Warriors’ Bench More Than Just ‘The Others’

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A quick look at the 2017 Golden State Warriors’ resume would suggest that the team is not as good as it was a year ago. After adding Kevin Durant and getting rid of a few key players, Golden State won six fewer games in an arguably weaker Western Conference.

Perhaps it was too much to ask for the Warriors to improve after setting a record with 73 regular-season victories and having the first-ever unanimous MVP. But a closer examination of the numbers suggests that Golden State is even better than last season’s historic team.

The oddsmakers certainly seem to think the Warriors didn’t take a step back in 2017. They began the playoffs with 1/2 odds to win the NBA Finals, as opposed to last year when Golden State was a 2/3 championship favorite. Part of that has to do with the fact that the San Antonio Spurs aren’t perceived as the same threat they were in 2016, though there are a few reasons to believe the 2017 Warriors are the best team in franchise history.

Golden State led the NBA in point differential last season, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.8 points on a nightly basis. The Warriors managed to improve in that area in 2017, recording an 11.6 point differential and winning 11 of their final 15 regular-season games by at least 12 points.

Even after the Warriors led the league in scoring and shattered various records for three-point shooting, Golden State somehow managed to improve offensively. They went from scoring 112.5 points to 113.2 points per 100 possessions, ranking first in offensive efficiency for a second straight year.

The improvement on offense, however, didn’t come at the expense of the defense. Golden State’s defensive efficiency rating took the slightest dip (100.9 to 101.1), and relative to the rest of the NBA, the Warriors actually improved on defense. Golden State finished second in defensive efficiency in 2017, allowing just 0.2 more points per 100 possessions than the Spurs. In 2016, the Warriors tied with two other teams for fourth in that category, finishing 4.3 points per 100 possessions behind No.1 San Antonio.

Of course, the most obvious reason why the Warriors are better is the signing of Kevin Durant. Golden State kept their three All-Stars, including the back-to-back MVP winner, and somehow added a player that was better than anyone on their roster.

Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter the NBA has ever seen, and he can certainly be counted among the league’s true superstars. But make no mistake, Durant is the Warriors’ best player.

The two stars put up similar numbers in their first season playing on the same team. Curry and Durant had nearly the exact same scoring average, though Durant took almost two fewer shots per game. The much taller Durant almost doubled Curry’s rebounding numbers, while the point guard averaged more assists.

The biggest difference between the stars comes on the defensive end. Curry is one of the best players in the league at recording steals, but there are times when he is a liability at the other end of the floor. Durant, on the other hand, is a terrific rim protector, proving valuable even when he is struggling with his shot.

Look no further than the 2016 Western Conference Finals when Durant’s defense helped change the complexion of the series. Oklahoma City won three of the series’ first four games against Golden State as Durant was able to stifle Draymond Green, as well as altering the shots of Curry and Klay Thompson when they looked to score in the paint.

“KD guarded me that series,” Green said on the Nov. 21 edition of “The Vertical Podcast with Woj.” “He was all over me. He was incredible defensively that series.”

Green averaged 11.3 points on 35.4 percent shooting in seven games against Durant and the Thunder, averaging just 4.3 assists after recording 7.4 dimes per game in the regular season. Durant averaged 2.3 blocks and 2.3 steals in Oklahoma City’s three victories.

Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant makes the 2017 Golden State Warriors better than last year's team that won a record 73 games. Pictured: Durant dribbles the basketball against Portland Trail Blazers guard Evan Turner in Game 1 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California on April 16, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Durant and Zaza Pachulia have upgraded Golden State’s starting lineup by replacing Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. The team’s bench is a little bit weaker, but the difference has been negligible.

Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston were Golden State’s first two players off the bench in 2016, and they are back for another playoff run. Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush have been replaced by David West, Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw. JaVale McGee is getting the minutes that once went to Marreese Speights, and the seven-footer is one of the league’s most improved players.

None of this is to say that the Warriors should be penciled in as your 2017 NBA champions. Golden State still faces plenty of obstacles in the playoffs, including the uncertain health of head coach Steve Kerr and Durant’s recent injuries.

Winning the title would likely have to include beating a 61-win Spurs team that is led by an ever-improving Kawhi Leonard, who is making the case to be recognized as the NBA’s second-best player. Leonard, Durant and the rest of the league are still chasing LeBron James, who ended the Warriors’ title hopes last year and will probably be back in the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year.

When Golden State is at full strength, they might be the single greatest team since the 1996 Chicago Bulls. While the debate surrounding the 2016 and 2017 Warriors could last throughout the playoffs, this year’s group can end the discussion by winning a championship and doing what last season’s team could not.

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Source : http://www.ibtimes.com/why-2017-golden-state-warriors-are-better-last-years-73-win-team-2529774

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