The NBA season finally tips off today after an excruciatingly long wait, and the schedule makers have rewarded our patience with a heavyweight bout on opening night. The San Antonio Spurs will take on Golden State in Oracle Arena, and it should be a really entertaining game between the two favorites in the Western Conference. There have been some significant changes since last season, so let’s dive into some storylines about the horrifyingly talented Golden State Warriors.
Zaza Pachulia might be a downgrade from Andrew Bogut.
Bogut flew under the radar in Golden State because of the star power around him, but his contributions to the team should not be understated. He was the anchor of the defense and the pivot point of the offense. He freed up the Warriors’ fantastic shooters with crushing screens, and the Aussie is a great passer for a big man. He was a grinder who did all the dirty work to help make the stars so successful, and he left a void when he was traded to Dallas to make room for Kevin Durant.
That void was quickly filled by Pachulia, who took a team friendly deal for a chance to play with a historically great team. ESPN’s Ethan Strauss pointed out that Pachulia will need time to adjust to his new role as the fulcrum of the offense. It’s a complex, high intensity motion offense in which the center has to make many quick decisions, and it doesn’t seem like he’s there yet. He’s less athletic than Bogut, and that hurts on both ends of the floor.
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr talked to CSN Bay Area about the impact on defense. “The thing that’s different will be a lack of rim protection. We had great rim protection from Bogut and Ezeli, and both those guys are gone. Zaza’s a very good defender, but he’s more of a positional guy than a shot blocker.” This is a weakness that the Spurs might look to exploit in the season opener, as Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol are all excellent at attacking the paint.
How big an issue this will be for the Warriors remains to be seen, as their margin for error is so high because of their unprecedented talent level. Kerr probably isn’t losing sleep about it, but the downgrade at starting center and the fact that JaVale McGee is the backup is definitely not optimal. Kerr may decide to hide this weakness by playing small more often, which will probably spell disaster for opponents.
Will Durant cause chemistry problems?
No, no he probably will not. Many have speculated that the addition of Durant will complicate things for Golden State. These people are still in the first phase of Warriors grief; denial. They say things like, “LeBron and the Miami big three took time to gel.” This is a factually accurate statement, but it’s not analogous. The Heat had to work on not only chemistry, but also on developing a completely different system and style of play to maximize production from their newly assembled trio of all-stars.
These Warriors have nothing in common with that Heat team except for the phrase, “super team”. They already have an established identity and fantastic chemistry, they simply got a significant upgrade at one position. Imagine if last year when Golden State won 73 games, Harrison Barnes scored and commanded the defense’s attention like Durant. That nightmare has become reality for 29 other teams, and the Warriors are absolutely giddy about it.
‘There’s a whole lot of stars, but only one ball.’ Factually accurate, but inconsequential. There is only one ball, it’s kind of a fundamental tenet of the game. Golden State would probably be even deadlier with multiple balls, but they should do just fine with one. The Warriors move the ball to get open shots extremely unselfishly, and the addition of another superb scorer will not change that. If anything, the ball will move even more because there will almost always be an elite player open. This team feeds the hot hand and feeds off that energy, and much like the Spurs, they care way more about getting buckets than who gets them.
Durant fits perfectly with how Golden State plays. He doesn’t disrupt the flow of the offense, he enhances it. His scoring prowess will open up more opportunities for the Splash Bros, as one will draw the opponent’s third best defender and double teaming will be suicidal. It seems like the only Warrior with a potentially problematic ego is Draymond Green, but the point forward probably isn’t mad that he has a new super friend to drop dimes to.
The Warriors are a matchup nightmare.
Golden State’s backcourt consists of the two most prolific shooters in the NBA today, both of whom are complete players and well-rounded scorers who inflict damage if given an inch of space. They have a dynamic point forward who is a versatile defender and a nightly triple double threat. Oh, and they just got Durant. There may not be a team in the league equipped to defend that kind of firepower.
When Durant was in Oklahoma City, the Spurs primarily used Danny Green to guard him while Leonard drew the assignment on Russell Westbrook, leaving Andre Roberson to Tony Parker. That wasn’t an issue because Roberson was not a reliable scoring option. Against these Warriors, the 34-year old Parker will have to guard either Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Durant, and that’s an issue any way you slice it.
Plus, the Spurs will be without Green’s wing defending prowess for this game due to a strained quad. They will have to start either 39-year old Manu Ginobili, a fairly inexperienced but athletic Jonathon Simmons, or “Slo-mo” Kyle Anderson at the 2. If they decide to double team someone, which excellent scorer will they choose to leave open? None of this bodes particularly well for San Antonio, but basically every other team is in the same boat.
It will be interesting to see how Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich tries to contain this offensive juggernaut, but whatever matchups he goes with will be subject to change once Danny Green returns. The Warriors present a four headed monster, and if a strategy exists to limit their production it is not immediately apparent.
Curry is more than just a shooter
This one is almost as bad as ‘Kawhi Leonard is a system player,’ and for the exact same reason. Leonard’s system is as great as Curry’s shooting, but defining either player by just that one aspect ignores the other elements of his game that are truly fantastic. Curry is a spectacular shooter, maybe the best ever and certainly the most prolific. However, to say he is “just a shooter” ignores how talented and complete a basketball player he is.
Curry can dribble, pass, and finish with flair and efficiency ambidextrously. He’s more than comfortable driving and scoring – in fact, he’s the most effective starting point guard in the league on layups. He hit 66% of shots in the restricted area last year, compared to 58% from Westbrook. Steph’s ability to blow by defenders and hit a crafty layup off the glass or an impossibly high floater makes him so much more difficult to guard than “just a shooter.”
Steph is also an underrated defender, probably because Mark Jackson tried to hide him on that end of the floor. Things changed when Kerr started running the show, and Curry is a much improved defender who led the league in steals last year. His positional responsibility of usually guarding the primary ball handler definitely contributed to that mark, but as far as point guards go, he’s a very pesky defender.
Curry may not be a traditional point guard, but he’s a pretty great one. Draymond Green alleviates some of the burden of facilitating and allows Steph to play off the ball, but he can run an efficient point too. He’s an adept passer, especially when the defense bends to contain him and leaves a man open as a result. Curry’s shooting is undeniably great, but so are most other parts of his game.