By J.M. Poulard
One the toughest challenges elite NBA players face is finding teammates who share their vision of the court. The geometry of the floor varies from one possession to the next as defenses adjust some of their schemes to take away what a superstar does best.
That very same superstar has likely seen a multitude of coverages and processes within a split second how to counter it, however, the players sharing the floor do not always grasp the variables in the same manner.
It’s part of the reason that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s marriage came to an end, and why Durant went to a team shares his view of the game of basketball—the Golden State Warriors.
I say this without even a hint of hyperbole: these Dubs might be the most perfect collection of talent the sport has ever seen.
They feature a host of high-intellect, All-NBA caliber offensive players in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant, as well as very smart second-tier players in Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.
The end result?
There are always at least three good-if-not-great decision makers on the floor that can read the floor in concert. Thus, the Warriors almost always produce a great look at the basket as evidenced by their Game 2 dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a score of 132-113.
Golden State’s collection of talent brutally overwhelmed Cleveland’s to the point that it’s not ridiculous to expect this Warriors juggernaut to finish the postseason by sweeping every opponent, a feat that has never been accomplished in NBA history.
Golden State is that good, and talent is only part of the riddle that comes attached with the Warriors. The other component is the environment that head coach Steve Kerr has created for this team.
Kerr, who returned to the sidelines after missing 11 games due to the flare-up of the symptoms from a spinal-leak two years ago, manufactured a sharing culture in Golden State upon his arrival three seasons ago.
He favored passing, cutting, shooting and loads of ball movement. A pick-and-roll here, a slip-screen play there and a smart and healthy doses of isolation plays.
It made the team smarter and incredibly dangerous, judging from Golden State’s three consecutive Finals appearances.
The Warriors are always tricking opponents with seemingly flawless execution that directly attacks the defensive weak link. Watch below:
The best shooter in league history was so open that he could afford to take his time before shooting, and that’s not by accident.
Kyrie Irving is often a lazy defender when navigating picks, and J.R. Smith occasionally struggles with defensive switches. Thus, both are directly involved in the play, and the duo makes a mistake that leaves Curry open. Those kinds of plays helped Curry shake loose for 32 points and 11 assists (also collected 10 rebounds).
Curry, a two-time MVP, drew enough attention that he opened up the floor for all of his teammates to get hot from downtown as the Warriors made 18-of-43 (41.3 percent) from behind the 3-point line. He looked as though he was having a lot of fun playing with what looked like a tank of never-ending positivity.
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“Yeah, I’m playing with a lot of energy, that’s the biggest thing,” Curry said following the game. “Trying to be aggressive every opportunity I have. I think there’s another level that I can get to. … just trying to be aggressive and enjoy this moment, man. Just playing in The Finals and the journey is unbelievable. I want to keep it going.”
Curry put some electricity in the building, and his teammates certainly fed off of it, none more than Durant, who amassed 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
There’s no sugar coating KD’s impact: He’s the ultimate cheat code.
He’s forcing the Cavaliers to play everything straight up and switch on screens because trapping yields open looks to the best collection of shooters in the league (Curry, Durant and Thompson). That ultimately leads to laughable mismatches with the likes of Kevin Love defending Durant at the top off the floor without the benefit of help.
And that’s the thing about this Golden State team, they will hunt down that mismatch and poke at it until opponents solve it. That’s what happens when there is a collective vision of the way the team wants to play, a synergy that will not soon be replicated.
Here’s an example:
Durant scores fairly easily on the play, but pay close attention to what the team sees before KD even bets the ball. The 6’9’’ Durant is on the block against the 6’5’’ Iman Shumpert, which is an advantageous matchup for KD to start with. But the Warriors want better.
They send Irving’s man to set a screen on Shumpert, which leads to the 6’3’’ Irving switching onto Durant.
That’s child’s play for Durant.
He’s a tough cover when facing defensive aces, but against a smaller, uninterested defender, one might as well just count the bucket before he even shoots.
That’s part of the beauty of what Golden State does, it creates so many uncomfortable situations that defenses ultimately break.
That’s also the case in isolations, where the Warriors never allow weaker defenders to hide. Look at this gorgeous setup:
Draymond runs up court and sets a quick brush screen to create a switch, leading to Tristan Thompson guarding Curry.
Advantage Golden State, but as seen with KD earlier, Kerr wants much better and the players know it.
Hence, Zaza Pachulia sets another screen for Steph, and now it’s Curry versus Love—Curry wins.
Golden State does numerous things to bend the floor in their favor, and then they attack wherever they find an opening. This sounds obvious to all, but Cleveland hasn’t been able to replicate that because the mentality is not within the makeup of the team.
LeBron James is smart enough when he has the ball to compute most of what is going on the floor, but his teammates typically have other ideas. For instance, in the third quarter, James got matched up with Curry and quickly raced down to the block and asked for the ball on the opposite side of the floor.
Kyrie had other ideas.
He went into one-on-one mode—easily his best skill—and settled for a contested missed jumper, which played right into Golden State’s hands. The game plan was obvious from the start: force Irving to finish against length, and he had a tough time doing so. He managed 19 points on 8-for-23 shooting.
It’s fair to wonder if Cleveland should have put the ball in LeBron’s hands throughout the majority of the game in an effort to create high-percentage shots. James sees the floor in a similar fashion to the Warriors, but play for them he does not.
Still, watch as LeBron anticipates the defensive rotation and finds a wide-open Kyle Korver:
Korver read the coverage like LeBron and adjusted to get open. The same is true for Love, who shook free for 27 points on 12-for-23 field-goal shooting. He found post-up match-ups he liked, spaced the floor and attacked the glass to score.
But much like James, Love didn’t always get the ball at an opportune time, which only reinforces the idea that perhaps James should monopolize the ball.
After all, he was very productive with 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds to tie Magic Johnson for most all-time triples doubles in Finals history. But one couldn’t help but notice he wore down as the game unfolded.
The Warriors play at a different pace compared to the rest of the league because of the numerous challenges they pose both offensively and defensively. The Dubs will throw a swarm of defenders at one ball handler (Kyrie) and hedge at the other on screens (LeBron).
They have the talent, mental acuity and bodies to do so on each and every possession for a full 48 minutes. The Dubs are a high-octane machine built to play any possible style.
They can play big with Durant at small forward or downsize and put him at power forward/center, where he can easily defend opposing bigs and protect the paint (five blocks in Game 2). Their litany of two-way players (Thompson, Durant, Green, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala) make them a nightmare team that few might be able to best in the next few years if the roster remains intact.
This is what the new version of basketball looks like folks and embrace it. Five players operating with a singular purpose and one shared vision of the floor.
This is what basketball was meant to look like.