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NBA PM: The Most Disappointing Teams So Far

Which teams have been the most disappointing a quarter into the NBA season? Alex Kennedy shares his thoughts.

Alex Kennedy

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The Most Disappointing Teams Thus Far

Phil Jackson used to say that an NBA team shouldn’t be judged until 20 games into a season. Well, we’re now at the 20-game mark and there are a number of teams that can be labeled as early disappointments. Here are the four biggest disappointments thus far:

Charlotte Hornets, 5-15: Entering this season, the Hornets had some lofty goals, but they’ve failed to live up to expectations in a big way through their first 20 games.

Last year, Charlotte won 43 games and made the playoffs for just the second time in their franchise’s history led by their defense, which was ranked sixth-best in the NBA. Going into the 2014-15 season, the Hornets were expected to be even better since they had one year of experience under head coach Steve Clifford, young players who were one year closer to their prime and veteran additions such as Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Jason Maxiell, Brian Roberts as well as first-rounders Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston. Charlotte seemed poised to be a top team in the Eastern Conference and take the next step as a franchise.

Now, at 5-15, that obviously hasn’t happened. The Hornets are outside of the playoff picture in the East, with the 12th-best record in the conference. They recently had a 10-game losing streak and they’ve already lost to non-playoff teams like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. The biggest head-scratcher is that their defense has been awful, ranking 25th in the NBA. Couple that with their 26th-ranked offense and it’s obvious why this team is struggling.

Stephenson has been extremely underwhelming on offense, averaging just 10.4 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three-point range. His body language has also been terrible, particularly when he doesn’t get the ball.

Charlotte’s first 20 games have been so bad that the front office is reportedly looking at their trade options. Fortunately for the Hornets, they play in the East so they still have a shot at the postseason – they are only four games back from the eighth seed – but they’ll need to turn things around quickly in order to compete for a playoff berth.

Detroit Pistons, 3-18: Stan Van Gundy is an exceptional head coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. That’s what we’ve learned in the early stages of the 2014-15 season, as the Pistons continue to struggle and appear headed for their sixth-straight trip to the lottery.

When Van Gundy was hired as Detroit’s head coach and president of basketball operations, many people were excited and felt like this could catapult the Pistons into the playoffs in the wide open Eastern Conference. However, Detroit has lost 18 of their 21 games and currently have the second-worst record in the East (behind only the Philadelphia 76ers, who are putting on a tanking clinic). The Pistons are ranked 29th in the NBA in offense and 19th in defense, so they obviously have a long way to go until they’re able to be competitive. This team seems to have regressed from last year, which is tough to do coming off of a 29-win season.

While the hire will likely pay off in the future, Van Gundy hasn’t been able to turn this roster into a winner just yet. The trio of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe continues to struggle together, while Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been shooting the ball very poorly and playing inefficient basketball.

It seems like Van Gundy will need to make major changes to this roster in order to be successful, since the current group of players aren’t executing his system well. It’s worth noting that Van Gundy inherited many of these core players, so it’ll be interesting to see what the roster looks like after this season when the team will have his fingerprints all over it. Going forward, he should have more cap flexibility so he can build the roster to his liking. Monroe will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and Smith has been mentioned in trade rumors, so their frontcourt could undergo some significant changes soon.

Perhaps the biggest individual disappointment in Detroit has been Drummond, who many expected to break out this season and thrive under Van Gundy. However, the big man has averaged just 11.4 points and 11.7 rebounds, while shooting 47 percent from the field (all of which are down from last season’s numbers). He’s also averaging a career-worst 3.7 fouls and 1.7 turnovers while playing fewer minutes. Drummond is only 21 years old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to realize his full potential as a dominant center, but he has left a lot to be desired so far this year.

This down year has been a disappointment, but it could allow Van Gundy and the Pistons to get a top pick in the loaded 2015 NBA Draft and right the ship rather quickly with a talented young core.

New York Knicks, 4-18: The Knicks weren’t expected to be a contender this season, but many thought they’d be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. After re-signing Carmelo Anthony, hiring head coach Derek Fisher to install the triangle offense and adding players like Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Samuel Dalembert, Quincy Acy and Shane Larkin among others, fans in New York were hoping they’d return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year.

