Thursday, June 18, 2015

Just How Good Was This Warriors Team, Anyway?

Get Used To This
This was such a lovely post, folks. It was long and well-researched and had all kinds of solid structure, and my computer and my own stupid fingers just lost the freaking thing. I want to weep over the loss of it, and the hours of work wasted, and the fact that re-writing it from memory is going to not come out as good, and so on, and so on.

And you don't care, so stop whining and just get to it.

The case against historical greatness:

1) The Dubs might not have beaten any great teams. They ducked the Spurs and Clippers, both of whom have been their demise in recent years. They played four straight teams with a compromised point guard situation, which is just death against Stephen Curry. They didn't run into any club that could win in more than one way, which made playing small something that almost always worked. If they stumble in the first round of next year's playoffs, it's going to be hard to not see this as a fluke.

2) They were lucky. It's not just the injury juju on their opponents; it's also their own luck in missing injury. A club with Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Curry -- i.e., three guys who have more or less missed years of time -- shouldn't just skate on this point.

3) It's not clear that they have star power beyond Curry. Klay Thompson played worse in the playoffs than the regular season, and not by a little. Bogut was a DNP-CD in the clincher. Green is a great 2-way player, but got outshone by a benchie in Iguodala. Historically, the NBA is about stars, and the Dubs really, well, aren't. It makes their estimation hard to figure.

4) They don't pass the historical eye test. They didn't wear teams out in the post, play volleyball for o-boards, kill you with hustle and dives, take a million charges,and so on, and so on. Instead, they played pretty, went deep, and did all of the things that lose in the playoffs. Up until this year.

5) Jumpers and three-pointers, fah. I can't make this point in good faith, but plenty of people do -- live by the, yada yada yada. I can't deny that when they stay out, it looks chuckie, and if your team gets tired, it looks upchuckie.

6) It's just one year. Great teams go beyond that, win when everything doesn't go their way, maintain their core beyond just one season. If you win just one, people don't think about you that much, especially when other stars rack up multiple rings. (See Duncan, Tim, vs Nowitzki, Dirk.)

The case for historical greatness:

1) The won-loss record. Good heavens, they went 83-19 this year, and lost 3 (!) games at home. In the most top-heavy conference in NBA history, with 12 of the top 15 players, and just two of those guys on their roster. What more do they have to do?

2) The way they won. The best defense *and* offense, at least when you go by efficiency. Blowouts all over the place, and never losing in a game they led by 15 or more. For a club that's only supposed to win pretty, they won a buttload of games that weren't.

3) The coaching. Steve Kerr got the Splash Brothers to play defense. He got Leandro Barbosa to take on LeBron James solo and not just turn into a matador. He got Andrew Bogut and David Lee to swallow their minutes for the good of the team, went small when his favored team was down 2-1 and without home-court advantage, got the better of the officiating in a series against the best player in the world, and so on, and so on. I can't think of a single thing that Kerr did this year that didn't leave his ass in ice cream. And in a league where great coaching usually means riding the refs and the media (see Jackson, Phil, and Popovich, Gregg), Kerr might have had a better year than either of those guys ever have.

4) The way they will change the game. This was the highest rated Finals since Jordan's Bull Runs, with domestic attendance through the roof. Curry's jersey became the highest seller in the NBA. And if you don't think the rest of the league is going to try to replicate this beautiful and effective and wildly popular team, you're high. Great teams change the game; this team will do the same.

5) They might -- might! -- get better. Assuming they swap Lee's contract for Green, the meaningful gang is all here to defend, and they aren't even gassed the way normal champs are, because they only played 20 playoff games and spread the minutes all year. With the exception of Bogut and Finals benchie MVP Andre Iguodala, everyone of note (sorry, Leandro) is still on the upside of their career. There are deep benchies -- James McAdoo, Tristan Holiday, Brandon Rush -- who might be capable of much more soon. And youngish players get better with the more time they spend together.

6) The fan base, contracts, and competitive situation. With the NBA rights money set to explode, this is the prime time for a dynasty to emerge, because for a brief period of time, the contracts will allow it. The Dubs also are going to a new arena (mo money) and have an ownership group that's got their priorities in order.

Compare this to, say, Oklahoma City... where Kevin Durant might leave fairly soon. Or Houston, tied to the fading prospects of Dwight Howard, or the aging Spurs, or the thin Clips. Even in a brutal conference, the Dubs are clear favorites. I think the Finals next year will see the same teams, only with healthier Cavs. And I think they still lose.

Final verdict: You should, as a general rule, bet on entropy. A Curry injury, ego clash, loss in home-court advantage in a new fat cat gym, depth going elsewhere to be starters... it all can fall apart fast. People are going to start resenting them, disliking particular players, giving them their "A" game every night, hard fouling skills guys, and so on, and so on.

But this assumes that Kerr isn't already working to counter all of that. Or that they don't have margin for error, when they clearly do, or that they'll suddenly forget everything about roster construction. Which, well , they won't.

So if you want me to set an over/under for titles here, I say 3.5... and I'm taking the over. I think they are the best NBA team in decades, and that's what teams at this caliber do.

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