Last season, without Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors were the best team in the NBA. They just didn’t win the championship. Oops. So how good will they be with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green joined by the one-time MVP, and arguably the best player in the league?
The Warriors did the best they could to set themselves up for a championship victory. In the three seasons that came before (2013-2015), the top overall seed in the NBA ended up winning the championship, including the Warriors themselves against the same rival a year before. But winning an NBA championship isn’t about being the best in the regular season. It helps, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The Cavaliers made the right plays and the right decisions in the right time, seizing the momentum shift in the series and riding it until the bitter end, if you’re a Warriors fan, player or staff member. It didn’t hurt to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team.
But the Warriors are the team of the present, of the future. Their owner claims they’re light years ahead of the league in how they do things. Maybe he’s right. Winning 73 games after an NBA title can’t be disregarded as two flukey years. The Warriors built something special while everyone was sleeping off on them, and caught the league by surprise. Suddenly Stephen Curry became the best shooter that ever lived. Andre Iguodala became the player who can’t make mistakes. Draymond Green developed into the perfect small ball big man, the real X-factor on this team. Shaun Livingston turned his career around, and in some moments in the 2016 playoffs, the Warriors were better with him at point guard than Curry.
The narrative changed in June. Green is now a fully immersed villain, who also does idiotic things off the court. Thompson and Curry are less likable than before. Not just because of their losing, but their failed trash talk attempts after hitting James got Green suspended. Throw in Durant into the mix, and it becomes a team that’s actually difficult to root for, unless you’re on the bandwagon and not coming off for now, or you’re an actual, life long fan.
Are the Warriors better than in 2015-2016? Their personnel is better. Losing Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut will hurt, but Durant makes up for it, and the Warriors did good by adding Zaza Pachulia. He isn’t the defensive presence Bogut is, but he’s not that much of a downgrade. Adding what Durant brings to the table in comparison to Barnes, maybe the Warriors are even better than before, which is difficult to imagine after they tore through the league from November to June, and then ran into an unexpected problem.
Better players, but not necessarily a better team. Durant comes from a different type of basketball system. The Warriors have room for individual romps and ability, but it’s within a team system and goal. It was a little bit less restricted in Oklahoma City, for better or worse. Durant will need to up his passing game, adjust to less touches than before, and maybe most importantly, learn his role in small ball lineups, while certainly improving his ability on defense.
And maybe this is where the most tricky part lies for the Warriors. Curry, Thompson, Green – they all make for some incredible offense. But in problematic moments, the defense bailed them. And where does Durant fit into all of this, and how does it affect the rest of the team? Solving that problem will make the Warriors a team so good it’s almost difficult to imagine. Struggling to make that piece work, and the season won’t be as dreamy as the concept art showed.