The Warriors got kicked by the Clippers in their third meeting of the season, and the naysayers are already lining up to pile on the “we told you so” bandwagon.
“But dude, they've really changed this time, really,” you respond, sincerely.
Can you believe in the Warriors? This time? Is this team another version of the “We Believe?” mirage, an oasis in the barren wasteland of Warrior teams of the past 10, 20, even 30 years gone by? At what point do people take the Warriors seriously? When does a reasonably informed NBA fan consider the Golden State Warriors a legitimate team, a contender for the title?
At what point do the Golden State Warriors cease to be our guilty, occasional FWB, and become the team you want the boys to see you proudly fawning over?
The Warriors are not the Clippers. They don’t have name recognition. The names: Lee, Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Ezeli cause most people to think of Dell Curry, Matt Barnes, Mychal Thompson, and Bruce Lee. Ezeli? Is that a name? Why, yes … yes it is—and he is a serious defender, to boot.
You really can't blame John Q. Public for not knowing the Warriors. They recognize names like Duncan, Griffin, Kobe, Westbrook, Durant, and even monikers like CP3, because the NBA banks its marketing efforts on players, not teams.
Because of its perceived lack of "stars," the Warriors’ malady of anonymity has mistakenly been looked upon as a lack of legitimacy. At a minimum they are deserving of props; but are they the real deal?
One horrible loss to the Lakers and one to the Clippers aside, the evidence says they are. They have proven themselves time and again, this year. Remember, before the Clippers kicked the snot out of the Warriors in LA Saturday, the Warriors dished out an equally resounding defeat of LA’s new hoops darling a few days prior.
The Warriors have defeated the Clippers in two of three contests. No one is questioning whether the Clippers are a serious team—not this year, anyway—but nearly everyone is still questioning whether the Warriors are. And while Chris Paul may be close to without equal in the NBA, and Caron Butler and many of the Clipper bench players are solid basketball players; the Clippers are a team built around athletes playing basketball.
The Warriors on the other hand, are a team built on basketball players, in much the same way as San Antonio, and Memphis. Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, David Lee, Steph Curry: all excellent basketball players. Even freakishly gifted athlete Harrison Barnes can play the game.
Does that make the Warriors “less legit” than the Clippers? No … but in the world of David Stern, it does make them less marketable. The NBA still hasn’t figured out how to market the Spurs after more than a decade of success, and they aren’t beating down the doors to spoon feed the Grizzlies a trophy anytime soon, either. But these teams win. We can look at what makes up the Spurs' and Griz's rosters and in them see what basketball is meant to be, a team sport.
That Jerry West has had a hand in the the rebuild of the Grizzlies, and now the Warriors, comes as no coincidence. I see West and the Spurs' Greg Popovich as being ideologically similar with respect to the game.
Basically, they see basketball as a team sport.
Does that mean that they don’t have stars? Of course not; but Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are not exactly the Clippers’ “Man from Kia,” now are they?
For the newly successful Warriors, Steph Curry and David Lee are stars in the Parker and Duncan mold—they can play basketball. And while it remains to be seen whether the league sees value in recognizing the success of another basketball-centric franchise, there is little to dispute in the validity of Curry’s and Lee’s games this season.
Yes, Curry could get injured—but so could every other player in the league. Curiously, one doesn’t see the same level of negative press regarding the woes of Dwight Howard these days, and he is injured. Aside from Curry's lingering reliance on an ineffective and turnover-prone hook-pass, it should be noted that Steph handles the ball better than anyone in the league. Seriously. Watch him dribble through and around Chris Paul, Deron Williams, D. Wade, and whoever else you can name. He handles with a purpose. He dribbles to set up the pass, and he dribbles to create his own shot. Oh, and that shot … lordy, lordy, lordy, lordy, that’s a purdy shot, too. You can not like basketball and not admire that shot. It’s as if Ray Allen could handle and create. But Curry plays no defense, was the argument that Curry wore like a saddle. Au contrare, mon frere. It turns out Steph can play defense, and very good defense at that, after all. Apparently, he’s just been playing within the wrong defensive scheme these last couple of years. The Warriors revamped their defense scheme entirely and voila, they’ve consistently been a top ten team in defensive-field-goal percentage this year. It’s true! Still believe Curry and defense can coexist as peacefully as matter and anti-matter? There's proof. Curry has even taken to blocking shots … in the air, like you see basketball players do while playing defense and everything. And Curry’s rebound numbers would surprise you.
Then there’s David Lee. In the Western Conference, there is no more skilled big man. He can bring the ball up against pressure with either hand, pass with either hand, and shoot any shot with either hand. It’s to the point where if it weren’t for most—but not all—of his jumpers being lefties, you really wouldn’t know what his strong hand is. He is the only 20 and 10 player in the NBA. The only one. Not King James, not Durant, not even Dr. Love in the great state of Minnesota; the only 20 ppg-10 rpg man in the game this year is David Lee. Oh, and he averages 3.7 apg.
The knee-jerk reaction used to be that those other "stars" were on winning teams, though, and that Lee and Curry can’t be legit stars because the team isn’t winning. That line of thought no longer applies, people; remember, the Warriors are 22 and 11. That’s 11 games over .500 more than a third of the way through the season.
That’s not to say the NorCal Warriors are without their flaws. Whether Mark Jackson wants to admit it or not, his team meets less challenging situations with a less than whole-hearted effort. A diligent Warriors team should be 26-7, as they gave up a collective 4 games to Sacramento and Orlando by not focusing their efforts the way they have against the Clippers and Brooklyn. And the Laker games were nothing to write home about, either. Additionally, the Warriors make more unforced errors than almost anybody, but they are still a young team, so that may be debatably understandable.
So the Warriors have stars, and they have a substantial winning record in a year when almost every team appears to have improved and the league as whole is certainly more competitive. And they can defend. What else you got?
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Players that are largely interchangeable with Curry and Lee. Does any other team in the league lose almost nothing, and often gain, when their all-stars take a breather? Both players are in contention for sixth man of the year, this year, and Jack could be having the best year of his career. For most teams, these two players would be starting.
Adding to the case for Warrior legitimacy, one has to factor in Thompson, a deadly shooter, albeit with a propensity for the occasional poorly timed hoist from three, and a solid-to-good defender; defensive ball-of-energy and point-guard-in-a-power-forward’s-body, Draymond Green; solid, even intimidating defense from rookie Festus Ezeli; a resurgent and surprisingly active-on-the-boards Andris Biedrins; great shooting and tough defense from second-year player Charles Jenkins; oh, and we almost forgot to mention Harrison Barnes, who handles much better than anybody thought possible, plays aggressive D, rebounds very well, can nail the open three, and has that way-cool Dominique-esque/Jason Richardson-esque ability to sky off of two feet for some very SportsCenter-minded dunks.
And the Warriors are one of the top rebounding teams in the league.
That’s stars, offense, defense, bench, substantial winning percentage, threes, dunks, exceptional basketball skills, and rebounding vs. too many turnovers, they might get injured (again), and they used to suck. OK, they sucked for a long time. But those Warrior teams aren't this Warrior team.
Ultimately, only time reveals the true nature of all things. But at this point in time, at 33 games into this season, having played more road games than home games, the Golden State Warriors are on pace to win 55 games.
Perhaps the question should be, “how is this team not considered legitimate?”