The Wizards are hosting the Warriors Tuesday night at Verizon Center. In addition to our standard preview, we spoke with Nate Parham and Derek Knight of SB Nation NBA’s Warriors blog, Golden State of Mind over the weekend.
In the following Q&A, we talk about how Kevin Durant is fitting with Golden State as a teammate, how we should rank NBA point guards in today’s “Golden Age,” the Warriors’s ascendance from a “mediocre at best” to championship team, and more.
BF: With #KD2DC now a memory, we haven't followed Kevin Durant that closely, within the context of him as a Warriors teammate. How is he adjusting in that respect? And how do fans in the Bay Area view him in relation to Stephen Curry? It's still Curry's team, right?
Nate P: I don't think there's any question that Durant fits in as a teammate: not only is he embracing some of the younger guys, but I thought it was really impressive to see how the team rallied around him in the face of that ridiculous OKC cupcake thing.
As for the question of whose team, this is obviously Pat McCaw’s world and the rest of us are just living in it...but the answer really depends on who you ask.
Early in the season, it was clearly KD’s team — or progressing that way as the team did experience some growing pains — as Curry was clearly deferring. And I think that was as much about the team just wanting to get KD comfortable as it was about Curry’s personality. Some people saw it as a problem with Curry, but I was never too worried about it and kinda thought he's the type who wants to share the spotlight anyway.
And it probably goes without saying that Draymond Green is the emotional leader -- the other All-Stars would almost certainly be content as sidekicks if they didn't have Hall of Fame talent so I think Green adds a needed dynamic. His ability on defense clearly makes him a key cog on this team too.
But ultimately, I do think this is Curry’s team primarily because the offense is so much more dynamic when he's aggressive because of his ball handling, vision and gravity. It's just nearly impossible to stop this team when Curry has it going and is opening up the floor for others — although he isn't quite as otherworldly as he was last season, he gives defenses so many problems as a point guard that even Durant got to a point where it was clear that they needed to keep him in his rhythm.
BF: There's a lot of debate about who the best point guard is in the NBA, where Curry and John Wall both get into the conversation. How do we get to "ranking" them and defining what point guards do?
NP: That's a tough question with the group of PG’s in the NBA right now, but also one you're clearly aware I'm interested in. ;)
At its very simplest, a good PG is someone who maximizes his team's opportunity to score when the ball is in his hands. To me, it doesn't really matter whether he's a scoring point or “pure” facilitator — if calling his own number is the best option for the team AND he can make those decisions efficiently, there's no point denigrating his role as a point guard. Likewise, if he's adept at passing the ball to set up teammates that's great too. So in the end it just comes down to who does the best job of maximizing his team's points per possession with the ball in his hands.
What's especially interesting to me right now is that we have ways to measure “gravity” as well — that ability to stretch and break defenses by one's mere presence is equally huge. So to me, it is pretty easy to make the argument for Curry — his shooting range and ability to shoot off the dribble make him unbelievably dangerous with the ball in his hands.
But a player like James Harden, who has been given the ball and surrounded by 3-point shooters, is also really dangerous although he probably doesn’t fit anyone’s traditional mold for a PG. The fact that he leads the league in assists has to put him the conversation this year.
The question that is hard to answer is just how versatile a PG is in terms of being able to have an impact regardless of whether the whole team is set up to complement them and I just have to say Curry is my answer to who I'd want as a PG to run a team I was starting.
BF: JaVale McGee is averaging career highs in shooting efficiency and points scored per 36 minutes, yet Shaquille O'Neal still likes to jab at him. How are the Warriors helping get more out of McGee unlike some of his previous teams?
Derek Knight: I’m sure you remember this, but the less you ask JaVale to do, the better he’ll look. He’s asked to jump really high and catch lobs on offense, and begged and pleaded to stay in position on defense. He’s done fairly well at both of those things.
The other four Warriors on the court with him are often crafty play creators who love the lob play. With Festus Ezeli’s departure, McGee has slid into the singular role of ‘hammer’ well enough.
In other words, Steve Kerr focused on eliminating opportunities for McGee to make a mistake; the resulting stripped-down role left McGee no choice but to succeed.
BF: Until recently, the Warriors had a mediocre track record, not unlike the Wizards. How do fans of a team that's perennially mediocre at best adjust to being one of the "have" teams?
DK: It’s been a weird turn for Warrior fans. It’s like a lower-middle class person winning the lottery: that influx of fortune is nearly guaranteed to change you.
Winning has become expected, instead of celebrated. That’s the main adjustment: raising the bar of expectations. You can hear it in the crowd: the basic requirements to have Oracle Arena roaring in 2008 was for the players to have their shoes on their correct feet. In 2017, not even being up 15 points is cause for a “Let’s go Warriors” chant anymore — you have to dominate in style, and supply a Vine or two along the way.
