In the 2015-16 season the Golden State Warriors won a record 73 games, came a game away from bringing home their second title in two years, had the leading scorer in the NBA as well as the the unanimous league MVP--and the two best three-point shooters in basketball. In the off season, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, arguably a top three player in the NBA, creating great expectations for the season to come, begging the question: can they live up to the hype?
It was rumored that Kevin Durant may sign with the Warriors during the season, but those rumors were dismissed by Durant and his agent promptly. The widespread assumption was that he was going to stay in the city he made his career in, Oklahoma City. The Thunder came a game away from eliminating the Warriors from the playoffs last season, and also have the All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.
But, on the 4th of July, Durant decided to end the OKC chapter of his career, and start a new with the Warriors in search of a first ever championship, proving the rumors right
The main concern from the Warriors faithful fan base was in regards to how he would fit in with the offense, and the chemistry the Warriors have worked so hard to cultivate. Last year the offense came into what it was built to be a perfectly calculated and calibrated, as well as as undefeatable, well-oiled machine. Though it may seem like adding another natural scorer couldn’t be a bad thing, people fear how Durant will take away shots from everyone else on the Warriors starting line. They now have four All Stars in their starting lineup, Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green.
Kevin Durant had one of the highest usage percentages in the NBA last year, just a tick over 32%. Steph Curry was right behind him, at 32% flat. So, when the starting line is on the floor, if the usage rates remained the same, Curry and Durant would take up 64% of the warriors plays. Last year Klay Thompson took up about 30% of the warriors plays, as he was their second best scorer at the time. This already is only leaving the two other guys on the starting line 6%of the plays for Draymond (an all-star) and Pachulia to get their shots in.
Pachulia has never been much of a scorer, his specialty being rebounds, but Draymond last year was an integral part of the Warriors offensive spacing from beyond the arc, scoring 14 points per game on a 49% shooting percentage.
It is most likely that the role that takes the biggest hit from the signing of Durant is Draymond Green. Many people suspected this may rustle some feathers, but Draymond, during a practice, told Durant to “be more aggressive.”
Draymond knows his main role on the team has been defense, coming in second for the Defensive Player of the Year award for two consecutive years. The defense of the warriors brings up another concern, as Durant has never been branded a good defender. The only thing he has going for him as far as defense being his height (6’11), and wingspan (7’4.75”).
On the contrary the warriors team last year had a reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the league. Their former center Andrew Bogut was an above average defender at center, along with Harrison Barnes, the former small forward. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are two of the best defenders in the league, and though Curry has had struggles with defense, he is slightly above average, and has a knack for steals. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, has never in his career been anything better than average on defense.
Despite this, the Warriors do not seem to be concerned. Looking back at their playoff series with the Thunder, many coaches remember Durant’s defensive versatility and shot blocking ability. Ron Adam’s, the Warriors defensive guru, stated Durant’s “versatility is outstanding, he’s a terrific defender who played with great defensive consistency in our playoff series.” He then went on to talk about the Warriors most likely using him to guard all five positions, if need be.
My guess would be that even if the defense does take a hit with Durant playing at the small or power forward, I think the offense he provides will be able to offset his defensive misgivings.
Now, with the addition of Durant, the Warriors have been dubbed a “super team.”. Let’s look at other of these so called “super teams” throughout history, and see how they performed their first year together.
#1: The 2010-2011 Miami Heat
I want to get something out of the way before I start with this comparison. The Miami Heat, in 2009, only had one star player, the slashing guard Dwyane Wade. His supporting cast was fairly strong, featuring players such as Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley. But in that off season they added all-star power forward Chris Bosh, and, at the time, league MVP LeBron James.
In addition to signing not one but two all-stars, the Heat were nowhere near the best team in the NBA before this, managing to take the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, against the Warriors 1st in the Western Conference. After the signing of LeBron and Bosh, they won 11 more games than the previous year, and finished second in the Eastern Conference standings. Miami did end up claiming the Eastern Conference Championship, defeating the Bulls 4 games to 2, but then lost to the Mavericks in the NBA finals.
Overall, the improvement of the Heat from season to season was exceptional, but it is fair to say that they did not live up to pre-season expectations. It seems difficult to believe that the Warriors could improve, and it’s mathematically impossible for them to improve by 11 wins (there aren’t enough games in an NBA season). The most likely possibility is that the Warriors do not live up to expectations, and instead fall back in the Western Conference.
#2: The 1968-1969 Los Angeles Lakers
When all-time great and dominant NBA big man, Wilt Chamberlain was traded to LA in 1968 it added another star to a lineup already containing Elgin Baylor and, “The Logo,” Jerry West. Unfortunately for this iconic super team, they only won 55 games, and fell a game short of winning the NBA finals.
In fact, the team was not as good as they could have been in the first three years, but in their fourth year together, they set a new league record with 69 wins, and went on to win their first NBA championship. In the years following they managed to reach the championships only once, being defeated by the Knicks, 4 games to 1. With the rise of the Bucks in the Western Conference in the early to mid seventies, the Lakers fell slightly by the wayside. They did not stay down for long, however, as in 1975 they added Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all time NBA points leader. Five years later, in the eighties, they drafted Magic Johnson and James Worthy to form “Showtime.”
This seems to apply with what happened with the Heat when they first added LeBron and Bosh, as it took them a while to truly get there legs beneath them. The theme of teams taking a year to gel seems to be consistent among these super teams.
2008 Boston Celtics
Again, the Celtics were nowhere near as good of a team in the 2006-2007 season the Warriors were this past season. In fact, they didn’t even reach the playoffs. To be fair, their leading scorer, Paul Pierce, was limited to half a season by injury.
This all changed with the addition of Kevin Garnett, the result of a trade with Minnesota. Unlike many of the other teams on this list, the Celtics gelled immediately. Pierce took less shots, the pressure on Rajon Rondo, who was not a scoring player, to score was lessened greatly, and Garnett took the main role in the offense, leading them to a title.
The reason this Boston team worked was because everyone bought into this team, and everyone accepted their role. Whether that was to create shots for other players, for themselves, dominate the paint, or knock down the open three, everyone accepted the fact that this was the way to win a championship. And it worked.
Two of these three examples illustrate the well documented phenomena of teams needing some time to develop chemistry and learn how to play together. The only way this team can be successful is if everyone settles into the roles they need to be in in order to help the team most effectively.
The Warriors have very little room to improve. If they repeat what they did last year the season will be an incredible success. It seems as though the Warriors will most likely win conference, which they will only achieve if their star and bench players alike accept their roles as they’ve done in the past. If so, they can do it again here with Durant. Everyone is going to have to give up some shots, but if they can accomplish that successfully, and I think they can, I believe they will win the NBA title, if not twice, at least once in Durant’s two year stint with Golden State.