Warriors will still win the Western Conference, without Kevin Durant

Warriors will still win the Western Conference, without Kevin Durant
Despite Kevin Durant’s absence for what is likely the rest of the regular season, the Golden State Warriors will still finish first in the West, because of the team’s big three from last season: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

Stephen Curry

With Kevin Durant’s ascension as the Warriors’ number one scoring option, people seem to forget just how dominant Steph Curry can be. Curry is a player who just last season was being hailed as the poster boy of the new NBA era, one that emphasizes three-point shooting above anything else. Curry was revolutionizing the way basketball was played in 2016, one 40-foot three-pointer at a time.

Need further proof of Curry’s dominance? Here’s his 2016-17 regular season numbers provided by NBA.com (apologies for the small font):

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Those numbers made NBA analysts and fans alike debate whether Curry’s 16-17 season was the greatest of all-time.

With Durant out, Curry has the ability to become the Warriors’ number one scoring option once again. It may take a few games of adjustment, but the back-to-back MVP has proven his worth as one of the league’s best superstars. The Warriors will be just fine with Curry stepping in as the team’s offensive leader for the time being.

Klay Thompson

Remember Klay Thompson’s 37-point third quarter last season? I do too!

Thompson, one of the league’s best pure shooters, now gets the opportunity to have even more touches on the offensive end. With Durant’s arrival, Thompson has been relegated to playing more off the ball, which has in turn helped him develop weaker links in his game. The crazy part about Thompson’s season, though, is how he’s virtually averaging the exact same numbers as last season. The Warriors’ coaching staff has to take credit for that. Somehow, even with Durant in town, Thompson hasn’t lost any shot attempts.

With Durant out, Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr will surely rely on Thompson for more offensive production.

Draymond Green

The only one of the four all-stars in Golden State’s starting lineup whose scoring production decreased is Draymond Green. Green makes up for his decreased scoring numbers in every way imaginable, collecting steals, blocks, assists, and rebounds. He’s the clear defensive anchor of this team.

With the incredibly versatile Draymond Green and a competent enough centre in Zaza Pachulia, this Warriors’ team has more than enough firepower to win the West.

If there’s any concern for Golden State, it’s the team’s lack of depth and rim protection. In the regular season, rim protection is not nearly as important compared to its impact in the playoffs. As for the team’s lack of depth, the Warriors’ starting lineup alone has enough talent to dominate opposing teams even when the bench has inevitable off nights.

Remember, Curry, Thompson, and Green were at the forefront of a team that won an NBA-record 73 regular season games. This team has more than enough talent to win the West, even without its prized offseason addition.

 

Image found on wikipedia.com. The photo of Stephen Curry found on Wikipedia is taken by Keith Allison.

Russell Westbrook: Redefining the NBA one game at a time

To say this past summer was a tumultuous one for Russell Westbrook would be an understatement.

The Thunder could taste the Finals. There they were: Game Six of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, up seven points with under five minutes to go. Then, the collapse happened.

Over the next five minutes, Golden State chipped away at the Thunder lead one basket at a time. Swarming defense and costly turnovers by Russell Westbrook down the stretch gave the Warriors the opportunity they needed to steal the game away. And steal it they did. Golden State outscored Oklahoma City 19-5 in the final five minutes to shock the Thunder on their home floor 108-101. Golden State would go on to win Game Seven, eliminating  the Thunder, while advancing to their second consecutive Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the Thunder were not only left heartbroken, but also forced to deal with the impending free agency of one of their star players, Kevin Durant.

And that was only the beginning.

July 7, 2016: Kevin Durant signs with Golden State for $54 million over 2 years.

The sudden departure of Durant sent shock-waves throughout the NBA world, while also sparking questions about how Westbrook would respond. Could Westbrook carry a team to the playoffs while being relied on so heavily? Would Durant’s departure negatively impact Westbrook’s play?

Fast forward seven months, where having doubts about how Westbrook would play without Durant seem ridiculous. The Thunder superstar is in the midst of a historic season, carrying his Thunder team into a playoff spot almost single-handedly. Through 38 games, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double with 31.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. To put those numbers in perspective, no one has averaged a triple-double over an entire NBA season since Oscar Robertson did so in the 1961-62 season, at a time where he was physically superior to the majority of his opponents. Further, Westbrook has 17 triple-doubles this season, whereas the rest of the league has 27 combined (10 of which belong to James Harden).

The dominance Russell Westbrook displays night-in and night-out cannot be overstated; he single-handedly gives the Thunder a chance to win on a nightly basis. Russell Westbrook’s usage percentage of 41.4% indicates how his team relies on him to play a role in nearly half of his team’s possessions. Rather than let Durant’s departure negatively affect his play, Westbrook used it as a way to further himself as a leader, a leader Oklahoma City desperately needs.

