As the new NBA season approaches, there are some widely-held beliefs and predictions that should not be set in stone.
For example: With the addition of Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors are a lock to win the championship.
The truth is, one important reason for the Warriors’ recent success is their team chemistry. This is something that takes time to develop, and by dramatically changing their roster, Golden State will have to endure the often difficult interpersonal dynamics that either will or will not create sufficient team harmony, trust, and unselfishness that are necessary characteristics of championship teams.
Most unnerving, however, was Klay Thompson’s vow not to change his game. Translation: he will continue to shoot first and never ask questions.
While it’s true that the Warriors have a multi-faceted and explosive offense (but only one ball for their three shooters to share), the absence of Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes will have profound negative effects on their defense. Case in point: after Bogut’s series-ending injury, the Cavaliers drove to the rim with impunity, scoring dozens of unopposed layups and dunks in their half-court sets.
To replace Bogut, the Warriors signed Zaza Pachulia, a sturdy screener and fairly accurate one-on-none mid-range shooter. But Pachulia can’t rebound in a crowd or play above-average defense, and is certainly not a rim-protector.
If Barnes was an erratic shooter/scorer, at least he did play more than adequate defense against both small forwards and power forwards.
With the 36-year-old David West now in the mix, the Warriors have added a dependable mid-range shooter, but a player who can no longer post-up for profit and who is a defensive dud.
Moreover, the Cavaliers demonstrated that Steph Curry is a weak defender, a careless passer, and someone who can be easily bogarted. Also, it’s somewhat ironic that in the Golden State-Oklahoma City series, the Warriors proved that Durant was likewise a weak defender and erratic passer.
So, then, it’s a given that Golden State will have no trouble scoring. On the other hand, Thompson and Draymond Green can’t guard any more than one player at a time.
Sure, the Warriors will undoubtedly evolve into an excellent team who might win as many as 60-65 games. However, should they wind up playing the Cavaliers in the Finals, their defense will once again be their undoing.
It’s not even a safe bet to assume that Golden State will even reach the championship round. That’s because it is assumed by too many NBA-watchers that the San Antonio Spurs will be a non-factor in the race for supremacy in the West Conference.
Here’s why this assumption is misguided:
Even at 36, Pau Gasol is better than Tim Duncan has been for at least two seasons. While he’s not quite the rebounder that Duncan was, Gasol is a much better shooter with better range than Duncan was, even in his prime. Given that Duncan was only allowed to post-up two or three times per game for the last 2-3 seasons, Gasol remains an infinitely more dangerous scorer (and passer) in the pivot.
For sure, Duncan was a terrific help-defender, yet his man-to-man defense was vastly overrated. Overall, Gasol’s defense is certainly on a par with TD’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) in his declining seasons. And with LaMarcus Aldridge becoming more comfortable in the Spurs offense, the high-low combination of him and Gasol will be deadly.
David Lee still gobbles rebounds, hits mid-range jumpers, and can score in the low-post—but can’t defend. Danny Green can guard and hit treys. And Manu Ginobili can still provide energy off the bench, albeit only in perhaps two rotations of eight-minutes per game.
Don’t forget the superstar status of Kawhi Leonard and the readiness of the fleet-footed, hot-shooting Patty Mills to replace Tony Parker—not to mention the continued growth of youngsters like Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons.
And because of Gregg Popovich’s brilliance, it’s not mere fantasy to anticipate the Spurs surviving the Western Conference playoffs.
Now that the hullabaloo generated by the Olympics has died down, there’s no reason why the basketball tournament can’t be looked at beyond the golden-glow of Team USA’s triumph.
In truth, the entire basketball competition was a joke!
The teams that the U.S. beat handily—China, Venezuela, and Argentina—would have difficulty winning five games if they played in an NBA season.
Even the teams that gave Team USA trouble were not exceptional ones. Because of their lackadaisical play and short bench, Team France would be lucky to win 25-30 games. Serbia lacked the sufficient NBA-quality speed, talent, and athleticism to win more than 15-20 games.
Spain’s offense was totally dependent on Pau Gasol, and came up too short in depth and power to come close to making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference. Including the incredibly poor performance of Bogut, Australia simply didn’t have enough impact players to complement Mills to likewise qualify for NBA postseason play.
Hooray for Team USA! Winning is certainly better than losing.
Yet, because of the players’ arrogance, sloppy play, poor-to-mediocre opponents—plus the poor coaching they received—at least 50 percent of their medals are made up of fool’s gold.