This seemed realistic, since the Eastern Conference is wide open and just two years ago this Knicks squad with many of the same players managed to win 54 games and finish as the East’s second seed. When New York opened their season with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, fans were even more optimistic.

However, since that win they’ve lost 18 of 21 games and dropped near the bottom of the east standings. New York is currently ranked 27th in defense and 22nd in offense. The Knicks have struggled with the adjustment to the triangle offense, and head coach Derek Fisher recently said that his players aren’t trusting the triangle and doubting whether the system is right for this team.

“I think there still is some doubt that we can do this the way we’re working on doing it,” Fisher said, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York. “When the pressure goes up, the stress goes up, the tendency to revert to old habits and not sticking with what you’re developing now [happens]. It’s understandable to be that way, but we just have to continue to stretch out the amount of time that we believe in what we’re doing. … [We need to] trust that the things we work on every day will work in good times and bad times.”

The Knicks have lost eight straight games and are the third-worst team in the East. They’ve lost to non-playoff teams like the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets.

Next offseason, Phil Jackson and the Knicks will have significant cap space so it’s very possible that things could turn around rather quickly for this franchise, but this season has certainly been a disappointment. Fortunately for the Knicks, the own their 2015 first-round pick, which looks to be a pretty high selection.

Denver Nuggets, 9-11: Last season, injuries depleted the Nuggets’ roster so it was no surprise that the team finished 36-46 and outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Entering this season, Denver was being picked as a team that could potentially make the playoffs now that they were completely healthy and had added some new contributors such as Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and Alonzo Gee among others.

However, Denver continues to struggle. The team is 9-11 and has been incredibly inconsistent this season. They had a six-game losing streak earlier in the year and they are currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak that could go on for quite awhile since their upcoming games are at Toronto Raptors, vs. Miami HEAT, at Houston Rockets, vs. San Antonio Spurs, vs. Houston Rockets and vs. Los Angeles Clippers.

Denver is currently ranked 23rd in defense and 16th in offense, which isn’t a combination that will get it done in the Western Conference, where they’re in 11th place.

Some people around the league have speculated that if Denver continues to struggle, they could be a team that looks to sell off some of their veteran pieces before February’s trade deadline. This could make sense, since they do have a lot of attractive assets that other teams may covet such as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye among others. Teams will certainly be calling the Nuggets if they continue losing.

Perhaps the most concerning thing about Denver’s early struggles is that a number of reports have come out indicating that there’s a lot of drama and tension behind the scenes. There was an ESPN report that the organization isn’t crazy about Faried and only extended him because their hand was forced. There was another report indicating that Lawson has butted heads with Coach Brian Shaw, with our own Steve Kyler adding that most of the roster has lost faith in Shaw.

Things in Denver are ugly and, in addition to all of the losses, there seems to be a lot of finger pointing behind the scenes.

Which team has been the biggest disappointment, in your opinion? Leave your thoughts in a comment!

Lowry, Aldridge Named Players of the Week

The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Dec. 7.

Lowry led the Raptors to a 2-1 week behind an NBA-best 29.3 points. He handed out 8.7 assists, grabbed 3.0 rebounds and recorded 1.3 steals as Toronto won road games in Sacramento and Utah on back-to-back nights. On Dec. 3, when the Raptors topped the Jazz 123-104, Lowry recorded a career-high 39 points (13-of-22 field goals) and added five rebounds and four assists.

Aldridge helped the Trail Blazers to a 3-0 week, which included road wins at Denver and New York. He ranked third in the league in scoring (27.0 ppg) and sixth in rebounding (11.7 rpg). Aldridge posted a point-rebound double-double in all three contests, including a 39-point, 11-rebound effort on Dec. 2, as the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 105-103.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Dallas’ Monta Ellis, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Orlando’s Tobias Harris, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Washington’s John Wall.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Knicks Youth Movement Is In Full Effect

Will the French Prince, Super Mario and Skinny Shaq affect change in New York? Drew Maresca dives into the future of the Knicks.

