Late during the loss on Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets, fans started to come to the realization that, hey, the Golden State Warriors might not be as great as they always are without Draymond Green (sarcastic font). They didn't defend with the same intensity, didn't control the pace in transition without their star point forward, and missed most of the edge they hold against all opponents. It's a minuscule sample size, but since they allow me to write just about anything on here, I'm going to make my point anyway. Then there are those that worry and complain that the Warriors without one of their core players might not be able to plug and play replacement-level guys and keep chugging along. That is accurate, and very much describing the essence of this great team.
The Warriors have lost three games this season. One without Stephen Curry, one without Draymond Green, and another at the end of an unconscionably log road trip. As written before, the Warriors function at the highest of levels but on a perilous slope of perfection. In order for the engine to run in its most elite form, everyone must fit into the puzzle a certain way. On the other end, the San Antonio Spurs venture into that maze with a much higher floor, understanding that no one is truly larger than the scheme itself, thus allowing them to lose their Tim Duncan, Manu Ginboli, or Tony Parker and miss less beats than the melodic nature of the Warriors.
Of course, there's the inherent advantage that comes with time. The Spurs have done this longer than the Warriors have been relevant. And it isn't as if the Spurs roll out scrubs and win big games day in and day out. They're the ones looking up at the Warriors in the standings despite their incredible start that people keep talking about how no one is talking about them.
And yet the similarities creep in time and time again. Of course, Steve Kerr models his offense off many influences, including Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. Along with the newer age of Mike D'Antoni and then the latest Gregg Popovich installment of the flow offense, the Warriors have excelled at sharing the ball and resorting to a free-flowing style that necessitates improving more than anything else. Still, the most similar and important aspect between the two teams, franchises, and coaches at this point is the ego check at least in public.
Steve Kerr has passed praise from himself for the last season plus. He's gone out of his way to support anyone else but himself, even Mark Jackson. Every time he's asked about his impact on the team, he just repeats that he's the luckiest guy in the world with a talented team. Popovich, on the other hand, has gotten along with his team so well, they've lasted longer than the majority of marriages. And it doesn't just work on the floor. Joe Lacob, Jerry West, Bob Myers, and Kerr form an incredible think tank and a seamless working environment where they make decisions productively. Safe to say Pop has the same mindset and structure with R.C. Buford. The chemistry can start in all places but for both teams, it's just as great off the court as on.
But back to what really matters, as much as the Warriors try to innately mirror the Spurs, they're not the same. Hell, they're better for the last year and running. Their best is as good as any in the history of the NBA. That's been the case for over a season. The only time that's happened for San Antonio was probably them running the LeBron Miami Heat off the floor a couple years ago. The Warriors hit and blew past that level in a shockingly dominant fashion. Now take away a player or two from that collection of perfection and they tumble down several notches.
Because of how great they can be, the players themselves elevate everyone and everything around them to where each position cascades into oblivion. It explains why Harrison Barnes is so valuable on this team even if his singular talent isn't higher than any other super role player. Maybe Draymond Green isn't a top-10 player on another team but he absolutely is on this one, and even an MVP player. If miscast, we've seen Andre Iguodala struggle mightily. Klay Thompson functioning on a team without this spacing and creation? But throw them all together, coached by the best staff in the NBA, and the ceiling is higher than the franchise that everyone aspires to become.
They may not have the same consistent floor, without the same churning out of role players, but when fully functioning? There's no team this year, not those San Antonio Spurs, and no team in a long, long time, that would beat this Golden State Warriors team. That's what makes them special.