Sunday Shootaround: What do we want from the Warriors? – SB Nation
BOSTON — For several minutes on Friday night, the Golden State Warriors attained basketball nirvana. It wasn’t just the deluge of points, or how they scored them. We’ve become accustomed to the barrage of 3-pointers, dunks, and layups. It certainly wasn’t how they celebrated. The Zaza Pachulia shimmy will live forever in our nightmares.
It was how they defended, jumping passing lanes, and forcing turnovers. All of that turned chaos into an artful ballet of beautiful basketball and casual disrespect.
Those extended minutes, which turned a competitive game into a rout, are what we imagined the Warriors would look like this season. That it hasn’t happened more often is either a sign that they’re saving themselves for the long haul, or an indication that they haven’t fully arrived yet. Perhaps it signals that we haven’t come to terms with how we view them yet.
Forget for a moment the wins and losses, the parochial triumphalism and the distant schadenfreude. What do we, the basketball watching universe, want from this team?
So far this season we know that we can’t have perfection. That was clear on opening night when the Spurs came to town and drilled them. It’s been evident in games they’ve won without the benefit of a consistent, sustained effort. We can also assume that we won’t have a season-long quest for immortality. We already had 73 wins and that pursuit proved to be more draining than necessary. There’s the championship chase, of course, but that’s for the spring. There’s a whole season to account for before we can get there and so we’re left with that question.
It’s lingered in the background since Kevin Durant agreed to join Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. You can build a playoff team around a great player. You can have a contender with two and win championships with three. But with four, the possibilities are endless and daunting to comprehend. So, I asked Warriors coach Steve Kerr to remove himself from the day-to-day and cast himself as a commentator. What would he want to see?
“Selflessness,” Kerr answered. “I’d just want to see the ball move between four guys who are All-Stars. But not in a pass-up-shots kind of way. I’d want to see some flow and aggressiveness. If you’re open fire away, if not, move it on. How many easy shots can this team get. That’s really the same thing I’m looking for as coach.”
Selflessness is an interesting word. The phrase we hear over and over again is sacrifice. It’s the hallmark of any great team over the years. Players give it a little to gain a lot. Whether it was Tim Duncan stepping back to allow Tony Parker room to flourish or Chris Bosh extending his game beyond the 3-point line, great teams have always demanded a personal pound of flesh for the benefit of the greater good.
But selflessness is different. If sacrifice is a utilitarian construct, selflessness is utopian. It imagines a space where these players, great as they are individually, commit acts of basketball generosity not through gritted teeth but because they are right there in front of them to be made. It’s a brilliant goal for a long season because it’s an unattainable concept, but it’s a real goal for the Warriors because it’s not out of the realm of the possibility.
It manifests itself in small ways. It’s a give-and-go between Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala that ends with satisfied grins going down the floor. It’s a four-pass whipsaw sequence that brokered good scoring chances into an uncontested layup. It’s impossible to play this way all the time, but the Warriors are beginning to play this way some of the time, and that’s more than enough to pile up regular season wins.
The Warrior coaches have been content to let this develop organically. They critique and correct when needed, but the larger picture is the thing and it might be a good sign that it’s not altogether clear in late November. There is something to play 82 games for, after all, and they are in no rush.
There’s a parallel to be drawn with the Miami Heat, who were not as fully realized as we wanted them to be when they took the court together back in 2010. It took them more than a year to figure out how they could function seamlessly on the court together within a system that blended their individual talents and resulted in a team that will stand for all time.
“I think it was probably a lot harder for Miami,” Kerr said. “I think our guys fit better naturally because of the floor spacing and the playmaking. Doesn’t mean it’s going to click all the time or right away, but it just seems like it’s more natural.”
That’s an unusually high bar, but the Warriors aren’t going to get much sympathy from anyone as those Heat teams also learned. Like the Warriors, the Heat were derided nationally for their team-building approach. Eventually they were granted respect and admiration for their style of play, even if some of that was given grudgingly in some quarters. That same dynamic will be in play for Golden State if it succeeds on these terms and it’s worth noting that the Warriors have not faced nearly the same vitriol in opposing arenas as the Heat did during their infancy.
The Warriors also have the advantage of a head start. The core of the team has been together for years and already achieved great success. They do not need to revamp everything they do because the blueprint is still viable. Continuity is a key ingredient, but the Warriors are not fools. They know that it’s not as easy as plugging in KD for Harrison Barnes and going about their business as if nothing has changed.
“It’s dramatically different when you add a superstar than when you add a role player,” Kerr said. “We’re still building. We’re still figuring some stuff out. We’re not relying on everything we’ve been able to rely on the last two years. It’s obviously a welcome addition because Kevin is that good.”
With Durant on board, Kerr can play him and Thompson together with the reserves when Curry sits. That creates a dynamic second unit that often thrived in past years even without a designated scorer. When Durant and Thompson sit, Kerr can deploy Curry and Green together. When all four are active there should never be a weakened offensive lineup on the floor. Kerr has also used his small ball lineup of doom a tick more regularly so far this season. Not surprisingly, that lineup with Durant in place of Barnes is even more devastating than it was last season.
It’s been a slow burn, but after losing to the Lakers early in November, the Warriors put up 611 points over their next five games. After rolling through the Raptors on Wednesday, Golden State became the first team in 26 years to generate 30 or more assists and shoot over 50 percent in five straight games. Against Boston, that percentage dipped just below 50 percent, but they still racked up 33 assists on 44 made shots. It’s staggering what this team can do, and they know it.
“We go over our offensive stuff a lot, but to be honest, I could roll the ball out and we’re going to score a lot of points because our guys are skilled and talented,” Kerr said. “Our focus is taking care of the ball. The best thing for your defense is good offense. If you score and don’t turn the ball over it’s an immense help to your defense.”