Drew Maresca

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The Knicks are among the most polarizing teams in the NBA. They reside in the country’s biggest market, and their fans regularly see the world through rose-colored glasses, but the team seems unable to avoid controversy.  Over the years, the team has been involved in scandals and negative news coverage – from Isiah Thomas to Phil Jackson and everything in between.

Yet, the tide seems to be turning for the Knicks. The organization’s management team seems to be making sound decisions based on logic and rationale – a rarity as of late in New York.  The team has built a young and talented roster predicated on upside, which boasts seven lottery picks selected between 2013 and 2018.

Organizations must build teams that not only compete, but engage the fans and give them hope that the team will continue to improve. While we all know that young players rarely reach their full potential, a team with a good amount of young talent is more entertaining than team of predictable veterans – and for good reason.

If a young team’s talent materializes as expected, you’re often times dealing with a contender. Unfortunately, and far too often, players don’t mature as expected. In some instances, teams give up on players a year or two too soon and trade away stars-to-be. Injuries also play a role in untapped potential.

The Knicks are approaching that inflection point. They spent the past two off-seasons collecting young, and sometimes discarded, players. With Kristaps Porzingis out until at least Christmas (although likely longer), this is the season to determine what they have. Specifically, three players should be of particular interest to the Knicks front office: Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Mario Hezonja.

Prior to this past NBA Draft, Ntilikina was the most recent youngster with the weight of New York on his shoulders. He enters the 2018-19 season having grown to 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, up one inch inch approximately 10 pounds. The guard should take nicely to head coach David Fizdale’s positionless philosophy considering his size, defensive versatility and instincts. The knock on Ntilikina last season was that it seemed as though he was thinking instead of reacting on the offensive end of the court. More than any one skill, he needed to develop confidence in himself and his decision-making.

With that being said, Ntilikina played with much more confidence this summer. According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, Knicks rookie Kevin Knox said Ntilikina instinctively attacked the pick and roll during offseason pickup games. This news is welcome to the Knicks organization, who certainly need Ntilikina to develop into a playmaker.

Ntilikina is well aware of the criticisms leveled against him. He says he plans to shoot the ball without hesitation when left open this year. If Ntilikina can put pressure on opposing defenses, be it by driving on pick and rolls or spot-up shooting, he becomes exponentially more versatile. That, in conjunction with his defensive abilities, makes him all the more valuable, especially considering he can now play three or four positions– a ridiculous versatility considering he was drafted as a point guard.

The popularity of second-round picks has grown over the past decade or so. There was a time when they were an afterthought. Now, fans and front offices alike are hopeful that their second-round pick will grow into the next Draymond Green or Manu Ginobili. But remember, there is a reason that players slip into the second round. It does not mean they aren’t talented. It usually means that there are question marks around a player’s physical or mental health, work ethic or other factors at hand.

Cue Mitchell Robinson. Robinson is an unusual case in that there was a limited amount of information about him entering the 2018 NBA Draft. Robinson exited high school in 2017 as the No. 11 ranked player in ESPN’s top 100, ironically just one spot behind Knox. But his draft stock was badly affected by his decision to unenroll from Western Kentucky, thus limiting his visibility with NBA scouts. It was further hurt by his representation’s decision to pull him from the combine – a major impetus for the firing of his agent and signing with John Spencer. Still, when the Knicks selected him with the thirty-sixth overall pick – the hype immediately began to mount.

First came the summer league. Robinson averaged four blocks and a steal to go along with his 13 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. Trey Burke recently added fuel to the fire at media day, comparing Robinson’s athleticism and explosiveness to a younger, skinner Shaquille O’Neal. While those are big shoes to fill for any rookie, it speaks volumes that Burke thinks so highly of Robinson’s talent. And while Burke wouldn’t be the first NBA player to incorrectly gauge a teammate’s abilities, the comparison speaks to how Robinson’s impact is being felt.

Will Robinson make an impact immediately? Probably not consistently. But his upside is enough to make Knicks fans look to the future with excitement. If he can tap into his potential, he could grow into a player similar in nature to DeAndre Jordan or Clint Capela. That kind of a player can most certainly contribute to the success of the Knicks now and into the future.

