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The Case for Why the Warriors Can Repeat

The Warriors were an all-time great team last year and they aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

Alex Kennedy



When the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in June, doubters were hesitant to give them the credit and respect they deserve.

CurryKlayInside1Some felt that the Cleveland Cavaliers would’ve defeated them if their stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, had been healthy. Others believed that the Memphis Grizzlies would’ve beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals had they been at full strength (especially since they had a 2-1 lead over Golden State at one point). Then, there were some critics who pointed out that the Warriors were lucky they didn’t have to face either the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Clippers – two of the most talented teams in the West – at any point in the playoffs.

Some people even went so far as to suggest that, for some reason, the Warriors’ championship deserved an asterisk. This is crazy, of course, but it shows just how little respect Golden State was receiving.

Then, just weeks after the Warriors hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy, the basketball world shifted its collective focus to another contender in the West: the Spurs. After LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to a four-year contract with San Antonio on July 4, the Spurs started dominating headlines. The move – followed by the subsequent signing of David West – changed the landscape of the conference and many people started considering San Antonio the favorite to win the title next season. At the NBA’s Summer League, even fellow players were saying the Spurs may be unbeatable in a seven-game series.

Suddenly, the Warriors were being overlooked despite being the defending champs.

But it wasn’t just the Spurs stealing the spotlight from the Warriors. The Cavaliers were also being labeled a potential favorite since they’re bringing back all of their key players and should be much healthier (and more comfortable together in year two). The Clippers got some buzz as well after keeping their talented core intact and adding veterans like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith among others to improve their depth. The Oklahoma City Thunder received some love too since they are getting a hungry Kevin Durant back from injury and are adding a very good head coach in Billy Donovan to lead a roster that has always been very talented on paper.

One of the biggest reasons Golden State wasn’t mentioned more this offseason is because they didn’t make splashy additions. Instead, they spent much of this summer re-signing their own players to keep their title team together. Their biggest addition – power forward Jason Thompson – was acquired in August, but even that move didn’t turn many heads since the former Sacramento King is not a household name (although those who follow the NBA closely know he should help their frontcourt).

However, it must be noted that Golden State didn’t really need to make significant changes this summer because their roster is already ridiculously loaded. While it’s easy to forget since everyone is so focused on other contenders, the 2014-15 Warriors were an all-time great team.

That isn’t hyperbole; the Warriors were just that dominant. Golden State won 67 games last year, which is tied for the sixth-most regular season wins in NBA history. Come playoff time, they won 16 of their 21 postseason games and they never once faced elimination.

They destroyed their opponents on both ends of the court and, for much of the year, Golden State had the NBA’s No. 1 ranked defense (allowing just 98.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 ranked offense (scoring 109.7 points per 100 possessions). As noted, the Warriors were “just the fourth team in NBA history to outperform the league average by six points of efficiency on one side of the ball (offense) and by four points on the other (defense).”

And Golden State didn’t just beat teams, they annihilated them. The Warriors were only the eighth team in NBA history to finish a season with a double-digit point differential. And, according to Basketball-Reference, their schedule-adjusted points-per-game margin ranked seventh best all-time.

But here’s the most compelling evidence: has a comprehensive stat called Elo rating, which factors in every game – win or loss – a team plays in the regular season and postseason while also taking into account win margins, strength of opponents, where the game was played and more. According to Elo rating, the Warriors were the third-best team in NBA/ABA history behind only the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls and 1995-96 Bulls. And the gap between Golden State’s Elo rating (1796) and those Chicago teams (1802 and 1815, respectively) wasn’t very large.

So we’re talking about a Warriors team that has an argument as an all-time great squad, yet their title was discredited by many and few people are predicting that they’ll repeat as champions this year because other teams look good on paper.

And the scariest thing about this Warriors team is that all signs point to them sustaining this level of success and, in fact, they may even be better in the 2015-16 season.

DraymondGreenInside1As terrific as Steve Kerr was in his first season as a coach, he should be even better in his second season at the helm of the Warriors since he’ll have valuable experience and his players will be more comfortable playing for him now that they’ve had a full season with him and his system. It’s unfortunate that they lost assistant Alvin Gentry, who accepted the New Orleans Pelicans’ head coaching job, but his concepts and mark on the team will remain.

Also, it’s worth noting that the average age of the Warriors’ starting five is only 26 years old. Yes, this is a team that may still be developing. Klay Thompson (25), Draymond Green (25), Harrison Barnes (23) and Festus Ezeli (25) are very young and they have each been in the NBA just four seasons or less. Also, the reigning MVP Stephen Curry is just now entering his prime at 27 years old.

In other words, Golden State could actually improve on last year’s historically great season if their young players continue to make progress, the addition of Jason Thompson helps their frontcourt and year two under Steve Kerr goes even better since there’s familiarity and everyone knows what’s expected of them.

There’s no question that it’s difficult for a team to repeat as champions, but this Warriors squad may have a better shot than most title winners given their age, well-rounded style of play and, of course, extraordinary talent.

But there’s another (less obvious) reason that Golden State could repeat: the fact that they haven’t been getting the credit or respect they deserve, as I mentioned earlier.

Most teams that win the title start getting cocky or complacent, which can lead to the “championship hangover” that we often hear about in sports. However, this Warriors team has had a very different post-title experience. They’ve watched as their accomplishments have been diminished. They’ve watched as they were replaced in the spotlight almost immediately by other teams. They’ve watched as many people in the basketball community started labeling teams like the Spurs and Cavaliers as next season’s favorites, completely overlooking them in the process.

Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, who joined the Basketball Insiders Podcast as a guest last week, brought this up. He predicted that Golden State will repeat as champions next season, stating that the players are motivated by all of this hate they’ve received and that they are determined to have an even stronger 2015-16 campaign.

“I’ve been around the Warriors a lot – living in the Bay Area – and being around those guys, I haven’t noticed anyone getting big headed [like some players get after winning a title],” Spears said on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. “I think the one thing that’s driving them is the fact that there’s been so much hate on their championship. Typically, after you win a title, people tell you how great you are. While there has been some of that and I do think they are enjoying their title, there’s also been so much hate. People are saying, ‘Well, if this team wasn’t hurt…’ or, ‘Well, if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love weren’t hurt…’ And perhaps there’s some truth to that, but the Warriors are still the champs. And I think they don’t feel like they’re getting respected as the champs, and I think that will fuel them.”

Draymond Green admitted that the team feels like they haven’t gotten the credit they deserve.

“I mean, I definitely think there is some disrespect going on,” Green told Basketball Insiders. “But at the end of the day, there will never be an asterisk next to our title in the record books, so it is what it is. And we don’t need any more motivation. We want to repeat, because the feeling of winning that championship was too good. So we don’t need anybody to say, ‘Oh, Cleveland is healthy!’ or, ‘The Spurs have done this and that!’ It is what it is; that’s the NBA. People make moves and people get hurt – that’s the game we play. At the end of the day, it is what it is, but that’s not going to motivate us because we were already motivated and we are looking forward to defending our title and trying to win another.”

To recap: This was a historically great team last year and they brought just about every key player back. They seem poised to keep improving given their age and increased familiarity with each other and their coach. Oh, and they’re still incredibly hungry and, quite frankly, pissed off that they’ve been doubted and overlooked.

Pick against the Warriors at your own risk.

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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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz



We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca



It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John



The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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