Has the NBA caught up to the Warriors?
In the summer of 2016, when asked about the Warriors plucking Kevin Durant away from the Thunder, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during the league's annual board of governors meeting “I do not think that's ideal from the league standpoint.” It was obvious that he was afraid that the new acquisition would create too good of a team. His major oversight, though, was that the dominance of Golden State would force the rest of the league to find ways to catch up, and this season, there are a few standouts that have done just that.
The most obvious candidate this season has been the Houston Rockets. As if James Harden wasn’t enough, their astonishing and impressive move to get Chris Paul last summer brought up a few questions. And rightfully so, having two ball deflating point guards as your two best players makes you wonder if they could bog each others games down.
But it’s been quite the opposite. Their willingness to sacrifice touches, stagger their minutes and commit to defense has made their lives a whole lot easier. It’s admirable too, being that the two up to this point, haven’t embraced sacrifice previously. The Rockets collection of savvy signings and pesky vets have also contributed to their success. But their also the right collection of players to give the Warriors a headache.
While CP3 has been surpassed by Steph already, he still has the ability to get pesky on defense and physical on offense. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Paul draw bullshit fouls on Steph, but I know it’s an effective skill that he’s mastered. Harden is just as good at this, so the threat of getting the Dubs into foul trouble is a serious one.
The key for houston though, is their center, Clint Capela. Having rode the bench for years, the departure of Dwight Howard gave Capela opportunity to find his game, and his game is pretty damn good. He’s had the length and lateral quickness to be a problem on defense, but developing patience and poise brought it all together.
The kid isn’t vertically challenged either, he gets up for lob opportunities like a DeAndre Jordan, but he doesn’t yearn for possession wasting post touches. He’s perfect for Houston system, because his strengths compliment both CP3 and Harden to a tee. But when it’s playoff time, their All-Star Guards will ultimately determine the future of this team.
Boston is right up there with Houston. Their defense, if and when healthy, has the chops to make any teams lives difficult. Oh and they’re eventually getting All-Star Gordon Hayward back. Simply put, their really good right now, and they’re only going to get better in the coming years.
Though their stars weren’t drafted like Golden States were, they’ve built their team to mimic the them in a few ways. The offense hinges on Kyrie Irving, who like Curry can create for himself and others, but also can be used of the ball to space the floor. Without him, offense gets difficult down the stretch, but Brad Stevens system gives them legs to stand on.
The real unsung hero for the Celtics though, is Al Horford. He’s the key to their defense, but can unlock so much more on offense. His spacing is a threat, but if someone closes out to hard on him, he’s still got the footspeed and the skill to drive and create for himself or his teammates. I like to think that him and Draymond Green are two sides of the same coin, Horford is stronger on offense and Green stronger on defense.
Their young wings are really intriguing too. Everytime I watch Jaylen Brown make a move in transition, I’m reminded of Jordan. He’s nowhere near as talented, but just the way he moves on the floor is impressive. He’s also shown actually basketball talent too, don’t get me wrong. He competes well on defense, spreads the floor well from three, and he’s relentless and athletic around the rim. Then there’s Jayson Tatum, their standout rookie. He hasn’t shown the same defensive prowess as Brown, but his offensive game is unique for his age (he’s only 19 + a few days!).
What makes the Celtics different, though, is youth. Other than the 31-year-old Al Horford, their core is young enough become even better in the next few years. Surely they’ll run the east, but once they get a taste of the Finals, who knows how good they can be.
These two have both followed and tweaked the blueprint that Golden State has shown to be successful. Even though they’ve shown that they have the chops to give the Dubs problems, they won’t be the last to do so. Sure it takes young and talented players to become great in the long term, but stability from ownership, and competency from management and coaches is just as important. This is the key to success in the NBA, the rest of the league just needs to keep taking notes.