June 13, 2015

Weirdly great

I'm not sure we've blogged enough about the Warriors, so before this thing wraps up, for better or for worse, I'd like to make a couple of points about why I find this team so fascinating.

In my simple mind, the recipe for success in the NBA was straightforward for a couple of decades: you got two legitimate superstars, surrounded them with outstanding role players, then had Phil Jackson coach them (or before that, Pat Riley).  This simple formula would have gotten you 9 of the last 25 championships (six with the Jordan-Pippin Bulls, and three with the Kobe/Shaq Lakers).  But after Kobe/Shaq, the logic started to break down.

It was a different time

Here is a list of NBA champions in the post Kobe/Shaq era, with my (Win Shares-influenced) assessment of how many superstars there were on the roster:
  • 2003 - Spurs:  Duncan (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2004 - Pistons:  None (best players were Billups and Wallace)
  • 2005 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2006 - Heat:  Dwayne and (a diminished) Shaq
  • 2007 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker
  • 2008 - Celtics:  Pierce and Garnett
  • 2009 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2010 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2011 - Mavericks:  Dirk (Chandler talented sidekick)
  • 2012 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2013 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2014 - Spurs:  Duncan  (Leonard talented sidekick)
A couple observations:  it still doesn't hurt to have a couple of superstars - at least five of these teams did.  But between egos and economics, it's become exceptionally difficult to get two MVP-caliber players (a la Magic-Kareem) and keep them together.  The only instance so far this decade was when LeBron took his talents to Miami.  

So a new model is emerging:  an MVP-capable superstar with a talented sidekick and a lot of quality role players.  Superficially, the Warriors fit this new model.  By skill and good fortune they have an MVP-talent in Curry.  You've got your superstar, you've got your talented sidekick (call it Klay Thompson for the Warriors).  But if Curry is your best player, you have problems:
  • All of the teams above had a star big man, but Curry is small, his durability is questionable, and given those two facts you have to be careful how many minutes you play him.  
  • Most of the teams above played great defense - Curry is a capable defender, but not a shutdown guy (although he does have his moments).  
  • Curry is primarily an outside shooter, which may seem like a quibble, but every single team on the list above had a star who could score meaningful points in the paint.  It helps that Curry is probably the best shooter that ever lived, but still.
After you have your star and sidekick, most teams then spread the money around and try to get defense, rebounding, point guard, whatever.  The Warriors actually did this, spending significant money on David Lee, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut.  These are big people who can play inside, and they are the three highest-paid players on the team.

And...Lee and Iguodala do not start, and Bogut played three minutes in Game 4.  Wait...what?

What seems to have happened is that Draymond Green (24 at the start of the season) and Harrison Barnes (22) got really good faster than anyone expected.  Top five Warriors by Win Shares in the regular season:
  • Curry - 15.7 (adequate - comparable to Jordan '97-'98 or Bird '84-'85)
  • Thompson - 8.8
  • Green - 8.5
  • Barnes - 6.7
  • Bogut - 5.2
Everyone here is 30 (Bogut) or younger.  They listen to their coach and they can all pass and defend.  And then you bring Lee and Iguodala off the bench - both former all-stars and both still able to play at that level.  Holy crap.

I watched that '85-'86 Celtics season in full, and, much as I admired them, the Warriors would give that team all they wanted (it would look a lot like the Rockets series).  As for the Bulls - well, Steve Kerr has commented on that:
What I remember that year is there were about 10 games where Michael just decided, 'We're going to win.'  And every other team on Earth would have lost those 10 games. And Michael Jordan was ... there'll never be another one. Nobody has ever come close, and I don't think anybody ever will. He wanted to break that Lakers record of 69 wins, so he decided we would do it, so we did it. There's only one Michael.

The Warriors settled for 65.  They won't be able to continue to win in exactly this way - of the seven people listed above you could make a case for giving max contracts to five of them, which they can't/won't do.  But right now all of these players are on the roster, reasonably healthy, and awaiting deployment.

They still might not win, of course, because LeBron is the greatest player of his generation, and probably the generation or two before that.  Moreover, Draymond Green, who was the Warriors' best defender and glue guy in the regular season has limited experience in the playoffs and in guarding LeBron.

But the Warriors have one last card up their sleeve, and they played it in Game 4.  If you have an Andre Iguodala trading card you might want to get it out and write this down at the bottom:
Every season he has been in the NBA, whichever team he was playing for, Andre Iguodala has been assigned to guard LeBron James. 

He is good at it.

But not subtle.

In this series, according to this article, "the Golden State Warriors have been at their best when [Iguodala] is on the court – plus-32 — and struggling — minus-10 — when he’s riding the pine."

So, in addition to guns, lasers, and bombs, they also have Kryptonite.

They have a little bit more left to prove, but regardless of how the next three games go, this is one of the most unusual - and one of the best - teams in NBA history.


Post a Comment

<< Home