Golden State is going to win their second title in three years. Believe it or not, the Warriors are actually better positioned to win it all than last year’s 73-win squad. But this team “only” won 67 games, and they “struggled” to integrate Kevin Durant into the offense without sacrificing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s elite scoring abilities. Sure…
Here’s the thing about what some might call a “disappointing season” for Golden State. They won at least 67 games for the third straight season, good for a combined record of 207-39 over that timeframe. That’s the greatest three-year stretch in NBA history. OK, so they declined by six wins this year. Their point differential, however, somehow got noticeably better, jumping up from an already staggering +10.8 points per game to +11.6. Their margin of victory improved as well, increasing by over three points to an unbelievable 17-point average. Think about that: The Warriors win their typical game by close to 20 points.
Adding Kevin Durant has obviously helped matters. Thanks to KD’s masterfully efficient season, in which he set a career high for effective field goal percentage (.594), the Warriors’ offense improved on their historic 2015-16 campaign. They’ve been better on a per 100 possession basis (113.2 offensive efficiency vs 112.5). They’ve shot the ball better (56.3% effective field goal percentage vs 55.5%). And, most notably, they’ve averaged more points per game (115.9 vs 114.9).
The fact that the Warriors recently ripped off a thirteen game-winning streak without Durant confirms how unstoppable they are. I’d feel confident that Golden State could still win it all this season with relative ease even if KD did not return. However, let’s not forget how everyone was questioning whether the Warriors could even win the West after they dropped five out of seven games immediately following Durant’s knee injury. In other words, there’s a bit of recency bias that has caused us to lose sight of how the Warriors are obviously better with Durant. With the four-time scoring champion on the floor this season, they have averaged roughly 16 more points per 100 possessions and have been nine points better overall.
But here’s the main reason why Golden State is a lock to win the title this June: They’ve gotten better while their two main competitors have gotten worse. The Cavaliers were 23-23 over their last 46 games and finished with an overall point differential per game lower than the Utah Jazz. This isn’t to say they won’t still win the East (they will). But there is no question that they are not the threat they were last season. And with a defense that ranks 22nd in efficiency, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs stopping Curry and company this time around.
The Spurs also are not as formidable this season. Their point differential was essentially the same as Golden State’s last season, but it has declined by close to four points per game in ’16-’17. They are also still fatally weak at the guard position. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are on their last legs and have nowhere near the defensive capabilities to slow down both Curry and Klay Thompson. After all, Kawhi Leonard can only guard one person at a time. Plus, don’t expect Patty Mills or Danny Green to help in this regard, either.
Maybe Houston could emerge as the top threat to beat the Warriors. But of course, they’re not even a lock to get past San Antonio. Simply put, Golden State has another smooth path to the Western Finals. From there, they project to face an inferior Spurs team who, at last check, couldn’t hold a 22-point first quarter lead en route to losing by twelve to a Durant-less Warriors team. And then they’ll likely meet the Cavs for a third straight year. As mentioned, Golden State is even better offensively while Cleveland is significantly worse defensively. On top of that, I’d be remiss to mention that the Warriors also have the league’s 2nd best defense in terms of efficiency. I’m on record right now: LeBron and Kyrie won’t be enough to even take this year’s Finals to a sixth game.
So after a regular season in which it seemed as if things might not end as expected, it appears that everyone’s initial reactions after the Durant signing were correct. The Warriors will win the title come June. There’s no reason to expect any other outcome.