It’s not just us fans being spoiled. The Warriors just clinched a postseason berth on Saturday. If that seems weirdly early, it’s because that’s the soonest it’s ever happened (the previous record was Feb 27, set by… last year’s Warriors team). When Steph Curry first made the postseason in 2013, the lockerroom had a celebration. This year, no one on the team even realized they’d clinched until Curry brought it up after Kerr’s player meeting.
It was impossible to keep that wide-eyed enthusiasm forever. The bar has been raised.
(Sidenote: it’s always weird how everyone, even Warrior fans, often cite the Warriors as a bottomfeeder for much of their existence, and the Spurs as the perfect NBA franchise… when the Spurs have only one more championship than the Warriors. Ah well. I guess that stretch run between ‘75 and ‘13 was pretty awful.)
NP: To piggyback on Derek’s point about rapid class ascension, I definitely think this something of a “new money” situation in that you have to rapidly calibrate expectations and sometimes miss the mark. About five years ago this team was tanking for Harrison Barnes; we're currently thinking about a third straight finals appearance.
For me, I think knowing that there was once a time when the point guard rotation included a Bimbo, BJ, and Mookie just makes me appreciate the present that much more. And I think most fans saddled with the misfortune of witnessing nearly two decades of garbage feel the same — you have to appreciate that this is neither normal nor guaranteed and, if you do, even a low point (losing Game 7 of the Finals) eventually just becomes one more plot point that makes the whole story more captivating.
What’s interesting is when that “old timer” mindset clashes with a
bandwagon newcomer mindset — there are people who have literally never known the Warriors as anything but a perennial playoff contender and see a loss to the Lakers as an unmitigated disaster (which it is, but I just don’t start talking about trading Klay Thompson or some nonsense in response). I know more than one person who’s disappointed they have nine losses...which...wow...like I said...just keep remembering when we had Bimbo, BJ, and Mookie.
BF: Who do you think presents the biggest threat to the Warriors outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers?
DK: The Houston Rockets will embarrass anyone not lasered-in on defending them. Daryl Morey has decided that putting all his chips into high-variance, boom-or-bust players will give him the best shot at slaying the dragon. He’s absolutely right.
If the Rockets play the Warriors, the Warriors will either crush them in four with Eric Gordon shooting 27% from behind the arc; or Houston will take them to six or seven and decide it in 48 minutes with Lou Williams and Gordon shooting 62%. That’s the boogeyman underneath Steve Kerr’s bed at the moment.
(The San Antonio Spurs have gone the opposite direction — they have assembled a cleanly operating regular-season win machine that won’t be able to hit a high enough gear to contend in postseason basketball).
BF: What has been the biggest factor to the Warriors having one of the best defenses in the league this year?
DK: Generally, the team’s bullpen of intelligent, long, strong wing defenders who all understand assistant coach Ron Adams’ switch-happy defense, which emphasizes taking away the three-point shot. More than anything, they communicate extremely well. Most NBA offenses are adept at abusing an opening created by a defensive rotation. At its best, the Warriors defense operates on a string and can adeptly make a second, third, or even fourth rotation. When a defense makes an offense re-attack four or five times on a possession to find a high-percentage shot, it’s done everything it can do.
Specifically, Draymond Green, the Warriors’ middle linebacker. He’s a supercomputer with a 7’2 wingspan and the lateral quickness of a guard. He’s the communication hub of the defense; he’ll call out screens before they occur and instruct teammates to switch or to recover. He may not be able to see over teammate Klay Thompson’s shoulder, but his defensive dexterity allows the Warriors to negotiate switches 1-through-5 when he plays at the center position. In today’s pace-and-space era, the more versatile a defense is, the better equipped it is to challenge five-out offenses. Green’s versatility is paramount to the Warriors’ defensive success.
BF: Draymond Green is known around the NBA for his high basketball IQ. How much effect did he have on Durant's recruiting process (if any) and how much of an impact did he have on Durant this season?
NP: It’s pretty well documented that Green had a significant impact on the recruitment process and more recent reports have confirmed that he friendship has grown over the course. I think the biggest source of controversy has been the time when Green was seen on the court yelling at Durant in that game against Memphis, but I think that type of incident — which apparently goes both ways — just further reinforces the fact that there’s amazing interpersonal chemistry on this team that allows them to be successful.
I think we’ve all been in situations when we’ve had a heated disagreement with someone and worked through it because we’re committed to the same principle -- ultimately, the highest form of trust is a willingness to allow someone to hold you you accountable and not take it personally. That’s all that happened there — that was just two passionate guys who were caught on camera not seeing eye to eye in the moment. There’s nothing inherently more valuable about having those kind of discussions behind closed doors, even if an outsider might not be able to read it the right way (and ultimately, Green was right...so I’m glad they have that dynamic of holding each other accountable so they can work out the kinks by the postseason).