Ever since the Warriors stunned the sports world and signed Kevin Durant, NBA analysts around the country have them pegged to win the 2017 NBA Championship and even break their single-season wins record set last year. Featuring a starting lineup that includes back-to-back MVP, Steph Curry, 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, with perennial All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as the third and fourth option, the Warriors lineup is like something out of a video game.
In addition to their amazing starting lineup, the Warriors also feature a formidable bench that includes the versatile Shaun Livingston, a seasoned David West, and the 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. With guys like these coming off the bench, it is understandable to think that the Warriors super-team has the potential to win 74 games and cruise their way to an NBA Championship. However, much like the super-teams of the past, the Warriors have weaknesses, one of which is a glaring hole in the middle.
In order to pull off the impossible and sign Kevin Durant, the Warriors had to make some sacrifices. Those sacrifices came in the form of trading away defensive center, Andrew Bogut, and letting Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli walk in free agency. While the offensive production of the latter two can be replaced by Kevin Durant, the loss of Bogut’s defensive presence will not be replaced that easily.
There’s a saying in basketball, “You live by the three and you die by the three.” For the past two years, the Warriors have been living on the edge of that three-point line, and it’s thanks to the defensive prowess of Andrew Bogut that has kept them going this long. The Achilles heel of ‘living by the three’ are the cold streaks. If the ball isn’t falling from behind the arc, there are a limited number of other options on offense as teams who rely on the three-point shot tend to use smaller lineups and lack a presence in the middle. Andrew Bogut did an amazing job at masking that weakness, as teams who were built around a center were not able to take advantage of the small-ball style of play that the Warriors employ.
The Warriors have been trendsetters with their small-ball style of play, however, history has shown that the NBA has always been ruled by the big man. From the dominating days Wilt Chamberlain to the present days of Demarcus Cousins and his basket of skills. When a big man is given the ball to lead his team, he will take over the game. The Warriors might have added a former MVP and two-time gold-medal winner in Kevin Durant, however, the addition of Durant’s firepower on offense might offset the Warriors huge loss on defense.
In an attempt to re-mask this weakness, the Warriors have signed big men Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee to one-year deals, as well as brought back veteran big man Anderson Varejao. While Pachulia had a solid season last year, McGee is a Shaqtin’ a Fool Hall of Famer and is widely regarded as one of the dumbest players in the NBA. While he has shown promise at times on the court, his mental lapses both on and off the court leave many question marks on to whether he has the basketball I.Q. to understand the intricate style of play of the Warriors.
A second weakness of constructing super-teams is the fact that there is only one ball on the court. This is unlike in football and baseball, which are stop-and-go sports where each play is designed for a certain player. Basketball is a continuous sport where anything could happen at any time and a player must learn to play without the ball and work with his teammates in order to win. One of the main reasons that Durant left Oklahoma City was his inability to coexist with fellow superstar, Russell Westbrook. Both players wanted the ball during crunch time and the desire to be “the man” led to clashes on the court that resulted in losses. Most famously last season when the Thunder floundered a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors. Golden State’s team philosophy is that wins are more important than personal performance, and it remains to be seen if Durant will be able to mesh with this “zero star mentality.”
The presence of Kevin Durant will give the Warriors an additional weapon on offense, however, his ability to mesh with this new offense as well as the sacrifices made on defense are huge question marks for this roster. While offense does win games, it’s defense that wins championships. Come playoff time in April, when the Warriors face off against tough teams such as the Spurs and Clippers, it won’t be their offense that decides their fate in a seven game series, but rather their defense instead. The Warriors may look like an unstoppable team on offense, however, the loss on defense may not get them back to the promised land when push comes to shove in the playoffs.