In the wake of the Warriors winning 67 games in the regular season and then besting the Cavs in the 2015 Finals, too many fans and media pundits were quick to announce the birth of the NBA’s latest dynasty. At the same time, Stephen Curry was hailed as being just a short step away from joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Walt Frazier, and Oscar Robertson in the pantheon of the league’s greatest guards.
The truth, though, is that both of these claims are precipitous and ill-informed.
So, then, let’s begin by taking another look at Golden State’s journey through the playoffs.
First up were the overmatched New Orleans Pelicans, the Western Conference’s 8th seed. Except for Game 3, in which the Warriors overcame a 20-point deficit to win an overtime thriller, the Pelicans were easily disposed of in four games.
The Memphis Grizzlies presented a more formidable challenge, stretching the Warriors to a 6-game series. It should be remembered, however, that Mike Conley, the Grizzlies’ point guard, was recovering from a serious surgical procedure to treat several broken bones in his face. Not only was Conley a lock-down defender, he was the Grizzlies’ primary facilitator at the other end of the court.
After missing the opening game of the series, Conley returned to action wearing a face mask—and the adrenaline rush inspired him to shoot 8-10, score 21 points and lead his team to victory. But then Conley succumbed to reality. During the remaining four games of the series, his cumbersome mask limited him to making only 31 percent of his shots (15-48).
Memphis put up a gallant fight, but the breaks of the game (and of Conley’s face) enabled Golden State to advance into the conference finals.
The Warriors then faced the Houston Rockets, who also chanced to be short-handed at the point-guard slot. Patrick Beverly is arguably the league’s best defender at his position, but a torn ligament in his left wrist caused him to miss the final 16 games of the regular season plus all of Houston’s playoff games. It’s not a stretch to propose that Beverley’s relentless defense would have put a serious crimp in Curry’s scoring. Beverley’s replacements were Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni, neither of whom has ever been accused of playing acceptable defense.
No wonder the Warriors grounded the Rockets in five games.
And, of course, the Cavs were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the championship series.
While it’s true that a team can only play (and defeat) whichever players their opponents can muster, it’s also true that several considerable obstacles were fortuitously missing from the Warriors’ path to glory.
In the upcoming season, another NBA verity will be in effect, i.e., winning back-to-back titles is extremely difficult. During the league’s 68-year history, only seven teams have accomplished this feat—Minneapolis, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Accordingly, the Warriors will have to keep their collective sneakers on the gas for every play of every game, and not succumb to thinking they can operate on cruise-control and only resurrect their championship form in clutch situations. Indeed, this has been the kind of thinking that has doomed the chances of dozens of championship teams seeking to win the very last game of their encore season.
Another factor that will work against the Warriors is that reigning champs always play with targets on their backs. Every other team in the league, including the bottom-feeders, will usually be motivated to gear up their A-games against Golden State. Plus, injuries to some of their own key players (which the Warriors mostly avoided) could also preclude a return to greatness.
As for Curry, no doubt he’s a spectacular shooter with incredible range. Moreover, he has the quickest shot-release since the heyday of the late Drazen Petrovic.
But, although he’s a willing passer, he’s not an especially accomplished one–and is more of a shooting guard than a point guard. His assist totals are elevated only because he is granted more ball-time than any of his teammates. So, too, does Curry frequently try to force his crossover dribbles into and through crowds—often resulting in unnecessary turnovers. And when a guard commits a TO, the bad guys usually wind up with some kind of run-out layup.
Still another entry on Curry’s debit sheet is his barely-adequate defense. It’s admittedly difficult for a guard whose role on offense is to score beaucoup buckets to also play energetic defense. Difficult, but– as was the case with West, MJ, Clyde, and the Big O–not impossible.
So let’s not reserve a niche in the Hall of Fame for Curry just yet.
Will Golden State shake off the back-to-back blues? And will Stephen Curry turn his weaknesses to strengths?
Watch this space for further developments.