The Warriors Riddle
Before last season, the narrative in the NBA was about how Kevin Durant ruined the NBA by joining the Golden State Warriors. By the time the season was over, that narrative turned into a call to arms from fans and reporters to other teams to do something. Well, the challenge was met as teams loaded up during the offseason. During the NBA arms race, the competition became much more fierce out west while the landscape shifted slightly in the East. Which leads me to the commercial I recently saw on ESPN. The commercial stated that ‘the Warriors are on notice’. While they will face more competition in their title defense, the fact remains that they are still the prohibitive favorite. Also, I began to wonder if everyone is misunderstanding the best way to combat the Warriors machine.
NBA history is very easy to track. If a team had a transcendent superstar with a proper team around that player, they likely won or competed for a championship. I believe the fans and the media have oversimplified what the NBA is and where it’s going. The common belief is that if you stack up talent and are able to score with the Warriors, you can beat them in a playoff series. That thought process isn’t wrong per say, but it is misguided. Take a quick mental quiz and answer this question: what’s the first thing you think of when you think of the Warriors. After getting through the insults and hate, you’re likely to think of the fact that they have four all-stars on one team. And this is part of the problem. Instead of looking at the whole of the parts, too many people are looking at the sum of the parts. They look at the Warriors star power, and not the system they play or the culture they’ve created. That is why teams will fall short against the defending champions.
Golden State could probably beat every team with star power alone, but it’s their system that makes them the juggernaut they are today. The flow of their offense, the off the ball movement, the passing, the defense, and the unselfishness is what wins them games. And if things go bad, they have star power as their final recourse. So teams getting as many stars as possible on one team is cool and it generates the headlines, but that doesn’t solve the Warriors riddle. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the perfect example of this line of thinking. Last season, they had three all-stars and what people thought was a deep bench. However, a lack of defense and a simplistic iso-centric offense doomed them from the start. They also wanted to try and keep the pace high and shoot with the Warriors. That’s akin to suicide when playing Golden State. When it was time to adapt and perish, the Cavs opted to dance with who brought them and lose in five games.
The presence of the Warriors has created an environment where the common thought process is to match firepower with firepower. Simple thinking like that only ensures more championships for Golden State. To beat the Warriors, teams must think beyond simple offense. They must defend them. They must constantly communicate on defense and guard against three-pointers. When the Warriors find a rhythm from deep, they’re difficult to beat. Teams have to stop trying to run with them as well. The Warriors 15 losses came when they scored fewer than 25 fast break points. That also means turnovers must be kept to a minimum. Teams also have to be willing to get dirty with Golden State. The Warriors were outrebounded in all but two of their losses last season. And finally, hero ball isn’t recommended. One or two players won’t beat the Warriors on their own. Only a team can do that.
So when the season tips off, here’s hoping everyone ditches the 2K mindset of just following stars. While that may get a win or two, it’s important to understand the Warriors system and unselfish culture is just as dangerous as their star-studded lineup. Ignoring one for the other will only guarantee more of what you saw last season.