Chuck is funny, and occasionally smart, but he’s simply wrong when it comes to the Golden State Warriors
Last night at the beginning of the halftime show of a predictably lopsided match between the Grizzlies and Nuggets, Charles Barkley revealed his Western Conference playoff rankings. They did not match up with the standings, and they did not match up with my own ideas of who the best team in the Western Conference—and the NBA—is.
For Chuck, the best team in the West is Memphis. He cites their frontcourt, defense, and the addition of Jeff Green. His second best team is—wait for it—Portland. Again he cites their frontcourt, and also Damian Lillard and, believe it or not, Nicolas Batum. (I’m pro-Batum; I just don’t think he’s the type of player who magically makes you better than the Warriors.)
Charles Barkley is objectively wrong. Golden State is the best team in the West. Golden State is the best team in basketball. Here’s why:
Minutes management matters. I’ve harped on this all season long, and I will harp on it as long as my pieces are not being read by millions of people: managing minutes matters, a heck of a lot. And Steve Kerr is doing an incredible job of showing restraint. Stephen Curry averages just 33.1 minutes per game, and he leads the team in playing time. This means so much for health, so much for sustained energy throughout the season in back-to-back or five-in-seven scenarios, and it means so much for the playoffs.
The specious claim of jump-shooting. The first reason Chuck gave for his claim that Golden State won’t win it all is that he thinks teams don’t win with jump-shots. Well, duh. But has he watched the Warriors? They don’t win with jump-shots. They win with open jump-shots—because both Thompson and Curry get to the hole. In other words, the combination of their slashing ability and distributive powers—the Splash Bros average a collective 11.2 assists—does a couple things: Gets other players on the floor open shots, and constantly poses the threat of the drive. Thompson and Curry make up not just the best-shooting backcourt in the NBA, but the most dynamic, the most versatile.
Grit. The idea of a Warriors team that’s all jump-shots and flowers and fruity cocktails by the pool—that’s yesterday’s team. This year’s Warriors are all about grittiness. At first glance you might surmise, “Well, Golden State is only middle-of-the-pack in opponents points per game.” Well, my friend, look closer. Because Golden State plays with the tempo it does, opponents get more possessions per game. The fact that the Warriors allow 99.6 points per game does not demean their defense. In fact, their points differential is highest in the league. You know what else is best in the league for Golden State? Opponents field goal percentage—at just .422. Nobody forces opponents to shoot worse. And on top of all of this, Golden State is in the top-10 in rebounds, steals, and forced turnovers. This team can do everything.
Scorers galore. As if having two electric scorers wasn’t enough, Golden State has four other players who, any given night, could drop 20-25 points and it would not be a big deal. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, David Lee, and Draymond Green give Golden State an unmatched depth. What’s perhaps more important than the raw depth of scoring the Warriors have is the dynamics built in—i.e., their 3-6 scorers score in completely different ways than their 1-2. Barnes—who’s just 22, by the way—is a lengthy three-point threat with enough athleticism and savvy to create his own shot. Speights and Lee can work the post or mid-range game. And Green does the dirty work. Yes, he’s a little trigger-happy from beyond the arc, but he’s also the team’s second-leading rebounder, second-leading playmaker, fourth-leading scorer, second-leading blocker, second-leading stealer, and fourth-leading scorer. He does a little of everything.
Chuck, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. There is nothing the Warriors do not do well. They can go big or they can go small. They can shoot and create. They can defend, rebound, force turnovers. And as if all that weren’t enough, they’re doing these things while resting their best players. If this team stays healthy as the year progresses, they’ll be a heavy title favorite.