2016/17 Record: 67 – 15 (NBA Champions)
2017/18 Salaries: $137,485,140 (Luxury Tax Team) – full GSW salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: DAL ’19 2nd (56-60)
Outgoing Draft Picks: DEN ’18 2nd, DAL ’19 2nd (DAL can defer to ’20)
The second of Hercules’ Twelve Labours was to slay the mythological multi-headed Hydra. The Hydra was deemed invincible, for should one of its many heads be severed, another one would just grow back in its place.
There may be no more apt comparison to describe the Golden State Warriors. When disaster seemingly struck a debilitating blow, the Dubs seemed to recover remarkably quickly. Think when Durant went down and the Warriors went 2-5, and then went on to win the next 13 games. Think Steve Kerr missing playoff games, including Game 1 of the Finals and Mike Brown stepping in and still getting the trophy. It’s this constant demonstration of recovery that – like the mythical Hydra – gives the Warriors a sense of invincibility.
Yet, Hercules did slay the Hydra. The Warriors too can be defeated.
The most obvious place to start is the fact that Cleveland came out and blew apart the Dubs in Game Four of the Finals. Cleveland rained fire from three-point land, draining 24 triples and getting to the line 31 times. The ability of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to get into the paint and collapse the defense proved overwhelming. Defensively, Cleveland prevented any barrages these Warriors have been famous for, limiting a notoriously flammable second half team to just 48 points after the main break.
Cleveland have also had decent success playing 3-1 or 3-2 pick and roll, attacking Steph Curry wherever and whenever possible on switches and cross matches. Curry is the “weak link” defensively in the line-up of death, despite finishing last season with a positive Defensive Real Plus Minus rating.
In the 15 regular season losses suffered by the Warriors, the Dubs were held to 17.4 points per game less than what they scored in wins. The team also shot only 26.7% from downtown, compared to 40.9% in wins. The recipe seems to be relatively clear; make the Warriors miss on offense and force a lot of turnovers. Just make sure you capitalise on the other end.
Short of that, pray that Curry gets hurt. Steph has played in at least 78 games for the past 5 seasons, but he might just be the most indispensable player on the team. He led the team in Win Shares last season with 12.6 and his gravity in the pick and roll or as a cutter/screener opens up opportunities galore. When you can have a down year and still put up 25 points with six assists per game coupled with 41% from three, that is remarkable.
A Curry-less Dub outfit would expose the lack of depth at Point Guard. Shaun Livingston is a handy asset to have, and his 6’7 frame makes up for a lot of deficiencies, but for a team that relies so heavily on shooting from the land of plenty (third in 3pt makes and 3pt% last season), Livingston and his 66 attempts for his career raises an obvious discomfort. Yet there is no other true PG behind Livingston either, with Draymond Green most likely to take on PG responsibilities.
Also working against Golden State is the fact that repeating is hard, this team is living proof. Everything about the 73-9 team screamed destiny, until a minor knee tweak and a cold shooting Harrison Barnes altered the course of history. Last season the motivations were unassailable and unwavering – revenge for the 3-1 debacle, win Durant’s first title and silence the cupcake critics, erode the notion that the team was lucky to play the Cavs when not at full strength. After achieving their goals last season, where will that sense of drive come from this year?
No team can come close to the Warriors overall firepower. The rich got richer with the addition of the Swaggiest player in the league, whilst retaining all of their important pieces. Kevin Durant was obviously the linchpin here, leaving $9 mil on the table so that the team could retain Andre Iguodala and Livingston whilst rewarding Curry with a Max contract – saving the owners a huge chunk of change. Nick Young is valuable as he provides much of what Ian Clark did whilst being a much better defender. At 6’7″, Young can play and defend at either wing spot, and was excellent from three.
Also important for repeating is the return of the big man corp. JaVale McGee, David West and Zaza Pachulia all decided to run it back once again, and GM Bob Myers may have acquired the steal of the draft in Jordan Bell. Whilst the Center spot is the weakest on paper, the Warriors can roll out a multitude of big men who are all suited to different situations (and none of which will be James MacAdoo), which is just the way coach Steve Kerr likes it.
The Warriors really should pick up right where they left off. After a feeling out process and a rather inauspicious start to the season, Curry and Co. rolled through the season. And yet, history has taught us that no matter how great a team looks, upsets can still happen. There are many examples of David beating Goliath through the course of history, and this Warrior team is absolutely Goliath.
