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Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable: The Historic Warriors

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have made history by starting the season 16-0, so a panel of Today’s Fastbreak writers got together to talk about this amazing start.

Jason Patt: The Warriors are now 16-0. 11 wins by double digits. Dominance by Stephen Curry. What’s been the most impressive part about this streak?

Kelly Scaletta: To me, it’s been how they’ve been able to handle not just the paperweights like the Lakers, but also the heavyweights. The Clippers went out ahead of them, and they roared back and smashed them. Chicago fought even until the last couple of minutes, and then it was like they just flipped a switch and squished them. They eviscerated the Grizzlies. It’s like everyone is looking a YMCA team against them…except the Nets. That was weird.

Michael Erler: I think it’s that they don’t let the pressure of facing deficits get to them. If anything it makes them play better. Teams trailing in the fourth quarter might seek out easier shots like layups or try to get fouled or be hyper-aggressive and trapping on defense; do things outside of their character. The Warriors just stick to their game and if anything seek out more three-pointers, completely unafraid about pulling the string on them with fourth-quarter legs or whatnot. Once they go to that death ball lineup, it’s all about finding the open guy for the three, and all of them shoot it with confidence. They scored 25 points in their last 10 possessions against the Clippers the other night. That’s just insane.

Kelly: *Does quick math* — That’s an ORtg of 250!!!

Trenton Jocz: The staggering part of all this is just how fast it’s happened. Not long ago, the discussion about Golden State was whether they needed a second star like Kevin Love to truly have a chance in the West, and where to draw the line in those trade talks. A year and change later, the Warriors obliterated the idea of them not being an all-time great team as quickly as they have opponents with their “Death Ball” lineup (which really needs a new name, so I floated some suggestions).

I was in the camp that did not see last year’s Warriors as one of the 10 or so greatest teams in league history, simply because they had a bit too much of that “deer in the headlights” look in the playoffs, but their amazing start has certainly cemented them as all-time relevant beyond just their title team. They’ve now guaranteed themselves of being considered “the Curry Warriors” as an era-defining entity, rather than just “the 2015 Warriors.”

Grant Hughes: The most impressive thing about the streak is that they’re doing it 1) by playing in a way nobody ever has before, and 2) by playing in a way that nobody in the league today can possibly emulate. Working outside-in with an unprecedented off-the-dribble shooting threat is a novel approach, and it only works because Stephen Curry is the best, most versatile marksman there’s ever been.

And then there’s Draymond Green, who functions as the outlet whenever teams (justifiably) do everything possible to get the ball out of Curry’s hands. It gets less mention, but Green’s uniqueness — probably the best defensive player in the league who can also essentially play point guard on offense — is nearly as important to Golden State’s success as Curry’s.

Summation: Never seen a team do things this way before, and shouldn’t expect to see any team do things this way any time soon…unless somebody (looking at you, Cuban) has the resources to clone Curry and Green.

Michael: Green gets a ton of credit for making it work, as he well should, but at the end of the day it’s still easier to find a reasonable facsimile of him (Boris Diaw for example) or Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes than it is to find anyone who can do what Curry does. He’s a one-off, a truly transcendent player.

Green benefits from so few bigs these days being skilled enough to have refined post moves and also because post entry passing has been a lost art in the league. Curry though would’ve detonated in any era.

Jason: To Michael’s point about pressure, it’s truly impressive how they never let big deficits or anything seem to fluster them. They’re so good on both ends they know they can get right back in any game if they turn it up a notch. I think I saw a stat that said they’ve won like four straight games in which they gave up 40 points in the first quarter. That’s crazy!

Kelly: I was poking around a bit for an article and there are some numbers about Curry that are positively staggering, not the least of which is Curry’s ability to create three-point shots off the dribble.

Since 2012-13 he has 50 percent more than anyone in the league. Lillard and Harden are pretty close for second.

But what’s amazing is those two have 100 more than anyone else. Curry has more than twice as many unassisted threes as anyone, but Harden and Lillard have three times as many but nine total players (including Harden and Lillard). And what’s more, the leader in assisted threes is Klay Thompson, and over that span Curry has assisted Klay on over 36 percent of those threes.

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

I was thinking about this in terms of the evolution of basketball as it is an evolving thing. In actual evolution they have something called “punctuated equilibrium” whereby a certain cataclysmic event will cause a change in environment. Those animals which have traits favorable to the new conditions evolve quickly and, according to the theory, that’s how evolution occurs.

Not to get all science geek on you here, but in a very real sense the rule changes and the subsequent Thibodeau defenses changed the NBA landscape and Curry is something of an evolutionary event. I mean, think about it. He may be on his way to becoming the greatest below-the-rim player in NBA history. No one has ever shot like him while having the handles he does. Sure, there are some guys who are impressive, like Nash and CP3, but Curry is on another level. He’s basically an evolutionary advancement.

