July 8, 2016, 10:00 am
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors accomplished the unthinkable. Despite coach Steve Kerr’s early season absence, and former players laughing at the mere possibility, the team went 73-9, seizing the NBA’s regular season win record. Although chasing this accolade caught up to the Warriors eventually, as the team failed to defend their title and lost to LeBron James’ Cavs in the Finals, losing may have been in the long term interest of the franchise. Falling short of a championship set the stage for Kevin Durant to join the team on July 4th, forming perhaps the most terrifying super team in NBA history. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in Northern California.
The Warriors were a dominant championship team in 2014-15. While the Grizzlies and Cavs were each able to push them to six games in the playoffs, the Dubs ultimately faced little adversity on their road to Stephen Curry and Co.’s first title. The good times kept rolling through last summer, as the team was able to sign star power forward Draymond Green to a team friendly deal. The Warriors looked as primed as any team to repeat as champions.
No one could have predicted the extent of their success this season, however. Although Kerr started the season recovering from back surgery, and away from the team, the Warriors ripped off 24 straight wins before their first loss. This blistering pace ignited a debate that would follow them through the final game of the season: “Could any team get through an entire season with only nine losses?” In October and November, merely suggesting that Curry’s Dubs could unseat Jordan’s Bulls as the winningest teams was enough to elicit snickers from naysayers. But the team was indeed able to ride their historically great offense, and 4th most efficient defense, to 73 wins.
As astonishing as this accomplishment may have been, the events of this June left it with a permanent asterisk. In the end the Warriors lost in seven games to Cleveland, witnessing LeBron’s own attempts to silence critics and demons alike. The Warriors lost at Oracle to close out the series, something that had only happened twice during the entire regular season. It was a bitter moment for the organization and fans alike, but one that might prove to be one of the more positive developments in the history of the franchise.
Reeling from their loss in the finals, the Warriors entered perhaps the oddest free agency period in the history of the league. Between Steph Curry’s remarkable – at leas with the benefit of hindsight – contract and an unprecedented jump in the salary cap, the Warriors found themselves able to pursue the biggest stars available. And these events just so happened to coincide with a 27-year-old generational talent hitting the open market: enter Kevin Durant.
After a weekend of meeting with teams, Durant announced his decision to leave Oklahoma City and join the Warriors, forming not just another super team but perhaps the most dominant shooting team the league has ever seen. The 2016-17 Warriors will feature: the best shooter of all time (who is also the reigning two-time MVP), a second MVP and one of the more dominant scorers ever, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year finalist and the second best shooter currently in the league. It’s easy to point out that super teams often fail to live up to expectations, but the fit and shooting of next year’s Warriors should be a sight to behold. Buckle up.
It only took one season for Steve Kerr to prove himself as one of the NBA’s premier coaches. In his rookie season he kept in place the strong defensive principles left behind by Mark Jackson, and set to work establishing the motion based offense that’s since taken the league by storm. The most devastating aspect of the Warrior’s plan of attack rests in its simplicity. That’s not to say that Kerr is anything other than a top-flight strategist, but his most brilliant move was his willingness to cater to his players’ strengths.
Kerr emphasized pace of play, allowing the shooting of Steph and Klay Thompson to wreak havoc on opponents scrambling to track down their assignments on the fly. In the halfcourt he emphasized the Curry-Green pick and roll, encouraging Green to put the ball on the floor and utilize his playmaking when opposing players hedged out on Curry. These principles made the Warriors the most feared regular season team over the past two years.
Oh yeah, and they just added another top-3 player in Durant. Kerr’s coaching, and ability to play to his players strengths, is one of many reasons to assume this Warriors super team will be every bit as good as it appears on paper. Curry, Thompson and Green have all shown the ability, and willingness, to play off the ball, and Durant has reportedly pined for a more motion oriented system (we’ll leave passive aggressively subtweeting Russell Westbrook for another article). If anyone can make these pieces fit it’s Kerr, and his ability to do so will undoubtedly shape the 2016-17 season.
ADP: 2/2 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
It’s shocking to think back on the 2011-12 season and remember just how close we were to riding off Steph’s career. Not that anyone doubted his ability, but nagging ankle injuries had limited him to the extent that he signed a below-market extension with Golden State coming off his rookie deal. In fantasy he was considered so unreliable that he fell outside of the fourth round in ADP in 2012-13.