Last, but not least, we have the rehabilitation project: Mario Hezonja. Hezonja was drafted fifth overall by then-assistant Orlando Magic general manager Scott Perry, just one spot behind Knicks All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. The young Crotian came to the NBA with such high expectation that some felt he, not Porzingis, was the right pick for the Knicks in 2015.

Perry, now the New York GM, was bullish on the prospect of bringing Hezonja to New York given their relationship and history. Greg Logan of Newsday reports that Perry still believes in Hezonja’s potential – as he should. Hezonja hasn’t put it together consistently enough to warrant much praise, but he’s shown flashes of both his shooting ability as well as his explosiveness, which are the reasons why he was viewed so favorably as a top prospect.

Hezonja can hit shots consistently, but he is also a fearless penetrator who can initiate offense for others in the pick and roll and finish strongly over defenders. He has many of the skills needed to succeed in the NBA. A change of scenery could be exactly what Hezonja needs to succeed.

And in addition to his potential, Hezonja seems happy to mentor the younger Knicks, especially Ntilikina. He singled Ntilikina out at media day, alluding to the fact that he will gladly show the 19-year old the ropes (and pitfalls) of NBA life. Hezonja sounds like a well-adjust veteran, despite being only 23 years old. He seems genuinely excited to be in New York and appears totally bought in to the culture Fizdale has already implemented. It’s early yet, but the Hezonja-Knicks marriage could be a good long-term fit.

While the abundance of youth doesn’t lead to much optimism pertaining to the Knicks’ success this season, it certainly speaks to their potential. The Knicks have the aforementioned high-upside guys on the roster, along with others like the highly-touted Knox, Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Alonzo Trier. The Knicks are finally on the right track to team building. Gone are the days of chasing (and missing on) free agent additions. The team has learned from its mistakes and now seems to understand the impact that future picks and recycled first-rounders can have.

While it has been challenging to ramp up for the rebuild, the next step is no easier – which is to identify keepers on a roster full of young and talented players. But regardless of how difficult the process is, the organization and its fans should feel optimistic about the future and confident that New York has the right pieces in place.

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NBA Daily: Grant Sees Breakout Coming In Year Four

Now in Orlando with a new team, Jerian Grant feels that it’s his time to shine.

Spencer Davies

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After two seasons with the Chicago Bulls, point guard Jerian Grant has moved southeast. The Orlando Magic will be the 25-year-old’s third team in four years as he seeks out a permanent home in the NBA.

He’s already loved everything about the experience with his next ball club.

“I just needed a new environment,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think it was good for me. I got to talk to coach [Steve Clifford] right away and went to lunch with him and we got to talk basketball. It was just a great feeling.”

The 2017-18 campaign had its fair share of ups and downs for Grant. At the beginning and middle of the year, Fred Hoiberg counted on him to fill in for an injured Kris Dunn—and he did his job during his teammate’s absence.

As a starter, Grant put up solid numbers. He knocked 37.1 percent of his threes, had a 55.9 true shooting percentage and hit 82.1 percent of his free throws.

He only got better with more floor time, too. In the 15 games he played between 30-39 minutes, Grant averaged 12.6 points, 6.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. In the lone game that he played over 40 minutes—47 to be exact—Grant scored 22 points and dished out 13 dimes to go with five rebounds and two steals.

Understanding the chance to potentially compete for a starting job with longtime veteran D.J. Augustin, the upstart Grant is banking on making this the first step to earning his spot.

“It’s very important,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think 80 percent of the game is confidence and opportunity—putting those two things together and doing it well.”

Over the last few months, Grant has gotten to know Orlando’s coaching staff and the players he’ll be sharing the hardwood with. He’s looking to do “a little bit of everything.”

Perhaps unlike any of his former teammates, Grant has the luxury of youth and athleticism all around to complement his skill set. Guys like Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and hyped up rookie big man Mohamed Bamba are going to be constantly around the rim. Whether it’s a hustle play grabbing an offensive rebound or running the floor, Grant can’t wait to give one of those guys a high-handoff.

“It’s a different feeling being able to toss the ball towards the rim,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just guys [have] to go get it and put it in there.”

