In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant (yup), and now look like the prohibitive favorites to win the title, and be the biggest antagonist in league history. In order to get Durant, the Thunder had to gut the depth of their team by surrendering Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Andrew Bogut. They’ve already tried to fill the hole yesterday by adding Zaza Pachulia, but regardless, the team will have very limted depth.
With free agency still beginning and rosters still fluid, i’ve put together a list of teams that could potentially give this new Warriors team some issues. This isn’t a list of teams that I think will or should beat them, but rather teams that would be able to put up compettive efforts against them. This Warriors team is probably one of the more prolific shooting teams ever. The versatility on this team will be un-matched and if they make it to the postseason without any injuries they’ll likley never play anything longer than a 4 game series. But once they get on the court the clock will immediatley start. Teams will scout their tendencies, find their weaknesses, and slowly you’ll see Western Conference teams build rosters geared to stop the Warriors. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will (stop them), but right now the roster is filled with alpha dogs who are all going to have to sacrifice a lot to play efficently. That’s all good when you’re blowing teams out and waltzing to the championships, but what happens when you’re down 8 in the 4th quarter and need someone to get hot? Here are the teams that could force them to answer this question.
Last season, the Jazz had high expectations but were limited by key injuries to their core players. Barring any injuries this year they should be one of the best teams in the conference. After dealing the 12th pick for George Hill, the Jazz now have a starting 5 filled with versatile defedners on the wing, rim protection, and multiple guys that can run an offense. Teams best shot against the Warriors will be playing single coverage, and hoping that over the course of the game their individual defenders can slow down the GSW stars just enough to stay in the game late. Jazz will have the length and defense to go up against their starting unit (projected to be Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green-Pachulia), or insert a guy like Exum, Lyles, or Burks to counter the small-ball lineups. The x-factor here though will be Rudy Gobert. The 7 foot center should theoretically be able to dominante his match-up against Pachulia, and his ability to defend in space plus protect the rim should deter the Warriors from going to the paint. That makes it easier for Jazz perimeter guys to keep GSW players in front of them, and if Utah can score enough, they would have potential to be in games late.
Okay, before I get into this one, they’re two cavets needed to make this possible. One, Dwayne Wade would need to want to spite Pat Riley so hard that he chooses to come to CLE on the MLE. Next, J.R Smith would then need to sacrifice bigger dollars to stay in Cleveland. Those two things are probably unlikley, but could happen if both players value chasing a ring more than money.
The team in general would be a whacky fit for regular season basketball. Wade wouldn’t do the spacing any justice, and the iso offense doesn’t make well for regular season success. However, in the playoffs, and specifically against the Warriors, the best way to beat good defense is to play elite offense. Last season was proof that if your superstar players can score on anyone, then it’s a trump card to versatile defenses. Though the Warriors project as a strong defensive unit, the Cavs will have the perimter guys to play them straight up, and would have the individual scoring talent to break down their defense. Theoretically, a lineup of Irving-Wade-Smith-James-Thompson should be strong offensivley though spacing would still be an issue. Defensivley they would still have to rely a lot on J.R to defend Klay Thompson. It wouldn’t be ideal for the Cavs, but then again, no one will ever be in ideal situations against this Warriors team. However, having that much star power offensivley will allow them to hang around and potentially win if they can get Golden State in foul trouble.
Another interesting scenario could be to trade Kevin Love for Paul Millsap straight up. Hawks do it because it gives them a star on with years left, Cavs do it because Millsap fits better on team, and probably have confidence to bring him back. An Irving-Wade-Lebron-Millsap-Thompson unit would be a lot more staunch defensivley. It would also allow Lebron James to go head-to-head with Kevin Durant.
The Celtics are the dark horse team that could present one of the more interesting matchups. They finally have another all-star to pair with Isaiah Thomas to make the offense more consistent– specifically in the half-court. And they also have a plethora of perimeter wing defenders that are very versatile. Last season, the Celtics were the first team to beat the Warriors at home, and did it behind having defenders that can chase around Curry and Thompson while also being comfortable playing at a break-neck pace. C’s will still be able to do this, but instead will switch out Jared Sullinger for Al Horford. Interestingly enough, the x-facor in this hypothetical series would probably be Marcus Smart. If he comes in this season capable of running the point guard position by himself, the Celtics could run a lineup consiting of Smart-Avery Bradley-Jae Crowder-Jonas Jerebko-Al Horford. This would provide the Celtics with the defensive versatility to matchup-up with the Warriors small-ball lineup, and offensivley they could use Smart and Horford to set everything up for their teammates. The C’s would still need Thomas to defend at a high-level too. Despite his small-frame, he ususally does move well laterally and can guard on the perimeter. Like all the teams on this list the chances of actually beating the team would be slim, but the ability to matchup well plus the coaching advantage of Brad Stevens will make their two meetings worth watching.