Preseason basketball is simultaneously the greatest and worst part of the prelude to the NBA season. The dust will settle on the offseason’s trades, retirements, signings, and international competitions (think the Olympics and FIBA tournaments). Then, the early-fall warmup games will offer hoops fans their first chance since the finals to see honest-to-goodness pro basketball players competing against each other. Emotionally invested supporters eagerly project a season’s worth of hopes, dreams, and aspirations on 48 minutes of, let’s be honest, garbage time.
Got a favorite rookie? One game can convince you that the lopsided draft-day trade was eminently justified. Your favorite bench player will finally break out this year. This will be the season that your team makes it out of the first round, and so on. Emotion laps logic and the fanatical root of fandom is in full effect.
So the stage was set for their opening season blowout: a brutal loss against Kawhi Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs that saw the team struggling to look like a shadow of the squad that nearly repeated as NBA Champions. And the Internet, predictably, melted down. Going 0-1 felt like going 0-82 to fans as well as some more easily swayed analysts. And that’s is why the Golden State Warriors will ‘suck’ — even as they (probably) come out on top of their conference, win 60-plus games, have players in serious contention for league MVP, and make a deep playoff run in the not-so-lonesome, definitely-crowded West.
Hang on, though. Didn’t the Dubs just score 120 points on their sometime rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers? They did it without any of their starters playing more than 25 minutes, right? How can you say they will be hard to watch when Kevin Durant debuted with 21 points, seven boards, and seven assists? Klay Thompson went for 30!
All of this is true. The Golden State Warriors stomped the Clippers so hard that you could mistake the final score for something your buddy posted in NBA2k17, rather than an honest-to-goodness NBA game with real life people. Another truth: Last year, the Clippers roasted the 73-win Warriors squad in the opening game of the preseason, winning 130-95. Who remembers that now? Nobody. Who remembers the first preseason game now that the season has officially started? Nobody.
The Dubs will, probably, not shoot 22% from deep for the whole season. They will, probably, figure out a way to less-awkardly mesh Kevin Durant with his new teammates. The Spurs looked phenomenal, to be sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Warriors have to be considered as the premier team in the West.
Golden State boasts the most-anticipated roster since reigning champion LeBron James left Cleveland and took his talents to South Beach. While Kevin, Steph, and Klay didn’t hold a press conference to say, “Not one, not two, not three,” the expectation remains the same. Golden State is an odds-on favorite to win the NBA title this season, and those odds didn’t appear out of nowhere.
In case you lived under a rock last June, the Golden State Warriors choked hard in the NBA Finals. They gave up a 3-1 series lead and handed Cleveland a much-needed championship (and crossed the last item off James’s NBA bucket list). Their remarkable season — one that saw them break the 72-win record set by the ’96 Chicago Bulls — became an afterthought. Consequently, the front office furiously began to brainstorm ways to bolster their squad.
Something else lost in the retelling: The Golden State Warriors nearly failed to make it to the finals at all, after a hard-fought series with the Oklahoma City Thunder — a series that often saw OKC looking like the better team. Their best player? None other than new Golden State forward Kevin Durant, who needs no introduction. On his worst day, Durant is one of the five best players in the league.
The seven-time NBA All-Star is the closest thing to a Hall of Fame lock you’ll find in the league today. That last qualifier, of course, is key. Durant is unquestionably the best active player without a ring. After spending close to a decade watching OKC’s ownership squander their opportunities to build (and keep) a winning team together in favor of toeing the luxury tax line, KD eventually bailed for greener pastures.
Above, you’ll see the Golden State Warriors’ shot chart for the 2016 NBA season. The blue color means a shot from that point on the floor was more accurate, across the team, than the league average. You’ll notice there’s a metric ton of blue on the chart, which is no accident; the Dubs did nothing quite so well as shoot the ball last year. (They were first in points per game as well as Offensive Rating last season.) Something that should only trend upward with KD waiting in the wing.
Those in the NBA used to think you could beat the Golden State Warriors by smothering Curry. However, this notion quickly lost effectiveness with the emergence of Klay Thompson. (Even that is an oversimplification, as the Dubs made it a point to go after players who are better passers than the average player at their positions — something that remains true for the 2016–17 squad as well.) It’s not unrealistic to assume that Golden State will present a matchup unlike one the NBA has ever seen in its 70-year history. But, as soon as they lose a game, the knives will come out in force.
Even with Durant, the Golden State Warriors will almost certainly not win 73 games this season. They may not even win 70. They definitely won’t win 80 and go on a “‘Fo-‘Fo-‘Fo” streak, in the parlance of Moses Malone. They won’t blow every opponent out by nearly 50 points per game. It’s entirely possible that they may win fewer games than, say, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
From the season’s opening on October 25 to the start of the playoffs in April, there will be enough hot takes about how the Dubs are doing to warm a small country. But, unless they start the season 50-1 and have the top three spots in the race for the NBA scoring title, nothing will quiet the doubters. It is, in many ways, literally impossible for the Warriors to make everyone happy.