The Warriors were literally one shot away from becoming back to back champions last season (damn you Kyrie Irving!). Since then they've added Kevin Durant, a top three player in the league. Now that they have formed one of the most talented rosters ever they should have no problem walking their way back to the top seed in the West and securing home court advantage for another playoff run, right?
If the 2016 season taught Warriors fans anything it's that you can't take anything for granted. With that in mind, in this three part series we will be looking at the teams who might have a good chance of defeating the Warriors and their new "Death Lineup" in the regular season.
To begin with I want to take a look at what you need to do to defeat this super team. There are undoubtedly a lot of coaches and analysts with much greater basketball minds than my own trying to solve the riddle of how to beat this squad. But in my opinion it can be boiled down to four key requirements:
- Dominant big men. The number of truly dominant centers and power forwards in the league today is low; however, to defeat the Warriors, I believe you need to punish them for going small. Ideally you want a big who is effective on both sides but a dominant defensive big or a dominant offensive big will suffice.
Defensively you need a great rim protector who is also relatively mobile. The Warriors may shoot a lot of three's but what this does is create space. Steph Curry can rupture a defense by his mere presence on the court, standing idly thirty feet from the basket; now you have to worry about Durant as well. The more the defense is pulled from the rim, the more spacious the driving lanes become and the Warriors will punish you with back door cuts if you give them the chance. Therefore having a big man that can patrol the paint and shut down these drives or at least make the driver second guess himself and alter his shot is highly valuable.
Offensively what you need is a big man that can finish second chance opportunities and take advantage of perceived mismatches such as Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.
- Defense. Defense. Defense. How many times does it need to be said (or typed?) for teams to realize that if you can't play high caliber defense, you're not going to beat this Warriors squad. Miscommunication when guarding a Curry-Durant pick and roll could be devastating for a team. You need to have solid perimeter defenders who can slow down the Warriors offensive superstars (along with the defensive big I alluded to earlier).
- Protect the orange. It seems obvious but you don't want to turn the ball over against this team. The Warriors transition offense is a thing of beauty, and not only does it result in some easy points, but it also appears to boost their confidence (as if they need it). Every Warriors fan will attest to the fact that once Curry starts dancing or Green starts flexing, the game is about to swing, drastically. Protect the orange, grip onto it for dear life, and absolutely do not turn that ball over.
- Rebound. I thought about tying this in with my first point about big men, but the truth is this needs to be a team effort. Even Curry has shown a nose for the ball that allows him to sneak in and snatch away a rebound from a much bigger opponent. If you want to beat the Warriors, you have to box them out effectively and under no circumstances can you allow them to get a second chance opportunity. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry don't miss twice.
For each of these "keys to victory" here are statistics I will focus on:
- Points per game (PPG)
- DRtg (Defensive rating, an estimate of points a team allows per 100 possessions)
- TOV% (Turnover, an estimate of turnovers committed by a team per 100 possessions)
- DRB% (Defensive rebounding percentage, an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds that a team grabbed)
I have selected five teams. Three of whom are generally considered capable of defeating the Warriors, I have ranked these three from the biggest threat (1) to the lesser (3). The last two are "dark horse" teams that I personally feel have what it takes to upset this super team in the course of the regular season.
Up first is the Californian rival, Number 3: The Los Angeles Clippers.
The infographic above highlights the Clippers key player in the matchup against the Warriors and then the second portion focuses on some of the team statistics.
The Clippers ranked in the top five defensively last season and they ranked seventh in points per game. Lead by Chris Paul, the Clippers have been a fringe contender for a few years now but this season is increasingly looking like their last chance. Despite the endless highlights that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have produced, they've yet to match the expectations that fans have had for the last five years.
While the Clippers have had their fair share of off-court drama from players punching out staff members to the coach-come-general manager locking himself in Deandre Jordan’s house in an attempt to convince him to sign a new contract, this is the year that it should come together. If the roster stays healthy and the players can remain focused, this Clippers team has a legitimate shot at being a championship contender.
The talent is undeniable. Chris Paul is arguably the most well rounded point guard ever; he isn't getting any younger but is still more than capable of running an offense. Paul is a high I.Q player who would be an ideal playmaker for any team. But what's really significant is his defensive ability. He's a top tier point guard defensively and really makes Curry work for every shot. Meanwhile, J.J Redick and Paul Pierce (despite his age) are no slouches defensively.
The Clippers also tick the "dominant center" box. Deandre Jordan may not be much of a scorer, relying mostly on alley oops and garbage buckets to get his points, but he is a formidable shot blocker and exactly the type of player needed to roam the paint and protect the rim from the pesky Warriors cutting in. The perimeter defenders can take solace in the fact that they have a big man the caliber of Jordan waiting to clean up any mistakes that they make.
Which leaves us with Blake Griffin. At his worst he's a solid offensive forward and a liability on defense. At his best Griffin can put an entire team on his back and put up MVP worthy numbers. If he manages to stay healthy and play 80 games, I think Griffin will have a huge season. More importantly, he will be difficult for the Warriors to contain. Green has gotten the better of Griffin for the most part, but what makes Blake so dangerous is he's not just a scorer he's also an elite passer for his position. In fact Green might be the only other power forward that can rival Griffin’s passing ability, and even then he doesn't have the handles that Griffin possesses.
If the Clippers move the ball well and Griffin plays to the standards we know he can, then the Clippers will be able to wear down the Warriors defense. They'll need to improve on their defensive rebounding from last year to prevent any second chances, but with Jordan and Griffin at full health that shouldn't be a problem.
If anyone thought this rivalry was finished now that the Warriors have a championship under their belt, as well as two of the top three players in the world, they might want to reconsider. With four opportunities to watch these two teams collide in the regular season, the Clippers have a good chance at snatching a game or two from the Warriors win total.
So what does the GSoM community think? Are the Clippers a legitimate threat to the Warriors?
Oh, and one more thing, just because we could all use a good laugh:
When Doc Rivers says there isn't a gap in talent between the Warriors and Clippers pic.twitter.com/QPl9GEoNVY— DailySportsTapes (@dailysporttapes) September 27, 2016
Ummm, cool story, Glenn.
All statistics are from the 2016 season and taken from Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated.
Infographics are powered by Piktochart.