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Warriors season preview Pt 1. How do you rest while re-tooling?

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We look at big questions facing the championship-or-bust Warriors in the 2018-19 season. How does the team get rest and avoid burnout? How does the team rest while re-tooling the offense to counter switching defenses?

NBA: Preseason-Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers
What, I’m just a system role player? That’s three-time champ role player to you.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

This is a 2018-19 season preview for the Golden State Warriors, in the form of three big questions the team must address this season.

In this installment, we’ll look at (1a) and (1b). We’ll cover the other two in future installments.

1a. How does the team get rest and avoid mental burnout?

It’s universally accepted that the Warriors are loaded with roster talent, and now have years of experience in a motion offense and switching defensive scheme that fits its high-IQ personnel. On paper, the team looks unstoppable, bringing back the core of the repeat champions and adding an All-Star.

And yet, the game is not played on paper. The NBA game is played on courts with fatigue, bangs, nicks and nagging injuries. It is a long season with steady grind, back-to-backs. The Warriors, due to their location, have flown the most painful miles of air travel of all NBA teams.

In 2014-15, GSW had the novelty of their first title run. In 2015-16, GSW tried and famously fell short of finishing the greatest season of all time. In 2016-17, they were driven by redemption and also bringing the besieged Durant into the system. But in 2017-18, they started to show burnout. The team lacked hunger, having silenced all doubters and reducing detractors to argue that the team is just unsportingly talented.

GSW had a very uneven season with erratic effort and focus, ending the season with a depressing stretch of blowout losses with Stephen Curry injured and the rest of the team waiting for the playoffs to start. GSW focused for the playoffs, but even in the wild Western Conference Finals, the Warriors showed their mental fatigue. The Rockets lost leader Chris Paul for Games 6 and 7 and yet the Warriors started both games with huge letdowns, delivering their worst first halves of the season.

The team is clearly feeling the toll of four straight years of trips to the Finals, a feat only accomplished before by the Celtics and Lakers in the 1980s, and the LeBron James Heat in 2011-2014. No team has made it to five straight Finals since the 1960s Celtics. For four years, the Warriors have played a month more basketball than every other team except for the Cavaliers.

Steve Kerr has said he plans to play young players more and rest his stars and veterans. Last year, they brought in Nick Young as a hungry veteran, and this year, they topped that in size and controversy by bringing in DeMarcus Cousins. They will welcome the novelty of integrating a recovering Cousins into the scheme down the ending stretch of the season. This will certainly shake up what is by then a set center rotation between Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney and Damian Jones and introduce new questions about how Cousins will react to being a lesser option in the offense, how he’ll facilitate in the offense, and how he’ll keep up on defense.

The main questions of offensive fit are about psychology. In the motion offense, Cousins could immediately step in to play the role as playmaker out of the post (upgraded Zaza Pachulia) with the bonus of being a scoring threat, or as an upgraded David West adding a pick-and-pop threat. In the grind of the playoffs or against elite switching teams, Cousins brings another isolation thread, particularly against smallball lineups like the Rockets run.

On the other end, his slow defense makes him a vulnerability against pick and roll. So another question is how Cousins will handle being a third or fourth option on offense, and possibly being played off the court on defense when the Warriors want to roll out the Hamptons 5.

1b. How does the team rest while re-tooling the offense to counter switching defenses?

This is a topic that deserves multiple articles and is the biggest strategic question facing the NBA. Expect multiple future Explain One Play articles to discuss this very point.

For now we will just briefly note that Houston gave the league a blueprint for attacking the Warriors, in the form of its disciplined switching defense. In short, the HOU switching defense was enough to stop most of the GSW motion offense, which left Kevin Durant to generate offense out of isolations (which HOU encouraged, to gum up the Warriors attack and limit the contributions of Thompson and Curry) and Stephen Curry to generate offense out of pick and roll (which Curry was limited at during the beginning of his injury return, and which the GSW use sparingly due to Steve Kerr’s basketball religious convictions).

The league has been trying to attack GSW in this way for a couple of years, but no one, outside of the healthy 2016-17 Spurs, has played defense well enough to slow a healthy GSW. For instance, the Cavaliers tried to use the HOU defensive blueprint in the Finals and gave up quickly as they got repeatedly burned by bad switches.

How Stephen Curry hit a Finals-record 9 threes

Watch Stephen Curry pour in a Finals-record 9 three-pointers in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Finals. We explain the clever plays and the defensive breakdowns and share rare practice footage to show how Steph's game-sealing desperation shot over Kevin Love was actually rehearsed. Co-starring JaVale McGee, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. By @EricApricot. More videos and articles at http://tinyurl.com/ericapricot

Posted by Golden State of Mind on Monday, June 4, 2018

The league will undoubtedly move to more switching defenses, and this has already been refined by major rivals Houston and Boston.

Since it hasn’t been a secret, why hasn’t GSW adjusted its schemes to counter the switches? The switching began in the second half of 2015-16. 2016-17 was spent integrating Kevin Durant and finding his strengths and limitations.

2017-18 Warriors gave an undisciplined fatigued effort for the first part of the season spotted by a wave of injuries, and just when it was time to buckle down, injuries knocked out Stephen Curry for the whole months of March and April, as well as December, limiting the time Curry had to harmonize his play better with Kevin Durant’s. When Curry returned in the second round, GSW had to try to adjust in real-time with limited practice during the playoffs. They did add a few new wrinkles as I covered here, just enough to get them past Houston. Here are a couple of videos about the adjustments made against Houston.

Stephen Curry Figures Out The Rockets Defense

The Warriors claimed after their Game 5 loss vs HOU that they "figured out" something on offense, and they proved it with a thumping rout in Game 6. Watch three adjustments that Stephen Curry and GSW made to counter HOU's defense. Co-starring Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Kevon Looney. By @EricApricot. More videos and full articles at http://tinyurl.com/ericapricot

Posted by Golden State of Mind on Sunday, May 27, 2018
How Stephen Curry Won Game 7

Watch Stephen Curry's brilliant performance against the Rockets in Game 7 to lead the Warriors comeback from 11 points down to 9 points up, to save the game and win the Western Conference Finals. Co-starring Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Ryan Anderson and James Harden. By @EricApricot. More videos and full articles at http://tinyurl.com/ericapricot

Posted by Golden State of Mind on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This season I expect for Kerr to spend the regular season introducing more offensive principles and wrinkles if everyone can stay healthy. But even if everyone stays healthy, how do you work on new offensive schemes when players are shuttling in and out of the lineup for rest and to give time to the young players?

  • Next Part 2: Which young and old players do they keep?