By William Coolidge
Quick summary of first 5 games: In the first game of their season, the Warriors steamrolled past a Pacific Division rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. In their second game, the Warriors lost at home to a confused, yet extremely potent Denver Nuggets team. In the Warriors’ third game, they regrouped to snag an expected win over a Sacramento Kings team, a franchise that of recent years has been so disappointing, it has made people question whether they are really “Kings”, or just jesters. In the Dubs’ fourth game, they suffered a depressing loss so palpable, I called it a night and went to bed straight after. Their last match, a win vs. the Miami Heat rebounded my spirits though. It was a Warriors home win, in which the Heat couldn’t prevail in the cool air of the Bay Area.
I want to be blunt…I’m sort of nervous about the Warriors this season. They’ve played 5 games as of the time of this writing (their 6th is tonight vs. the Hornets), and it isn’t that they’ve been playing poorly or, in relation to that, lost more games than they should have (3-2 record). Instead, things just seem a tad-bit disorganized. As a Warriors fan — this uneasiness was conceived merely two weeks before regular-season basketball began — when the videotape of the punch heard ’round the world was leaked to the public: depicting Warriors’ team-captain Draymond Green punching fellow teammate Jordan Poole in the face, with little-to-no discernible antagonization from Poole. This altercation, of course, began the widely-circulated question of whether Draymond Green should be traded, with a good amount of people, basketball savant or not, thinking he should. Keep in mind that Draymond has been the indisputable engine of the Warriors team throughout their modern dynasty — so when you are merely days away from the official beginning of your long and grueling voyage for an NBA Championship, and the league’s overarching narrative is whether your team should trade away one of its cornerstone players — well, if I were a member of the Warriors, I can’t see a worse way to jump into the season.
Politics aside, from keenly watching the Warriors play, especially with the way they performed during their championship season last year in perspective, I’ve developed some apprehension about this team. Above all, what has me concerned most about this team is the lackluster defense they’ve demonstrated. If you’re a Warriors fan, or have at least been following the Dubs since before their rise to contention, you would know that what propelled them from a fun and dominant offensive team early in the Stephen Curry era, into a perennial championship-winning team, was their development into a top-defensive team (circa 2014). Therefore as a Warriors fan, when you see them toward the bottom of the league in terms of defensive rankings, as they are right now, that of course strikes a chord. For reference, last year in their championship season, the Warriors started off strong at a 4-1 win-loss record. Through those first 5 games, the Warriors only allowed a mere 107 points per game from their opponents, compare that to the first 5 games of this season, in which the Warriors have allowed 121 points per game from their opponents. To put this into greater perspective, if the Warriors started off this season as they did last year, only allowing 107 points per game, their defense would rank in the top 5 of the whole league, instead of bottom 4…which they are as of now. There are quite-a-few different factors that play into this overall team fall-off on the defensive side of the floor, loss of key-defensive personnel that they possessed last season: Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., and Juan Toscano-Anderson to name a few. Obvious lack of defensive effort by almost the whole team, save Wiggins, Draymond, and maybe a few others. But, what probably matters the most, and conveniently, is the easiest to fix, is Draymond Green’s minutes (minutes played that is). Through the first 5 games of their successful season, last year — in which we’ve already established their defense was much more superior-performing than now — Draymond Green was averaging approximately 33 minutes per game. In contrast, Green is only averaging 27 minutes per game through the first 5 games of this season. While that difference is seemingly trivial, in a basketball context six minutes is a lot. That amount of time — 6 minutes — is half a quarter. There are 4 quarters in a game, so those 6 minutes are 1/8 of the entire game. I mean, in basketball, even an interval of 33 seconds is a long time. What separates this statistical instance from other casual associations is the fact that Draymond Green is one of the best defensive players we have ever seen play the game of basketball (don’t give me any flack, this is a consensus opinion). Who, beyond playing terrific individual defense, hangs his hat on elevating his teammates on the court with him to play harder and better on that side of the floor. And, as I said before, this is very easy to change: it’s as simple as Steve Kerr (head coach) leaving Draymond in the game for about 6 more minutes than he has been. Then, maybe, the Warriors’ defense will take a turn for the better.
“Sometimes, less is more” -Basketball Proverb
If you follow the NBA, you probably remember the Kyrie Irving era of the Boston Celtics, which was only just a few years ago. The first year of this era, 2017-2018, the team’s two top stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward suffered season-ending injuries, at separate points of the season that is. The Celtics, without their two top stars proceeded to climb all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals and give LeBron James — widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time — a run for his money as the Celtics came up a mere one win short of reaching the NBA Finals. After that success of a playoff run, going into the 2018-2019 season, it was the opinion of many (including myself) that the Celtics were a lock to make it to the finals. The logic went: if the Celtics can come one game from appearing in the NBA Finals without their top-two players, imagine what they can do with the return of those two to the team. That Celtics team’s personnel stayed largely the same in 2018-2019, and, in the playoffs, their team, including Hayward and Kyrie, stayed healthy. However, they lost in embarrassing fashion in just the 2nd round of the playoffs. This team fell far short of everyone’s expectations of them, and so naturally the question was, “why?” The general consensus to this is that the Celtics team had too much talent. It’s not that too much talent innately makes you inferior than you previously were, rather, it is the baggage, per se, that having too much talent carries with it. In the Celtics’ case, they had so many players that could score the ball well, especially with the return of prolific scorers in Kyrie and Hayward, that it made it more difficult for the team to decide who was going to score when. In these instances — a hierarchy and order (necessary for winning) are more difficult to establish — as opposed to when there are less options for certain things and thereby roles are easier to construct and manage. There is much more that can be said about this Celtics team, so far as how them having overwhelming offensive talent came back to bite them. However, the point is, having too much talent can be an inconvenience.
The Warriors are in the midst of this very same problem the Celtics dealt with in the previously discussed Kyrie Irving era; the Warriors have too much talent. Roles are very ill-understood, especially in comparison to last season. Some of these conflicts are, in no particular order: (A) Should Wiseman start? (B) Who is the primary ball-handler off the bench, is it Poole or DiVincenzo? (C) Do we sacrifice minutes contributing to winning from Green and Wiggins to let the young, promising Kuminga get experience to develop? And these aren’t even close to all the talent-related tensions the Warriors are trying to work out right now. All of these issues coalesce into a group of players that aren’t playing as cohesively and consistently (besides that of between the core-3: Curry, Draymond, and Klay) as past, winning-Warriors teams. The caveat to all of this is simply that we are only 5 games into the regular season, a regular season that may I remind you is 82 games. Many teams have kinks they need to resolve, albeit, not all internal impediments teams face are equal. To be frank with you, I think it is more likely than not that the Warriors solve their ‘too-much talent issue’. However, my nerves won’t be settled until I can see the aforementioned problems overcome with my own two eyes.