Fastforward to today, where Steph is coming off his fourth straight top-5 fantasy finish, and back-to-back MVPs in both fantasy and reality in each of the past two seasons. His blend of across the board production and elite shooting make him one of the more valuable fantasy assets in history. Owners – including this one – who passed on Curry in favor of Anthony Davis last season spent all of 2015-16 with a bitter taste in their mouths, and their frustration had a lot more to do with Chef Curry than Davis. While disappointing, Davis still contributed like a first round asset when he played, but Steph’s supernova was such a singular force that it was impossible to reconcile having let it slip through your fingers.
On the hardwood, Curry averaged 30.1 points (a career high), 5.1 triples (an NBA record), 5.4 boards, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals, all while shooting 50.4% from the floor and 90% from the line. The video game comparisons have been beaten to death, but if 2K spit out a simulated season with those splits you’d laugh. Curry won you threes outright, maintained the best free throw percentage in the league, was among the league leaders in steals and did it all while shooting like a seven-footer from the field. There isn’t much else to say, he was astonishing.
A week ago Curry was going to be the number one pick in every set of rankings published from now until October. He still might end up going that high, but Durant’s decision to join the Warriors has thrown the fantasy community into almost as much turmoil as the actual NBA (okay, not literally).
Adding Durant’s 30.2% usage rate into the equation muddies the waters for everyone on the Warriors. No matter how good this team looks on paper there is still only one basketball and only so many shots to go around. While neither Curry nor KD should see a massive slip in their numbers, fantasy owners might catch themselves looking at Westbrook or James Harden at the top of their boards instead of players destined to cannibalize one another.
ADP: 26/28 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 6/10 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 13/13 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
While Curry is undeniably Golden State’s best player, many NBA coaches cite Green’s flexibility on both ends of the court as an equally important ingredient in the team’s winning recipe. The same multidimensional skill set that allows Green to do so much for the Warriors also makes him an exceptionally valuable fantasy asset. He is the rare player that contributes in every single counting category, filling statistical holes for owners regardless of who else is on their roster.
This versatility is perhaps best encapsulated by the fact that Green doesn’t produce elite numbers in any one category, but is still a top-10 fantasy asset when his contributions are totaled up. In his 34.7 minutes per game, Green averaged 14 points, 1.2 threes, 9.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. The hardest categories to come by in fantasy are blocks, steals and threes because they are so rarely housed in a single player. For anyone to get you more than one of each is impressive, and Green does so while also chipping in more than seven assists as a power forward and center eligible player.
Of all the players up and down Golden State’s star-studded roster, Green strikes me as the least likely to see his numbers decline dramatically next season. There will be open shots galore for him playing off the ball, and Durant’s presence shouldn’t impact his defensive numbers one bit. Owners should feel safe grabbing him in the late first or early second round next fall.
ADP: 12/13 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 17/16 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 24/19 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Thompson’s defensive numbers slipped by the slimmest of margins in 2015-16, resulting in the drop in his final player rater value. These type of fluctuations are normal, however, and Thompson was as dynamic on the floor as ever before.
In his 80 games last season Thompson did exactly what you expected him to do: chip in here and there with assists and rebounds, provide some out of position blocks and – oh yeah – light the world on fire from downtown. All told, Thompson averaged 22.1 points, 3.5 treys, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks. He shot an impressive 47% from the two guard spot, and averaged 87.3% from the line. Thompson will never give you the gaudy assists or boards managed by some other wing players, but he does enough. And frankly, when a player is able to produce as prolifically as Thompson is in a rare category it’s silly to let your eyes wander.
In contrast to Green, however, Thompson is the player that most concerns me from a fantasy perspective. He should remain an elite three-point asset, but a dip in usage seems more than likely. If you’re able to draft him as a specialist do so without hesitation, just don’t count on Thompson to anchor your team the way he has the past two seasons.
ADP: 140/116 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 98/76 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 103/81 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 70
Bogut will probably never shake the injury concerns that dominated his 2011-13 seasons, but this year marked the third straight campaign during which he managed to stay on the court for 67 or more games. That still isn’t great, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of where Bogut was when he first arrived in Northern California.