Speaking for himself, though, Grant is searching for that breakout season. He has been in this league long enough to have garnered real experience. He’s racked up plenty of minutes over a career that’s still just getting started. If you’re not sure about his learning curve, allow the man to provide a stern reminder of how he handles his business.

“For me, I was never a one-year guy, one-and-done or two years and done like my brother or three years and done like [Victor Oladipo],” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I did all four years in college, so I get better every year and I feel like this is the year where it’s time to show it.

It took some time for Grant to find his identity at Notre Dame, just like it took a bit for Oladipo to discover his niche at Indiana University. The two have been close since their days at DeMatha High School in Maryland.

To many, Oladipo caught the world’s eye last season with the Pacers. It was an unforgettable season and a terrific step towards superstardom.

As he’s watched his friend grow into this great player, Grant is aiming for a similar surge with the Magic.

It’s his time to shine now.

“I’ve seen him grow as a player and get better every year,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “That’s just something that we do. We put in the work and we get better, so I’m looking forward to being able to show it during my opportunity this season.”

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Golden State Warriors 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Golden State Warriors have been the top team in the West for the last four years and with year five with this core group together on deck, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Warriors in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave all summer, you’re probably aware that DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the Golden State Warriors. No, the Warriors didn’t trade Klay Thompson or Draymond Green to acquire Cousins. Rather, the Warriors signed him to one-year, $5 million contract as a result of the Achilles injury that sidelined him late last season and scared teams away from making significant, long-term offers for his services. Cousins will continue rehabbing for the first few months of the season. While he won’t offer any immediate help, he could be a big-time difference maker in the postseason if he is able to return to even 75 percent of his pre-injury form during the regular season.

Aside from Cousins, the Warriors re-signed Kevin Durant to a two-year $61.5 million contract with a player option on the final season. Additionally, the Warriors made some changes around the edges of the roster, while returning each of their star players. Basically, the Warriors enter the upcoming season as the overwhelming favorites to win the championship and could be more dangerous than ever with Cousins working his way back from his injury.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Adding Cousins has tremendous upside but my prediction is that he won’t have the major impact that many people expect. Even if Cousins is healthy, he doesn’t necessarily fit with the Warriors’ starting lineup. If he accepts a role as the offensive leader of the bench unit, I think he could wreak havoc against opposing second units. But it’s hard for me to imagine Cousins embracing that role if he is anywhere close to full strength. In the starting lineup, Cousins would struggle to keep up with the pace of the offense, would likely become a ball-stopper, would demand the ball in the post frequently and would take a lot of ill-advised three-pointers. I could be wrong about all of this of course. Cousins could embrace the Warriors’ pass-first mentality and make the team an unstoppable force on offense. But based on Cousins’ history, I think it’s fair to be skeptical.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

What kind of world is it to live in as a franchise when you can sign an All-Star starter from last season in free agency, and your title odds aren’t impacted whatsoever? Only the Warriors could tell us. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins is coming off a potentially devastating Achilles tear that few have ever come back the same from, but the sheer star power of this roster got even more overwhelming over the offseason. There might be rising powers in the East in Boston and Toronto, and the Rockets will try to run things back for another shot at the crown, but make no mistake: The Warriors are the runaway title favorites, and only significant injuries or other major catastrophe can change that. At this point, the offseason might be more intriguing for this franchise than the actual basketball itself.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

Need we say more about what the Warriors are capable of? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, they are the clear-cut favorites to three-peat. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson continue to be the Splash Brothers. Kevin Durant understands what he needs to do in order to win ball games on a nightly basis. Draymond Green is more than just a glue guy these days who is as suffocating of a defensive player as anybody else in the NBA. Oh, and Golden State just added a four-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins who is aiming for a maximum deal next offseason when he returns to the floor. Good luck to those who are trying to take down this dynasty!

