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Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, and Stephen Curry pose for photos during NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Golden State Warriors

A rebuttal to ‘How to beat the Warriors’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The internet is infinite and therefore filled, daily, with thousands upon thousands of think-pieces. Surprisingly, not all of them are about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Colin Kaepernick. Some of these stories in the “other” pile are quite good. Most are forgettable. And every now and again we come upon a column such as this from Kevin O’Connor on Bill Simmons’ prestige site The Ringer that just doesn’t work because it’s missing some key context and logic.

It’s a story called “How to Beat the Warriors,” and the appropriate thing to do would have been to write “You can’t lol” and then include some YouTube links of animals doing adorable things and call it a day. But that’s not what happened.

Let’s go to the highlights:

Front offices understand the challenge, but they won’t time their teams’ rise by waiting out the Warriors juggernaut. Superpowers have been toppled time and time again in sports history. One turned ankle, one ball stuck to the side of a helmet, or one slip in the ring can change the competitive landscape in an instant. Teams don’t want to miss their chance when improbability strikes.

This is an interesting opening because indeed it took three rather fluky events for the Warriors to lose in the Finals — did you know they blew a 3-1 lead? — last season. One, Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5; two, Andrew Bogut was injured; and most significantly three, Stephen Curry, their best player, sprained his knee against the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs and his mobility was compromised afterward. Oddly, none of these items will be mentioned anywhere in this piece. Oh, and also, the Warriors literally added KEVIN DURANT to a 73-win team, but let’s continue:

The Warriors gutted their depth to create space for Durant, leaving a core of KD, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston. With Zaza Pachulia and David West filling the holes left in their front line, the Dubs could steamroll during the regular season.

How much can depth be gutted if you just named eight guys? What playoff series has ever turned because one team’s ninth man was better than his counterpart? The Cavaliers played like seven dudes in the Finals. Oh, and also the Warriors signed Kevin Durant to a 73-win team:

But opponents are building for the playoff battles. Golden State’s weaknesses — its dearth of bigs and its lack of depth — can be exposed by following the blueprint established by teams in last year’s playoffs and building off it.

Here our narrator says the secret formula for stopping the Warriors was “established in the playoffs,” which is an odd thing to claim when he’s about to spend the rest of the story citing regular-season anecdotes. Also, it’s hard to argue its merits when the Dubs were still a possession away from repeating as champions. Finally, it’s fair to wonder how relevant a strategy used last season will be considering that, you know, they signed Kevin Durant to a 73-win team:

Curry is Houdini in sneakers: Lock him in maximum security, and he’ll find a way to escape to unleash a 3. But teams can’t panic when he walks on water; defending Curry is about limiting easy opportunities with physicality and versatility within a switching scheme. During the season, the Spurs were one of the first teams to prioritize switching their bigs onto Curry. Others copied the formula, including the Cavaliers, most memorably with less than a minute remaining in Game 7 of the Finals.

Stephen Curry is not the two-time defending MVP because he can reliably be checked by bigs. When he’s physically right he routinely splits traps and can blow by 7-footers switched on him in his sleep. He can actually finish layups. Can we please stop pretending he was healthy and forgetting the two straight years of Curry raining hot death on everyone?

Oh, and this infamous game where the Spurs “prioritized switching” — which again, came in the regular season, not the playoffs — just happened to be the second night of a back-to-back and the Warriors’ sixth game in nine nights. They were also without Iguodala and Bogut, who were merely their fourth- and fifth-best players. The next two times they played the Spurs, Curry scored 27 and 37 points, respectively, with Golden State handing San Antonio its only home loss of the regular season in the latter. I guess they didn’t prioritize switching enough in those games. Also, the Warriors have Kevin Durant now and he’ll be joining a team that won 73 games last year:

Kevin Love is widely considered a porous defender, and yet the Cavaliers switched him onto Curry for the most important possession of the series. Why? 

Well, for one, because at the time the two of them had similar mobility, which is kind of the point that’s missing. And two, the Warriors were down three, so Love’s entire job was to deny an open potential game-tying jumper. He didn’t care at all if Curry zoomed past him and played accordingly. Am I taking crazy pills here? I feel like the author is endorsing Oscar Robertson’s defensive epiphany that all it takes to stop Curry is to get close to him. Now if the Warriors need a three, Curry can just pass it to Kevin Durant, who’s on his team now, and that team was already good enough to win 73 games when Curry was healthy:

Teams are mining for versatile bigs capable of defending Curry like Thompson can. Six players drafted over an 11-pick stretch in 2016 fit the potential mold of a high-energy, rebounding big man with feet light enough to switch: Ante Zizic (23rd, Boston), Brice Johnson (25th, L.A. Clippers), Pascal Siakam (27th, Toronto), Ivica Zubac (32nd, L.A. Lakers), Cheick Diallo (33rd, New Orleans), and Damian Jones, whom the Warriors selected with the 30th pick. 

