It’s pretty straight forward, are the Warriors the team to beat next year? Obviously there is a lot more to answering this question then just what the Warriors have done but it really starts with what others have done. The Warriors iterated to us that in order to win a championship, everything you knew about winning in basketball is irrelevant and it is time to change. The NBA for so long was dominated by the presence of a big-man and the help of a wing or guard. The Warriors said, fuck that and decided a stout 6’7 forward would do the trick. Now to their credit, lights out three point shooting and exceptional ball handling was also a pretty considerable factor. But couldn’t we say that the Warriors were given favorable match-ups on their way to their first title since 1975. I do not want to discredit their successes and talented team but I am about hypothetical’s and would like to see if the evidence matches together. Rather then talking about All-time Lakers vs the All-time Bulls, I decided I’d rather talk about something that actually maters.
The Warriors were a talented team last year and had an incredible 67-15 record that blew away the league. The Warriors dominated by shooting 39.8% from 3 point land which is almost 2% better than the Hawks who were the next best team. (It may not seem like a big difference but it actually is) If we look at the top ten in 3 point shooting, all ten teams were playoff teams last year. The thing is though, that the offense under rookie head coach Steve Kerr was leaps and bounds better then what it was under Mark Jackson, while the defense continued to show its same strength. You are probably wondering if I messed up on that last sentence and no, the Warriors actually improved on offense. The defense did improve from 2014 to 2015 but not by much. With Mark Jackson as the head coach, the Warriors were 3rd in defensive efficiency and with Steve Kerr jumped to number 1. It is not that big of
a jump for a team that was already one of the better defensive teams in the game. What did change was the offensive efficiency. Under Mark Jackson the team was 12th in offensive efficiency which was worse than the Knicks! With Steve Kerr, the team was astonishingly better and were 2nd in offensive efficiency just behind the Clippers, who have been number 1 the last two seasons.
A season earlier, the Spurs had shown similar prowess by shooting lights out from three point land will win championships. That post season the Spurs shot an impressive 41% from three and had the best offensive efficiency. As proved in back to back years, the man who locks down Lebron, wins Finals MVP. Kawhi Leonard did it for the Spurs and Andre Iguodala for the Warriors.
But does this make them the automatic favorites for next season? Maybe. Maybe not. So let’s see. Personally, before we begin, I don’t think the Warriors would be champions if the Cavaliers had a healthy team that included Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Just based on how they had played in the two losses to the Cavs during the finals, I personally believe that having those two players would have changed a lot and thus, do not believe they would have won THIS finals. The Cavs unfortunately ran out of steam due to a lack of depth and did not have the players accessible to help Lebron on offense. If they had played the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, it would have been a different story as well. They still probably would have won but the series would have been a more difficult matchup then what the Rockets had provided. What I have just said does not mean they do not deserve their title and that they would not of had an opportunity to or could not beat the Cavaliers.
So looking towards next season, there are 4 to 5 teams that really have a chance to dethrone the defending champs. The West is always packed and looks even better this year than ever, while the Cavs are looking for revenge which will put an immediate pressure on Golden State. Right now the Cavaliers, Clippers, Spurs and Thunder are looking to take the Larry O’Brien away from the Warriors, with the Rockets and Memphis on the bubble. Free agency this summer has really reshaped the West from a lot of good teams to a lot of great teams. The Spurs made the biggest move in free agency by signing all-star Lamarcus Aldridge and the Clippers made the biggest news by having a mass sleepover in DeAndre Jordan’s house. The Clippers have had maybe the most success in past years against the Warriors as they beat the team two seasons ago in the playoffs amidst the aftermath of Donald Sterling. Los Angeles’ second team adds veterans Paul Pierce and Josh Smith, who both took less money to join the franchise with the hopes of winning. They also traded for Lance Stevenson which makes the team look the most complete it has since Chris Paul joined the franchise in 2011. The Spurs re-signed Danny Green, a great outside shooter with a solid defensive mindset and convinced former all-star David West to take a pay cut and head west… One thing both the Clippers and the Spurs can do against the Warriors is matchup against the small ball style of play that was so successful in the playoffs. With DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin’s athleticism and Lamarcus Aldridge’s versatility, both teams matchup quite nicely against the defending champs.
The point to all this is that the West has shaped up quiet nicely in the past couple months and it is going to be a difficult yet entertaining ride. The Thunder, by virtue, are always and should always be in contention for the West. Last year’s season was quiet the distraction and with so many injuries that knocked out Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka for the season, and Russell Westbrook for a good portion too. The team is now looking to bounce back. The Cavs also caught the injury bug and it came at the worst time. They were crippled by the loss of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and yet Lebron James’ will to win proved to us that he truly does have the heart and tenacity of a true champion. Nothing will be easy for the Warriors and especially now that they are the defending champions.
Lastly the Warriors have made no major splash and managed to stay out of the news for the most part. They did the right thing and showed appreciation and respect to veteran David Lee and traded him to the Celtics. They also showed the same character to Draymond Green by offering him a max contract. The Warriors have a young team that showed great poise and determination late in the season. The team has bought into the system that Steve Kerr has brought to the Bay area. The only thing left to do is continue and grow and this team will be on its way to more than just one championship every 40 years. So in the end yes they are the team to beat in the west but no one is the favorite.