The common question every National Basketball Association (NBA) team has this year is how to go about figuring out a way to defeat the Golden State Warriors. They are the clear favorites to win the NBA Finals according to BoydsBets.com. And, it’s not even close.
No team has a better core of front line players including newly acquired Kevin Durant and returning stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The statistics are staggering for the Warriors after 36 games into the 2017 campaign including ranking first in points per game (117.5), field goal percentage (.499%), points per minute (.49) while ranking in the top tier of the league in free throw percentage (.795 – 7th), and points off turnovers (18.2 per game – 4th). In other words, do not fret if Kevin Durant would mesh with his new teammates since these numbers are quite telling.
So what do the Warriors lack in their attempt to retake the NBA championship in 2017? I would offer up the lack of bench strength and the shortage of a middle man that can control the paint while staying physical versus the teams that slow the pace of the game, namely when the NBA playoffs arrive. As Durant arrived via free agency, those that significantly contributed to the team last year were let go including center Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, and Harrison Barnes. The departure of these big men will create a challenge to the Warriors in how they go about slowing down a team that can crash the boards. Arrivals Zaza Pachulia and David West will struggle keeping teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers from crashing the boards to create second and third opportunities to score.
This in lies the strategy to slow the Warriors train from running rough shot over the NBA which includes being physical, utilizing versatile small and power forwards to defend against Stephen Curry, and making certain they are limited to one shot. Multiple teams have found success using big and physical forwards on Curry as to limit his ability to launch three point shots, and equally important, prevent him from driving the lane. Players such as Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Jae Crowder (Celtics), and Kevin Love in last year’s finals were able to defend using their size and skill to bother the shot of Curry and limit his dribble penetration. Slowing down the Warriors shot attempts is advantageous as well since many of the second and third shot attempts are often times converted into three point field goals by Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or Draymond Green.
One can argue that five teams have a legitimate chance to keep the Warriors from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy including the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Cleveland Cavaliers. As noted in the Western Conference, the Spurs can slow down the game with their proficient offense led by Leonard, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Each can match up with the Warrior’s star players while outperforming their weak bench as was the case on October 25th in a 129 to 100 victory. If the Clippers get healthy, they can match up with the Warriors as well with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul who is one of the best lock down defenders in the NBA, and Deandre Jordan who limits the Warriors to one shot per possession. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics brought in Al Horford, previously of the Atlanta Hawks, to fill the paint and limit teams to one shot. Isaiah Thomas can match Curry’s scoring on a given night while two bigger bodies in Jay Crowder and Marcus Smart can make things difficult on Curry on the offensive end.
The defending champion Cavaliers did well in slowing Curry in the finals using Kevin Love and LeBron James to shadow him. Yet what was most successful was Tristan Thompson guarding the paint and not permitting the Warriors from getting second and third shot attempts. By doing so, the Cavaliers avoided the Warriors from adding on to their 59.3% field goal percentage attained when gaining an offensive rebound. In the end, the Warriors are built to win this year if they can migrate through the regular season by keeping their stars healthy for the playoff run. The blueprint for success lies with an opponent’s ability to apply pressure to Curry by trapping him, or forcing him to swing the ball out to a team member that is less of an offensive threat. Obviously, this becomes a lot more doable when Durant and Thompson are not on the floor and one does not have to defeat the Warriors in a long seven game series.