The Warriors Have Somehow Gotten Better

Michael Knapp
Columnist

By now, even the most casual NBA fan knows some version of the story: In 2014, head coach Mark Jackson is ousted in favor of Steve Kerr. In his first year at the helm, Kerr wins 67 games, an NBA championship, turns Draymond Green into a strangely effective Dennis Rodman-Rajon Rondo hybrid, and Stephen Curry wins his first MVP. In year two, the Warriors win an NBA record 73 games, Steph has another historic MVP season in which he makes roughly six billion threes, and they look like they’ll coast to another championship.

After a scare in the Western Conference Finals, where they come back from being down 3-1 to win the series, they get back on track against the Cavaliers and have a 3-1 lead of their own. But then Kyrie turns into Uncle Drew, and LeBron morphs into a cross between Jesus and, well, LeBron, leading the Finals in every major statistical category except for nut punches (Draymond beats him by one… or two, couldn’t tell if he connected with both). Cleveland goes on to win in seven.

Three weeks later Kevin Durant signs with the Warriors in free agency, the same team he was up 3-1 on just six weeks earlier. Golden State has looked virtually unbeatable ever since.

They’ve coasted to two NBA championships since Durant’s signing, having lost just one finals game in their two trips. This season, however, initially looked like it might be different. Draymond and Durant were beefing, sharpshooter Klay Thompson was slumping, Steph was injured, and they were in the middle of the pack in a loaded Western Conference. The word “parity” felt like it was creeping back into the NBA vernacular for the first time since Durant made his move to Oakland.

The Warriors’ “slump” didn’t last long. Thompson has been hot since the New Year, Curry has been as good as ever since returning to the lineup, and the KD-Draymond feud seems to have died down.

All of this was enough to put Golden State back atop the Western Conference, fending off a surging Denver Nuggets squad. But a new addition to their roster has made them as dangerous as ever: DeMarcus Cousins.

If the Warriors ever had a weakness, it was at center. Andrew Bogut filled this role in the pre-KD days but they had to shed his contract to make room for Durant. Lately, the role has been filled by the likes of Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney, and Damian Jones. None of these players have been particularly good, per se, but criticizing Golden State for not having a good fifth starter is like criticizing The Wire for not having a good fifth season. Sure, McNulty’s made-up serial killer storyline was idiotic, but the rest of the show, like the Warriors’ other four starters, is still brilliant. (I’ve officially lost track of this analogy. Moving on.)

Cousins has been one of the most dominant centers in the NBA over the course of his career, making four All-Star games and appearing on two All-NBA teams. He spent last year with the Pelicans but tore his Achilles midseason, which limited his free agent prospects. He signed a ludicrously cheap one-year, 5.3 million dollar deal with the Warriors, and returned to action last month.

Since “Boogie” Cousins entered the fray, Golden State has looked as unstoppable as ever. Cousins is averaging 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4 assists in limited action, but his per-36 numbers are basically where they’ve been the last few seasons: 22.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists.

With Cousins in the lineup, the Warriors are 6-1 and averaging 119.1 points per contest, slightly above their season average. More notably, they are racking up an absurd 33 assists per outing since his return, a number that would surpass the Showtime Lakers as the best mark ever were it maintained over a full season.

Boogie brings several skills to the table that they’ve never before had in a center. First and foremost, he is an elite post player. The NBA is in the midst of a three-point revolution where all screens are switched on the perimeter to prevent top marksmen from getting open looks – an issue especially apparent when facing Golden State, boasting three of the best shooters ever. Cousins is able to punish teams that switch guards onto him by taking them down to the block and putting his 6’11”, 270-pound frame to work.

Beyond his effective post play, Cousins is also one of the more versatile bigs in, well, league history. Before getting hurt last season, Cousins was shooting a respectable 35 percent on 6.1 three-point attempts a game, a ridiculous volume for a center. He is shooting 39 percent from deep so far this year.

His floor spacing draws shot blockers away from the rim and opens up the lane for what has become one of the best cutting teams in the NBA since Kerr took over. With past Golden State centers, opposing bigs were able to leave a healthy cushion, clogging up the paint for potential backdoor passes. Teams no longer have this luxury against the Warriors with Boogie on the floor.

Outside of his scoring ability – he’s been top ten in points per game four of the last five seasons – Boogie is also among the best passing centers in the league. Through seven games, Cousins is averaging 6.4 assists per 36 minutes, a number that places him second among centers behind Nikola Jokic’s flabby wizardry. With five current or former all-stars in the fold, Golden State’s offense  – and team morale – hinges on them sharing the ball, something Boogie has proven himself capable of doing; albeit a temper tantrum is a real possibility if he doesn’t get enough shots up.

Boogie somehow makes what is arguably ALREADY the best offensive team ever EVEN BETTER. Barring an injury (or two… or three), Golden State should coast to another championship if Boogie keeps producing at the level he is now… but honestly, they should be fine this year even if he doesn’t. Where the plot does thicken is this summer.

Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant could be unrestricted free agents (Durant has a player option) this July, and there are rumblings about KD going to New York and Klay joining LeBron in LA. Those are, however, just rumblings right now. It’s hard to imagine either one of them going elsewhere weeks after securing a third straight championship. 

Will the Warriors be willing to pony up the money to bring everyone back? Possibly. Do they need everyone back to continue to win at such a high level? Probably not. In what ways did the Stamp Act contribute to growing tensions in the colonies and help spark the eventual American Revolution? This is completely beside the point but it is one of my homework questions and any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

If everyone stays, Golden State’s luxury tax will be looking more robust than a Donald Trump fast food bill (just ask Clemson football). But it might be worth it in order to keep together what could very well become one of the NBA’s great dynasties.

Posted on February 7, 2019, in Michael Knapp. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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