Bogut is the type of underrated big man that can have a massive impact on your standings, and underscores the importance of looking beyond points per game in fantasy. He averaged just 5.4 points per contest this season, but his seven boards, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.6 blocks had a substantive impact on crucial categories. Boguts ability to generate assists from the center spot while still protecting the rim makes him quite valuable.
Next year Bogut finds himself in an ideal fantasy landing spot in Dallas. As long as he can stay healthy he should see an uptick in usage and could be a steal come draft day.
ADP: 111/121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 157/136 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 143/118 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 66
Barnes may have taken an unfair share of the criticism heaped on the Warriors after losing in the Finals, but his fantasy numbers were pedestrian throughout the regular season. He wasn’t on the court for 16 games, and he failed to help owners at an above average level in any category when he was.
Barnes totaled 30.9 minutes per game, and in that time averaged just 11.7 points, 1.2 threes, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks. His efficiency numbers didn’t hurt owners, but he hardly helped in either category by shooting 46.6% from the floor and 76.1% from the stripe. Barnes truthers will claim that his numbers don’t reflect his ability, as there were so many mouths to feed in Golden State that he never received an opportunity to shine. It may be true that Barnes was limited by his role, but it seems as though a more talented player would have been able to capitalize on the attention opposing defense paid Curry, Green and Thompson.
Barnes will get his opportunity as an offensive focal point next season in Dallas, but how he gels with Dirk and Carlisle remains to be seen. The upside is there for Barnes to outperform his draft position, but owners might be wise to gamble elsewhere.
ADP: 104/123 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 152/147 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 138/132 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
For as good as he was on the court, Iguodala barely clung to standard league relevance in 2015-16. His on ball defense and positional versatility don’t often show up in the box score, making Iguodala a player who remains better in reality than fantasy. Still, his unconventional game provided owners with a smattering of production across different categories.
Iguodala finished the season with averages of seven points, 0.8 threes, four boards, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. He shot well from the floor (47.8%) and only took 1.3 free throws a game, meaning he didn’t hurt owners with his 61.4% foul shooting. All told, Iguodala will be an integral part of the Warriors’ extinction lineup next season, but at 32-years-old he doesn’t have a lot of upside to offer fantasy owners.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 162/152 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 203/190 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 78
Like Iguodala, Livingston was fundamentally sound for the Warriors but still couldn’t break on to the standard league radar this year. Averaging 19.5 minutes, 6.3 points, 2.2 boards, 3.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks, he didn’t offer much beyond low end assists. The Warriors decided to keep Livingston in the fold for next season, but it would take an injury to one of their stars to make him worth considering on draft day next fall.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 233/270 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 276/222 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 46
Despite showing some promise, Ezeli offered little to fantasy owners in 2015-16 outside of blocked shots. Averaging 16.7 minutes, seven points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues. Ezeli was a cap casualty of the Kevin Durant signing, and has moved on to Portland, where he should see similar minutes next season.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 245/233 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 281/278 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 68
Barbosa was a valuable bench contributor in his 68 games for the Warriors last season, but made little impact on the fantasy landscape. He tallied 16 minutes, 6.4 points, 0.6 threes, 1.2 assists and 0.6 steals per contest, while shooting 46.2% in 5.4 attempts per contest. Barbosa simply doesn’t earn enough minutes in Golden State to justify a spot on most standard league rosters.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 270/250 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 329/298 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Rush was little more than bench depth for the Warriors this season, as his only flashes of fantasy relevance came while Harrison Barnes was hurt. Averaging 14.6 minutes, 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.9 threes, he didn’t offer much beyond threes. Rush moves to Minnesota next season, where he’ll likely remain a low end rotation player. He can be safely ignored in all but the deepest of leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 248/251 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 300/302 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Aside from a few hot scoring nights, Speights offered little to fantasy owners in 2015-16. Averaging 11.5 minutes, 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 threes, 0.3 steals and 0.5 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues. Speights is reportedly willing to sign a minimum deal to stay with the Warriors, but the signing of David West puts an end to any value Speights may have had.
Super teams are historically tricky. Even those that have succeed have needed time to gel and establish roles for new players. But other super teams didn’t have the collective versatility, length, ballhandling and (most critically) shooting that Golden State now possesses. Kerr has shown the flexibility and insight to juggle competing roles, and the way each piece fits seems natural. The Warriors will be the most favored team in recent memory entering the season, and all signs point to them securing another title before the year is out.