The team was First in 16/17 in ORtg, 2nd in DRtg and 1st in NRtg. Those ratings matter. Every team within the last 10 years that has won an NBA Championship and then not made the Finals the season following, have all dropped in NRtg position with exception of the Lakers in 2012. The most common drop is in DRtg, and a drop in league rank in either category could be an accurate indicator for how this Warrior team will ultimately perform.
The Dubs could consistently win 80% of their games (no shit, Sherlock), relying on their superior talent to bail them out rather than blowing teams out of the water. Thanks to their dominance over the last three years, teams are focusing more and more on acquiring multiple stars, and a few teams look ready to challenge should the opportunity present itself.
The past three seasons, the Dubs have rarely found themselves in a period of vulnerability long enough to allow their competitors to take advantage. A large part of this is due to the few teams that can legitimately compete with them on any given night. This is set to change – at least in the West – with the Houston Rockets getting better by acquiring Chris Paul (and potentially Carmelo Anthony), Oklahoma City adding Paul George and the San Antonio Spurs entering the 2017/18 season still coached by Gregg Popovich and some proven success under their belts. The Warriors may be as frugal as past seasons at presenting moments of weakness, but if they do, they will have more competitors ready to exploit it.
It is also conceivable that the Western Conference Playoffs are more difficult for the Warriors than the NBA Finals will be. At the very least, it would be safe to assume Golden State will have to go through two of Oklahoma City, Houston and San Antonio through the Conference Semi Finals and Conference Finals, possibly all three rounds in the lead up to the Big Dance. LeBron (or the Celtics one might suppose), will be licking their lips if Golden State have to slug it out for 17-21 games prior to the Finals starting.
However, in a league where stars matter and talent almost always wins out, Golden State appear poised to dominate the NBA once again. The closest the league has to a Hercules is LeBron, and the Warriors dispatched him in 2017 with relative ease. Whilst the Cavs have shaken up their roster and at best made lateral moves, Golden State have added quality depth and retained their important pieces. There will come a time when the Hydra is defeated, but that day seems far off in the distance. The Throne still belongs to Dub Nation.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: A
2017/18 Prediction: 68-14
Despite the West getting a lot stronger, the Warriors are still the strongest team in the Conference. A large part of this is because the Warriors themselves got stronger. Expect the Warriors to go close to the 70+ win mark again, finish with the number one overall seed and make the Finals. They are the overwhelming favourite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy once again.
Player To Watch: Patrick McCaw.
Everyone loves an underdog story, even when it originates from the current NBA villains. At the end of the bench for the Warriors sits Patrick McCaw, a second round selection in the 2016 NBA draft. McCaw’s averages aren’t mind-blowing, but when extrapolated to 36 minutes find him in elite company. McCaw undoubtedly has talent, and can play with the big boys (his 18 points in Game 2 against the Spurs case in point). As an out of contract player next season, he may be an in demand, talented youngster hailing from a championship culture – someone that many teams could go for. The Warriors, pinched up against the cap may not be able to retain him.
Four Key Questions
1. Will Jordan Bell be hailed as the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft?
For the second straight year, the Golden State Warriors bought into the 2nd round of the draft; this offseason it was to select Jordan Bell. Bell is limited offensively, but his defensive versatility provides another wrinkle to an already elite defensive unit. His minutes may be few this season, but should opportunity arise, Bell could be the right guy at the right time and play an important role for Golden State.
2. Will the Klay Thompson rumours continue?
It is widely assumed that Klay Thompson is the most ‘getable’ of the Warriors Four Horsemen. When you look at skill-set, Klay’s shooter/defender role appears to be the most replaceable when compared to Curry, Durant or Green. Couple this with the financial reckoning that Golden State are likely to be facing and the whispers will likely continue, despite Golden State repeatedly rejecting overtures from other teams.
3. Does complacency set in?
Regardless of the sport, the questions following a Championship winning season are often the same. Can they repeat? How does a team find the motivation to ensure that it puts itself in a position to replicate success the following year? Those questions can be leveled at the 2017/18 Warriors, with no need to avenge the previous seasons failure, or the motivation to get one of the greats of the game the first ‘ship. Coach Kerr concurs, stating that complacency will be this teams biggest challenge this season.
4. How many wins? Can they get to 70 again?
The West has been re-stacked, and has been dealt a stronger hand. It will mean that the Warriors will be facing an up-hill battle to get to that fabled land of 70. There is undoubtedly the talent on the roster to do it, but is there the drive? Will enough go right for the Warriors to get the 70-win bench mark again, and be the third team in NBA history to do it?