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

Just when you thought the league’s best team couldn’t get any more unstoppable. The Warriors come into this season as the league’s reigning champion that somehow landed a multi-time all-star to fill in their one weakness at center. There isn’t much else to say about the Warriors that hasn’t already been said. They have arguably the most talented NBA roster of all time, playing with at least two of the NBA’s most talented offensive players of all time still in the prime of their careers. This team could slack enough in the regular season to get the eighth seed and STILL be the overwhelming favorite in the loaded Western Conference. The Warriors are so good that DeMarcus Cousins could flop badly – a real possibility coming off that Achilles injury – and it wouldn’t hurt them at all. The Warriors are that just that unfathomably good.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

It was hard to envision how the Warriors could get better, and then the unimaginable happened, a dry market place collided with a major injury to a player with a spotty and checkered past – the end result is the Warriors got an All-Star Center in DeMarcus Cousins for peanuts. Yes, he’ll likely miss most of the year, but if he’s back in the post-season the Warriors may not have a peer in the NBA. The one thing that will catch the Warriors eventually is all those extra miles. Steph Curry has logged 2,596 playoffs minutes over the last four Finals runs. For perspective, Damian Lillard played 2,670 minutes in the regular season last year. All these runs to the NBA Finals will catch up at some point, and that is a real threat. On the surface, no one looks like they can seriously challenge the Warriors if healthy, the question is can they manage the workload enough to make sure they can stay that way?

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Durant

Durant is arguably the most devastating singular offensive force in the league. He’s roughly seven-feet tall, athletic, a deadly shooter from anywhere on the court, a good passer and can get his shot off in just about any situation. You can argue that Stephen Curry has a claim as the team’s top offensive player because he orchestrates the Warriors’ offense and generates easy scoring opportunities for his teammates more frequently than Durant. However, Durant gets the nod here for being the most lethal individual scorer and unstoppable offensive force in the NBA.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

On a team that features impact defenders like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant Shaun Livingston and Jordan Bell, Draymond Green still stands out as the team’s defensive ace. Green won Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, has earned NBA All-Defensive First Team three times (2015–2017), NBA All-Defensive Second Team once (2018) and led the NBA in steals in 2017.

Green is a unique defensive player. He isn’t a towering defender anchoring a team’s defender under the rim like Rudy Gobert. He isn’t a lockdown wing defender like Kawhi Leonard. Rather, Green is a barrel-chested forward who can guard a point guard beyond the three-point line, stick with players as big as LeBron James as they attack the rim, guard opposing centers in the post and block shots as a weak side shot blocker. Green can effectively defend all five positions and is the glue that keeps the Warriors’ defense together. He even plays center for periods in the Warriors’ well-known “Death Lineup,” which is a nightmare matchup for opponents on both ends of the court.

Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry

Steph Curry may not tally the most assists per game in the Association, but he is one of the NBA’s best ball-handlers, one of its best passers and one of its top overall playmakers. Durant’s presence makes the Warriors’ offense consistently imposing, but it’s Curry who can turn it into a well-orchestrated, high octane flurry of backdoor passes, open three-pointers and layups at the rim. Curry can get a little too caught up in the moment at times and start making ill-advised passes that lead to untimely turnovers. However, with Curry you are more than happy to take the good with the bad.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant

The Warriors have a lot of options in this category. Klay Thompson can go off for multiple three-pointers in key moments of close games. Curry has a history of knocking down exceedingly difficult shots in clutch situations. But Durant is the guy who can pull up on a player as long and athletic as Giannis Antetokounmpo and still shoot right over him as if no one was in front of him. Durant is the guy who can’t be locked down by any individual defensive player. You can run every trick in the book to keep Durant from scoring on you in a clutch situation, but more often than not he is going to get a good look and often times bury a clutch shot over multiple defenders. I won’t argue too much if you go with Curry on this one. But with the game on the line, I am putting the ball in Durant’s hands.

The Unheralded Player: Andre Iguodala

Consider this: On a team featuring Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant and several capable backups and role players, the Warriors and their fans were fretting over the injury to Andre Iguodala that limited him in last season’s playoffs. With so much talent, it would be easy to think that Iguodala is a luxury to have but not a necessity – like icing on a cake. If you talk to the Warriors’ players, however, they would push back on that idea. Iguodala is no longer the lockdown defender he once was and is a streaky offensive player. But he executes his role on both ends of the court consistently, is a capable defender and seems to always make the right play. When it was reported that Iguodala would not be able to play in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Steve Kerr gave his thoughts on what the team would be missing without Iguodala.