To Michael’s point, I’ve been considering that there are generational players (such as LeBron James) and there are transitional players (such as Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan) who make the game evolve. The way the entire league is going now with “space and pace” is an indication that Curry is just that.

Jason: Another crazy thing I was thinking about in regards to the Warriors is they’ve done this with their third-best player playing “meh” basketball throughout much of the year. Klay Thompson has been dealing with back issues and has regressed, and yet, it doesn’t matter. Will we get to a point where that does matter?

Michael: I don’t think he’s “just a guy” or anything that harsh, but I think both he and Barnes are far more replaceable than most Warriors fans realize and you can find 2s or 3s off the assembly line to shoot open threes and play passable defense. Neither offer you very much off the dribble or in playmaking for others, but are both talented enough to get hot now and then and carry you for a quarter or a half. What’s done is done with Thompson’s contract, and they won a championship with him so it’s not like you can say it was a mistake, but I’ve been pretty adamant that they’ll regret giving Barnes a multi-year deal for over $16M.

Grant: Thompson and Barnes are very different players, as the former presents a perimeter threat that absolutely can’t be ignored, while the latter is one of the guys who benefits from the attention Thompson draws. I completely agree that paying Barnes any more than $16 million (which is slightly above-average-starter money when the cap rises) would be a huge mistake. Barnes is replaceable; I don’t know if I agree that Thompson is.

Kelly: Last year, I would have said yes, but Draymond seems to be picking up the slack.

Trenton: Which brings up an interesting point: How cautious do the Warriors need to be with Draymond’s minutes at center? Is this lineup even something they should be giving teams a chance to experiment against? On one hand, it seems unbeatable, but that would also suggest they should keep it in the garage as much as possible since it’s the ultimate trump card. It might even benefit them to play with other lineups, provided they maintain homecourt advantage. If Gregg Popovich was coaching the Warriors, might he shelve that lineup to throw other combinations into the fire to test them in case of emergency in May and June?

Jason: I guess it could all depend on if they’re serious about gunning for 73 wins. If they’re going to make a hard charge at that (or even 70 wins), I’d assume they’ll go to that as much as possible to close tight games. But if they don’t care about that, and I think I saw something from Walton saying they’re going to start resting guys now that they got to 16-0, perhaps they’ll try to limit it more like Kerr did last season.

Grant: To Jason’s question on Klay, I think the Warriors are primed for positive and negative regression in almost equal measure. By which I mean Klay should improve, along with Bogut (who’s looked a step slow most nights and may still be finding his conditioning after missing time with concussion). In theory, that should offset likely shooting declines from both Green and Andre Iguodala, who are knocking down shots at rates well above their career norms. Toss in the legitimate step forward from Festus Ezeli, who’s actually been better than Bogut in a lot of ways to this point, and you’ve got a team whose overall performance will probably stay pretty close to where it’s at now. As some guys come back to earth, others will improve.

The Death Lineup isn’t something the Warriors should need in every game, and I think they have a sense of how sparingly they should be using it. So far, it’s been their third-most-used five-man unit, but it has only seen the court for a total of 62 minutes this year (through the first 16 games). The physical toll on Green should be a concern, and one of the key reasons the unit works well is because all five players ratchet up the intensity to a level that simply can’t be sustained for more than five or six minutes at a stretch.

At this point, the Dubs should be fully convinced it’s the best lineup in the league (and…maybe ever?). So there’s little reason to give opponents more time to study it.

NOV 05 Clippers at Warriors

Contra Costa Times/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire

Michael: Green is the fulcrum of that particular lineup and his durability within it is the only reason they don’t even use it more than they already do, I think. I don’t think he has the energy or stamina to do it for very long stretches without getting in foul trouble. That being said, the Warriors have been using it more than Grant’s suggesting. 62 minutes may not seem like much, but they only used it in 37 games and 102 minutes overall last season and then 111 minutes more in the playoffs. That it’s already made an appearance in 75 percent of their games — almost always as a knockout punch to close a half or a game — is significant.

Jason: About that death lineup…is there any type of counter you can see? Jonathan Tjarks recently wrote a piece looking at what other contenders can do to try to counter it, but as of right now, they look downright invincible. What’s the best way to attack it? Pray?

Grant: I truly don’t think an adequate, reliable counter exists. That’s not to say the Warriors are invincible when they go to the Death Lineup; there’s always the possibility of opponent luck, red-hot shooting or some other strange circumstances resulting in its failure once in awhile. But in a series? Forget it.

The basic approaches, some of which Tjarks outlined, have all been tried.

The 7’0″ freak who can switch out on Curry and/or take it to the smaller Green on the block? Anthony Davis fits that bill, and he couldn’t keep New Orleans from getting swept in the first round last year.

Going similarly small and switching? Good luck beating the Warriors at their own game and/or trying to outscore them with small lineups. Hasn’t happened yet.