I can’t wait for Doc Rivers to guard Curry with Brice Johnson in the fourth quarter of a Game 7, while Kevin Durant, who’s on the Warriors now, throws his hands up in the air and thinks to himself, “Even me, Kevin Durant, joining this juggernaut that won 73 games last year, will not be enough to counter the defensive monolith that is Brice Johnson.” Moving on:

Dallas’s signing of Harrison Barnes has been rightfully questioned due to his offensive limitations, but he completes a trio with Wesley Matthews and Justin Anderson, all of whom can seamlessly switch assignments onto bigs or guards. While the Mavericks paid top dollar for Barnes, high-end role players like Jae Crowder and DeMarre Carroll have been harvested for cheap, and there are others out there waiting to be found.

Surely people I’ve never heard of exist and are awesome at basketball. Also, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore if wings can’t score as long as they can switch well defensively, I guess, because Dirk Nowitzki will just score 60? I can just imagine the Warriors playing the Clips one night and the Mavs the next as Kevin Durant ruefully shakes his head and sighs, “Man, first Brice Johnson and now Justin Anderson, I just can’t,” while Green gives him a reassuring pat on the back because they’re teammates now even though the Warriors won 73 games last year:

The Warriors’ addition of Durant further complicates this switching plan, though.

You don’t say:

KD will punish any smaller defender by driving or posting, scoring a colossal 1.23 points per possession on post-ups last season, per Synergy, a better rate than Dirk Nowitzki’s and LaMarcus Aldridge’s. To prevent that, Curry’s defender might be forced to fight through Durant’s screen instead of switching.

So forget all the stuff just written? My world is shattered:

Here’s what this play looked like with Durant and Russell Westbrook. Tony Parker drops under Durant’s screen, leaving Westbrook open to shoot a 3 off the dribble, a shot he converts at just a 28.5 percent rate. That’s not such a bad bet for the defense. But Curry drains 42.8 percent of his 3s off the dribble. Give Curry any space at all, and you’re dead. That’s why it’s still necessary to have at least one lockdown perimeter defender like Ricky Rubio, Patrick Beverley, or Avery Bradley, who can stay attached to Curry’s hip, pester him through screens, and smother his airspace without straying from their team’s fundamental defensive tenets. It’s an even greater bonus if the guard is sturdy enough to switch onto larger players, but there aren’t a lot of players out there capable of that. If a team has a chance to grab the next Tony Allen, it’d better seize it.

The Warriors beat the Grizzlies in the playoffs two years ago with Bogut guarding Allen and basically daring him to shoot. The next year they got even better and won 73 games. And now they’ve added Kevin Durant:

The league has changed since hand-checking was eliminated once and for all in 2004, allowing speedy scorers to roam free. But Seattle’s defensive style was all about denying space by any means necessary. Teams today might not be allowed to defend like that anymore (they’d foul out within minutes), but they can approximate that same level of disruptiveness with long-limbed and active defenders.

Here’s two paragraphs about what would be a cool defensive strategy to use on the Warriors if it were legal, but it’s not. You know what else would work? Harpoons:

The Sonics’ swarm mentality lives on in the Celtics, and it was instrumental in their 109–106 win over the Warriors in April. Boston has a blueprint to follow; Crowder said as much weeks after Durant signed with the Warriors in July.

Hmmm, another regular-season blueprint that was sworn was established in the playoffs. Also, you know what else from the Sonics lives on? Kevin Durant, who’s on the Warriors now, joining a team that won 73 games:

Here, the Celtics apply pressure to Curry as he attempts to enter the paint, forcing him to swing the ball to less threatening teammates. This kind of trapping style is an intriguing option for teams this season if they can successfully bait the Warriors into making anyone other than Curry, Thompson, or Durant beat them. 

“Boys, all we gotta do is double their best three guys and then hope the other two fall down while dribbling unimpeded to the rim.”

Well, you get the gist. It is my humble opinion that this column doesn’t pay proper deference to the upgrade in talent and skill the Warriors will be getting in Kevin Durant, and that O’Connor paid far too much respect to a defensive strategy that was mostly unsuccessful last year, only worked under extraordinary circumstances when it did and will no longer be applicable going forward.

A rebuttal to ‘How to beat the Warriors’

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