Nearly halfway through the 2016-17 season, it’s safe to say the void Durant’s departure left in Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder has been filled. Westbrook continues to silence critics by refusing to let his Thunder slide out of a Western Conference playoff spot, playing with an unseen level of energy on the court, and putting up triple-doubles like it’s his day job. When Westbrook is locked in, no one can stop him; defenders can only hope to contain him.

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder’s heartbreaking summer is quickly becoming an after-thought.

Quick tid bit on the NBA Finals

Although this post won’t provide much substance regarding the play of the Cavs and Warriors in the NBA finals, given how I’m writing this post in Israel and haven’t been able to watch full games aside from highlights, it will share my opinion pertaining to the flaws of the NBA playoff system.

The Finals Already Happened..

Let’s be honest, the Oklahoma City-Golden State Western Conference final series captivated everyone’s attention. OKC pushed GS to the brink of elimination in convincing fashion, and many felt KD’s time to shine was finally upon us. Then tides turned, and GS captured three straight wins to reach the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. In doing so, the Warriors kept their potential legacy as the greatest team of all time in tact, while also showing just how resilient they can be, especially after multiple embarassing blowouts.

This NBA Finals has really not been close so far. The level of competition is lackluster at best, as the Cavs have looked overmatched at every position. The larger OKC defenders that successfully defended Thompson and Curry for much of the series are nowhere to be found. Without putting a legitimate defender on both Curry and Thompson (Shumpert can’t guard both, while Irving is an atrocious defender) the Cavs have a very slim chance of even pushing this to 6 games, even if LeBron pulls out 2015 Finals performance again. Then again, the presence of Love and Irving surely won’t allow him to take over the series in nearly the same way, given their tendencies to want the ball in their hands and play significant roles in the offense. Unfortunately, Love is also a below average defender, so whatever he can provide defensively will be negated on the other end.

Surely David Griffin is rethinking his decision to fire David Blatt…LeBron should never have garnered this much control over a team in the first place.
Look at the Warriors. Chemistry and team building from the ground up works far better than buying free agents.

Update after the Finals concluded:

I take back my doubts about LeBron and the Cavaliers. Becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit is impressive in itself…but when you consider that the comeback was on the NBA’s greatest stage, against an all-time team in the Golden State Warriors, it makes the feat all the more impressive. I eat my words Cavs fans.

Having Draymond Green suspended from Game 5 of the Finals certainly played a role in shifting the momentum of the series. Prior to Draymond’s suspension, the Warriors had their hands firmly grasped around the Cavaliers’ hopes of NBA immortality. Not having Green in Game 5 gave the Cavs new life, as they were able to dominate the game and send the series back to Cleveland. If Green wasn’t suspended, who knows if LeBron and Co. would have been able to pull off the monumental comeback. A beaten-up Curry certainly didn’t do the Warriors any favours either.

How the NBA continues to evolve before our very eyes

To the avid basketball fans that have continuously stayed loyal to the game they love for at least the past decade, it’s hard not to notice certain elements of the game that continue to evolve.

Whether it’s the dying role of the prototypical big man (the back to the basket, brute forces that dominated the NBA for the past three decades…you know, the Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon types), or the change in shot selection (name me a team that utilizes the mid-range shot nearly as frequently as in years past…that’s right, you can’t), the NBA is changing, for better or for worse.

Today’s NBA now favours those nifty guards that can hoist three-pointers at will and beat their defenders off the dribble with ease. Sounds familiar? It should, given how for the past season and a half we’ve bared witness to one such player, Stephen Curry, doing just that at a remarkable level…sorry, a historic level.

When else have we seen something remotely like this? Sure, we’ve seen great shooters (Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, and a near-retirement Jason Kidd come to mind), but has the league ever seen a talent that can shoot off the dribble quite like Curry? The answer is simple: never.

Curry’s ability to not only shoot off the dribble, but to get the ball out of his hands from his shooting motion so quickly is ushering in a new age the NBA has never seen before. I’m sure the majority of kids who grace the court at a young age nowadays no longer look to refine their post games or work on their mid-range game…the first thing they surely do is run out to the 3-point line!

Naturally, a game will evolve as players find new ways to combat certain tactics, hence why the big man isn’t what it used to be. My question is this: given the increased utilization of the 3-point shot in recent years, do you think once (and if) defenses learn to contain the 3-point shot, we’ll see a shift back to the dominance of previous trends, such as the traditional big man?

Personally, I think this could be the end of the evolution in terms of the way the game is played. Unless Curry is a once in a lifetime talent,  or the rules change, I don’t think it makes much sense to change the tendencies of the game. In terms of effeciency, utilizing the 3-point shot frankly makes the most sense.

Then again, if a 3-point shot heavy team like the Warriors ever does have a weakness exploited (never know, it could happen!), this entire narrative could change. It’s only natural that things evolve.