“He’s a great defender,” Kerr said of Iguodala. “He’s an organizer. He’s a guy who settles us down. He continuously makes the right play. We’ll miss all of that.” That pretty much sums up what you need to know about Iguodala and his importance to this stacked team.

Best New Addition: DeMarcus Cousins

Yes, Cousins is coming off of a devastating injury that has derailed the careers of top players in the past. For the Warriors, it doesn’t really matter. They are still adding a superstar center to a team that can thrive without him and become truly unstoppable with him if he makes a full recovery. Some are concerned that Cousins could add some toxicity to the Warriors’ locker room, but this is a team full of veteran superstars and disciplined role players. If any team can handle Boogie in the locker room, it’s the Warriors. There is just so much upside to this move that it’s hard to focus too much on the potential downsides. If Cousins has a great season and helps the Warriors win another championship, it is all but guaranteed he will get a big contract from another team and will move on after this season. That would still be ideal for the Warriors, who are happy to have his services even for just this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Quinn Cook

After going undrafted in 2015, bouncing around the G-League and being signed and waived by several NBA teams, Cook finally found a home last season with the Golden State Warriors. Cook has shown significant improvement in every facet of his game since he left Duke and is now a very capable backup guard. He averaged 9.5 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three-point range in 33 regular season games last season. Cook filled in whenever injuries sidelined his teammates and did an admirable job. He is not an elite passer or playmaker, but he is capable of starting when necessary to do so and is a team-first player. He also is playing on an extremely team-friendly contract.

2. Bob Myers

Bob Myers is, in large part, responsible for the Warriors’ recent run of success. He was named the team’s general manager in 2012 and has been instrumental in drafting key players, executing major transactions and instilling a culture of inclusion in the Warriors’ front office, which has altogether resulted in a historically talented roster. Myers has had a lot of help along the way, but it can’t be overstated how much of a positive impact he has made as the team’s top executive. Give Myers credit for making bold moves that have paid off in a major way – the most recent being the addition of Cousins.

3. Shaun Livingston

I have followed Livingston’s career closely since he was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004. From his early career, to the nearly career-ending knee injury, to his journey through the G-League, to his championship runs with the Warriors – Livingston has always carried himself as a true pro (though he did have an unfortunate encounter with a referee last season). Livingston is another veteran presence for the Warriors and always does what the team asks of him.

Livingston is kind of an anomaly in the modern NBA. He isn’t a threat from three-point range and makes most of his offensive impact from mid-range. Livingston isn’t great at any single thing but, like Iguodala, always seems to make the right play at the right time.

4. Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr has quickly established himself as one of the best head coaches in the NBA. He is a strong tactician and strategist, communicates effectively with his players and has somehow managed to maintain balance on a team stacked with superstar talent and large egos. I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking issue with his, at times, confusing rotations. But any shortcoming with Kerr is largely outweighed by his abilities both as a strategist and a manager of a locker room featuring some big personalities.

– Jesse Blancarte

STRENGTHS

This team has more star talent than probably any NBA team ever assembled. Two All-Star players could be sidelined and this team would still probably have more star talent than any opponent it faces on any given night. And beyond the star talent, the Warriors feature several players who can effectively fill in and keep things moving along without any major setbacks.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

The Warriors aren’t any more susceptible to injuries than any other team. But injuries have been a concern over the last few years, especially leading up to the postseason. If this were NBA 2K and injuries were taken off, this Warriors team could probably win 75 regular season games. But in the real world, injuries could cost this team anywhere from five to 10 games in any given season.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

What impact will DeMarcus Cousins have this season?

I have previously mentioned my concerns regarding what kind of impact Cousins is likely to have this season. It’s clear that if healthy, Cousins could make this team nearly unstoppable. But if injuries are a lingering concern, and if Cousins doesn’t want to embrace a role more fit for a Sixth Man, things could get awkward in Golden State. I am confident that the Warriors can handle a scenario in which Cousins becomes a distraction. But this situation will be a focal point of attention until we get some clarity on what role Cousins can and will play for the Warriors this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

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