Warriors Big 3

Will anybody beat the Golden State Warriors this season? Or are they too good for the rest of the field?

They aren’t going to finish 82-0, so of course, the answer is yes. In the NBA, in ways that other sports cannot emulate, the better team almost always wins.

There are certainly upsets, but they are rarer and almost always explainable by something other than one rogue incident. So, when we ask the title question, the real question is, “Are there any teams around that have a reasonable chance to beat them in a series?”

So, how do we define reasonable? It is not reasonable to assume that this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers will hit 75% on three-pointers for a series, even though it meets the Sherlock Holmes definition of possible.

In the 2015-16 season, the Golden State Warriors won 73 games. By almost any metric (both traditional and advanced, in addition to the “eye-test”), they were the best team I had ever seen.

I remember watching the Michael Jordan Bulls in my youth, and while I want to nostalgically remember them as unbeatable, I don’t think that team could compete with the Warriors. 

The Warriors are stronger, have a much more creative offense, and most pointedly are better shooters. MJ would be trying to post up at least three different defenders who are bigger than he is. An iso-heavy offense against such a group of defenders seems like a terrible option.

Of course, as we have the hindsight of history, we know that LeBron James was able to beat them on the offensive end in the 2016 NBA Finals. And when that happened, something amazing occurred.

Draymond Makes a Phone Call

That loss motivated the Warriors to get better, and they did just that. They went out and did something that had never been done before. They kept 87% of their win shares and added the second best player in the NBA (Kevin Durant). 

So what has happened since then? The NBA has spent two and a half years putting together teams that will try to beat them. Knowing that the old adage of “styles make fights” is often true, and teams have tried to come up with the anecdote to the Warriors machine.

On the one hand, it has given teams one unified goal in team building. On the other hand, when your sole focus is to beat one team, it can often leave holes that make you vulnerable.

For example, the Utah Jazz played the Warriors three times in 2018 last season and won all three meetings by an AVERAGE of 29.7 points per game.  Could they beat the Warriors in playoff games or a series? 

Well, we will never know, because the holes they had left them vulnerable enough to get eliminated long before Golden State came rolling in.

Bench?? Never Heard of That

So, what are the Warriors weaknesses? The first weakness is one that is unlikely to manifest itself in the playoffs. They have minimal depth. NBA dynasties have a history of becoming less and less deep as the years go by.

(See 2013-14 Miami Heat as reference)

This is because as teams win, the contributors to those wins want to get compensated for their work. Compensating the key components often leads to sacrificing the end of the rotation and the bench. The Warriors are no exception.

They’ve let younger players who were consistent, leave the team, and their bottom four players are weaker than ever before. If you get down to the Warriors 9th player and he is playing heavy minutes, you are likely to have a reasonable chance at a favorable outcome.

Of course, no team really gives heavy minutes to end of the bench players in the playoffs. So while that may help a team beat them on the second night of a back-to-back in February, it is unlikely to have any bearing in Game 3 of a playoff series.

But it does make them much more susceptible to injury. Compare their record with players out this year verse previous years, and you will find that a Curry or Durant injury could be far more damaging this year.

Read my Lips, no Mid-Range Jump Shots

Their second weakness (not so much a weakness, but the reality of the game today) is that they play in a league where math makes it easier to catch up than ever. 

More shots are 3-pointers than ever before. Not only does this mean that points can come faster, but physics also shows that there is more variation to the path of the rebounds, meaning that it is not as certain which team will rebound. The more court that must be defended, the easier to get open shots.

Their third weakness is that their best player (Steph Curry), who creates all the previously mentioned problems for other teams (and usually to a much greater degree), struggles against pick and roll switches with bigger players.

When teams game plan specifically this comes into play. And while teams tried this over and over in previous years, the reality is that Curry is not a poor defender and the rest of the team is mostly very good defenders, so this is very difficult to exploit. Unless…

Donkey from Shrek?

The final and biggest weakness is Draymond. Green may not be the force he was just two seasons ago. Dray was great because he could make plays that nobody else could make defensively. 

But he could just BARELY make them. That’s what made him special. So losing 5% of his athleticism completely changes him and makes him very good instead of “one of the best defensive players ever.”

He still sees things that are about to happen, but he can’t quite get there.  And now, their other post defender is Boogie Cousins, who has never been known as a defensive stalwart.

Now the Trailblazers and other teams are “sagging” so far off Dray that he has started taking mid-range 2-pointers. Which further kills the Warriors offensive potency.

So the next question is: Who can capitalize on the Warriors weaknesses in 2019? You will have to tune in next time to see our take on the NBA teams that have a shot!

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