Green will likely spend more minutes as a center and have to contend with new levels of fatigue, all while proving that his tendencies for trash talk and extracurricular contact aren’t distractions. Klay Thompson will have to adjust to the often precipitous drop from second to third option. Durant will need to learn to coexist with an offense predicated on ball movement and find out exactly how to impact the game now that he has fewer offensive responsibilities. An almost entirely new group of role players will have to sort out their spots in the rotation. Golden State’s acquisition of Durant was notable for the fact that they were already a great side, but they still have much to create to become champions for the second time in three seasons.
[The 2016-17 BDL 25: The key storylines to watch this NBA season]
The whole experience should be memorable, if also disappointing at times. A historically relevant team is about to play its first season together. Enjoy it, or at least open yourself up to its many possibilities. Opportunities like this one do not come around very often.
2015-16 season in 140 characters or less:
Wonder what Twitter user started the "Warriors blew a 3-1 lead" meme? Follow @warriors, who began it by blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) September 27, 2016
Did the summer help at all?
Yes, probably, because Durant is one of the best players in the sport. The trouble, though, is that the 2015-16 Warriors were in line to be known as perhaps the best team ever before the Cavaliers ended the season with three straight wins. That season could only have been improved upon if the Warriors had won the title. It’s not clear that, say, a 65-win champion that goes on a garden-variety playoff run would be demonstrably better. A dominant title would really be the only way to judge improvement for Golden State.
Nevertheless, adding Durant was a league-changing move that lengthens the Warriors’ title window considerably. He is the greatest pure scorer of his generation, a matchup nightmare who must be accounted for at all times. The fact that the Warriors already have the two best shooters in the league in Curry and Thompson and a hyper-versatile facilitator in Green means that we could be looking at one of the best offenses of all time. At the very least, the Warriors should be able to avoid many of the tough one-on-one possessions that plagued them in their most difficult playoff matchups last spring.
Perhaps the most exciting possibility for Durant on the Warriors is that he should have the freedom to contribute in far more areas of the game than he ever did with the Oklahoma City Thunder. KD proved in the Western Conference Finals that he can thrive as a defender, to the point where Curry and Thompson should be thankful about their new addition if only because they don’t have to face him again. Durant is also an often thrilling playmaker who should excel in the Warriors’ movement-based offense once he gets used to it.
The biggest downside to adding Durant was that it required losing a sizable portion of the rotation to free up cap room. The losses of starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut were the most prominent, with the latter particularly standing out if only because he hasn’t been replaced by a former MVP. Bogut is one of the NBA’s most capable interior defenders and a very good passer who often freed up the team’s shooters to focus on their scoring. On the other hand, he was often maddeningly inconsistent (particularly in the playoffs) and sometimes appeared allergic to scoring. Regardless, he’s a very valuable player and the team’s biggest loss of the offseason. Without him, the Warriors’ biggest hole quite clearly exists inside.
Golden State also had to give up several notable bench players, including mile-a-minute guard Leandro Barbosa, big shooter Marreese Speights, perimeter shooter Brandon Rush, and backup center Festus Ezeli. Each player had strong moments in a Warriors uniform, but their impact was perhaps overstated. The bench was a problem spot throughout Golden State’s final two playoff series and needed some sort of overhauling. Adding Durant was an acceptable trade-off, to say the least.
The new guys will still have to prove their worth. Veteran center Zaza Pachulia is an odd fit for the Warriors’ style but represented a steal at the $2.9 million room exception — his rebounding will be very important to a team that lacks size. New power forward David West hopped over from the San Antonio Spurs in his pursuit of a championship ring, and he should fill Speights’ role very well while adding rebounding and a permanent scowl. First-round pick Damian Jones is a 7-footer who could develop into a much-needed contributor by the end of the season, and second-round pick Patrick McCaw has excited observers at Summer League and early this preseason with his abilities as a wing defender.
It’s going to take time to make all these new players into a coherent team with a sensible rotation. Kerr will have to try various combinations, figure out how to stagger the minutes of his stars, and come up with a workable solution to the big-man problem without playing Green at center too often. It will take work, but they have the potential to be a historically great team. Just like the last one was.
Potential breakout stud:
It’s hard to pick a player for this section when the team will play four All-NBA talents and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala in crunch time. So let’s pay attention to a player who could eventually become a major part of this team — rookie McCaw. The Warriors have found more excellent players in the second round over the last 15 years than any other team, and it’s possible that they’ve now found their next one.
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The Warriors obtained the 6-foot-7, 20-year-old McCaw for cash on draft night after he had been selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 38th pick. It now seems curious that he fell that far, because he looks like the sort of rangy, versatile defender that has become popular in this era. If McCaw develops as hoped, he could begin to take minutes from the 32-year-old Iguodala as a perimeter defender and playmaker. That process will likely take time, but the possibility of this team adding another quality wing to plug into a system built on versatility is quite scary.
Curry has another paradigm-changing season as Durant fits into the system with ease. Opponents find no answers for defending that superstar duo, Thompson, Green, and another warm body at the same time. Durant thrives as a lockdown defender and is named to the All-Defensive team. Pachulia gives Kerr 20 good minutes per night. McCaw and Ian Clark develop rapidly and become part of an effective reserve backcourt alongside Shaun Livingston. The Cavs prove unable to capture the magic again, and the Warriors coast to a title that silences the haters.
If everything falls apart:
Curry’s playoff injuries have an effect on his performance this season, as well. Durant struggles to adapt to a more free-flowing offense, and drifts in and out of games. Thompson makes less of an impact as he gets fewer shots. Green fails to balance his psychological edge with his habitual line-stepping. The bench never comes together. The Warriors never feel like a coherent team and lose to a more cohesive opponent in the postseason, a la the 2010-11 Miami Heat.
Kelly Dwyer’s Best Guess at a Record
66-16, best in the West and the NBA.
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2016-17 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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