Trotting out a pair of bigs to kill Golden State on the glass? Both Memphis and Cleveland went this route during the playoffs and got beaten pretty soundly once the Warriors caught on to what was happening.

I could potentially see the Spurs, Cavs or Thunder making things interesting if they were to use Leonard, James or Durant at center. But in most of those cases, the surrounding players wouldn’t come close to matching the shooting, defensive intelligence or passing acumen of the Warriors’ wings.

Michael: I don’t think there’s any magic to countering it. What makes the lineup special is that all five guys can shoot and all five are two-way players, more or less. You need five two-way players to counter them, meaning guys who aren’t a liability on either end of the floor, especially as an outside shooter. You need the opposing point guard to be able to penetrate and shoot threes just like Curry does. You need a big that can guard on one end and pass on the other, like Green does. You need four guys that need to be guarded out to the three-point line who can pump and drive and finish at the rim or pass on the move. It sounds simplistic to suggest you need five good players, but how many teams really have that?

Grant: One final thing on the Death Lineup: 62 minutes over 13 games is less than five minutes per game (they didn’t even use it in three games). They’re tossing it out more consistently than they did last season, which they should. But they clearly limit its employment to short stretches when they need to either finish a game or kickstart a run.

Trenton: Everybody agrees that lineup is the best in the entire league, but if for some reason it got taken away, would they still be the heavy favorite? Let’s say Draymond gets hurt and they have to use Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut (the horror!) in that spot instead. How much would that actually defang them? I’d be really curious to see how that would impact, say, the Clippers’ decision-making as to whether they would keep DeAndre Jordan on the court (though his free throw shooting makes him a special case). I’m not sure it changes the calculus on any challenger’s chances, unless you’re starting with the view that the Spurs have no chance at the moment.

Grant: I think if Green goes down, the Warriors become mortal, probably falling back into a class with the other contenders like San Antonio, Cleveland and, well, whichever other teams (OKC and Miami maybe) eventually occupy that level. It’d be interesting to see how the Warriors would compensate in that hypothetical. My guess would be starting Iguodala and moving Barnes to the 4, as there’s simply not a traditional power forward worthy of big minutes on the roster.

It’s worth noting that the Warriors were pretty darn dominant with centers on the floor last year, but you can’t overlook that Green was still out there doing his usual Green things in those lineups.

And has anybody considered where this team might be if Curry were to go down? The elite defense would still be there, but how would the Warriors score?

Kelly: I think there’s so much symbiosis on this team — and not just in the killer lineup — that so many of the players have more value to the Warriors than they might to another team. Klay may not be the same player on another team, but I’m not sure that means he’s not worth every dime to the Warriors. His knockdown shooting plays so perfectly with Steph.

And yeah, I think if Draymond goes down it does impact things. We can’t praise how wonderful he is one minute and then think that his loss doesn’t mean much the next. He’s a huge part of what makes all the other pieces fit together. His defensive and offensive versatility mean a lot.

Photo by Ed Crisostomo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Photo by Ed Crisostomo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

On a different, but related note, how much credit does Luke Walton deserve?

Grant: Clearly, he deserves all of it and none of it, as he’ll be named Coach of the Month with, technically, a 0-0 record. Thanks to a strange NBA rule, all the wins he’s amassed as an interim coach are credited to Kerr.

Kelly: The greatest un-undefeated coach in NBA history.

Jason: Walton deserves some credit considering he’s pushing the right buttons with subs and stuff, but can’t imagine it’s too hard to coach that squad, and Kerr is providing input as well. But Walton will be a hot coaching candidate for sure.

Michael: At this point I think the Lakers job will be his if he wants it next year. I don’t know if I’d give him too much credit. There’s enough continuity in the program that they can pretty much coach themselves, plus there’s a quality group of assistants and Kerr still behind the scenes. If anything I think Walton is playing Curry too many minutes and I dislike his all-bench units. They should stagger more.

Jason: A fair criticism. Steph is playing more than he did last year, although I wonder if they’ll pull back the reins now that they have this record. I guess, again, it may depend on if they push hard for 73.

And speaking of 73 wins, let’s wrap this up with a simple yes or no question: Will the Warriors reach that mark?

Kelly: I’m gonna be bold and say they do if they stay healthy. Probably not 82, though. PROBABLY not.

Michael: I’ll say they do, with the caveat that neither Curry nor Green miss more than two games. 74-8.

Trenton: I’ll say they just miss. 70-12.

Grant: It’s a lot more fun to say yes, so: Yes. And if they don’t get there, it’ll be because it’s just not a priority for them. I think we’ve seen enough to prove they’re fully capable of making history.

Jason: Trenton, I’m with you. I love this team, but it’s just SO hard to go through a full season and win at that rate. I do like them to get to 70, though.

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