And…there go the Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were swept in the first round of the NBA eastern conference playoffs by a Washington Wizards team that thoroughly overmatched them in every way possible. Led by the dynamic young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as well as by the veteran presence of Raptor-killer Paul Pierce, the Wizards dominated the Raptors in all four playoff contests. Excluding a late comeback in game one of the series by the Raptors that forced overtime, the team really showed no fight throughout the series. Additionally, Washington’s small-ball lineups proved too much for Dwane Casey’s poor defensive schemes, and his job status will surely be on the line this coming offseason as a result.

Aside from being dominated by small-ball lineups and a younger, more potent backcourt (as evident by the result of this series), the Raptors stars failed to show up. Kyle Lowry continued his decline since the all-star break, averaging a pedestrian 12 points and 5 rebounds in the series, while DeMar DeRozan continued to take low-efficiency shots when his team needed a bucket most. While Lowry’s play can partially be blamed on how he’s had to battle injuries of late, DeRozan’s performance in this series is unjustifiable. DeRozan will have to evolve his game and become more efficient in the future if he ever hopes to lead the Raps out of the first round.

The need for an increased amount of veteran presence on this Raptors team could not be anymore apparent than it is right now, especially when you consider how great an impact Paul Pierce has has on this Wizards team. Pierce was brought to Washington to provide leadership in playoff games, and he did just that. Hopefully the Raptors can learn from their previous two playoff series defeats by bringing on an experienced veteran with championship experience. Surely young Raps like Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross would appreciate it.

Demarcus Cousins did what?!

In last night’s contest between the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets, Demarcus Cousins went bananas, putting on a performance for the ages. Cousins recorded a monstrous triple double against one of the league’s top defences out in Houston, collecting a stat line of 24 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, 6 blocks, and 3 steals. Per basketball-reference.com, Cousins is only the second player in NBA history to accomplish such a ridiculous stat line. The only other player to drop 20/20/10/5 in a night is Chris Webber, who many believe is a borderline hall of fame inductee, although he hasn’t got the nod yet.

If this spectacular performance was an indication, Demarcus Cousins has truly arrived as arguably the greatest centre in the NBA. The Kentucky product in 57 games this season is averaging an impressive 24 points and 12.5 boards a night, which places him in elite NBA company. What has Kings fans even more optimistic is that Cousins likely hasn’t even reached his ceiling. This season is only Cousins’ fifth in the league, and at the young age of 24 he still has many years of dominance ahead of him.

On a side note, Cousins excellence last night overshadowed what Rockets superstar James Harden did in last night’s contest: 51 points on 16/25 shooting and 8/9 from 3-point range…if he’s not the MVP of the league, something’s truly wrong. Without Harden, the Rockets are a lottery team. With him, they’re a perennial title contender.

A couple takeaways from the last month of NBA action

This NBA season has been a particularly entertaining one, with so many teams vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences. If you look at the eastern conference standings today, you’d notice that four teams (Celtics, Pacers, Bobcats, and Brooklyn) are within a game and a half of each other and all engaged in a fight to the finish for the 8th and final playoff spot. Things are also interesting in the west, where an injury-riddled Thunder team is constantly having to fend off the Pelicans and Suns in order to hold on to the final playoff spot in the west. During this stretch run, a couple things have stood out most:

Russell Westbrook is Superhuman

The Oklahoma City Thunder star has been on a flat out tear for the past two month, averaging 31.5 points, 10.7 assists, and 9.3 rebounds in 22 games since the month of February began. What makes his run even more impressive is that he’s had to single-handedly carry the Thunder since the reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant has been sidelined with a troublesome foot injury, while Serge Ibaka recently went down with an injury that will likely keep him out until the playoffs begin. Without Westbrook, the Thunder surely would be looking towards an offseason with no playoff competition. Thankfully, they’ve got him though, since he’s continuing to put up MVP-type numbers, lead the league in scoring, and prove how transcendent of a talent he’s become.

The Warriors are Ridiculous

Led by the frontrunner for MVP Steph Curry, the Warriors have continued sustaining their incredible level of play throughout the course of the season. Through 70 games played, the Warriors not only sit atop the western conference with a 57-13 record, but they also lead the league in both offensive efficiency (number of points scored per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (number of points allowed per 100 possessions). This statistical dominance helps illustrate just how dominate this Warriors team has been, but it’s a whole other story to actually watch this team in action. While their incredible offense captivates fans, the Warriors dominant defense often goes overlooked. With superb perimeter defenders in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and DPOY candidate Draymond Green, paired with a strong interior defender in Andrew Bogut, the Warriors defense is for real. It would be a huge disappointment if the team’s regular season success fails to translate into postseason success, which could be a possibility since their positioned to face one of the stronger eight seeds in recent memory, the OKC Thunder.