We are currently in the middle of the worst sports month of the year. In addition, we are also in the middle of the NBA offseason. Since there’s not much to talk about in the news, I’ll be spending the next month or so talking about five teams that I think are locks to go over or stay under their Las Vegas projected win totals.
The first team I talked about was the San Antonio Spurs. You can find that article here.
Golden State Warriors
It’s the Warriors’ world and the rest of the NBA is just living in it.
Golden State won their third championship in four years this past season, beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their fourth straight matchup. They’re one of the most impressive NBA dynasties in recent memory, and they don’t have to stop now. If they can continue to keep together their main core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, then there is seemingly no limit to the success they can attain.
Keeping those four on the team is key though, as they have shown the ability to restructure their roster over the four years around them and still be the most elite team in the league. Curry is under contract all the way through the 2021-22 season, but Draymond’s contract is up after the 2019-20 season, Klay will be a free agent in the 2019 offseason, and Durant could be as well since he has a player option for the 2019-20 season. Those contracts will factor into how long they can continue their success past this season, but for this article we don’t need to focus on the future impending free agencies, as all four are back for the 2018-19 season.
Oh — did I mention that the Warriors signed one of the best centers/players in the league, DeMarcus Cousins, to the mid-level exception? Yeah…that happened.
Cousins is recovering from an Achilles injury, so he might not be back until midway through the season, or even towards the tail-end of the season. The Warriors can obviously afford to put off his return, which is absurd to say regarding a talent like Cousins. Any other team would be desperate to have him back as soon as possible. The Warriors have the roster to be able to have the luxury of patience, but either way once he arrives prior to the playoffs, the Warriors could be a handful if they can incorporate him properly.
Seemingly destined for another championship — how will the regular season go?
The Warriors won’t have the ability to reach another level with DeMarcus Cousins on the floor until it’s closer to the playoffs. For that reason, his acquisition shouldn’t be factored into analyzing their possible win total. Aside from Cousins, there are other factors I’m considering in my decision. One factor that in my opinion will work for AND against them, is their excellence continuity. They’ve kept together their main core (and added Kevin Durant) along this four year run. With that they’ve become incredibly in tune with each other. They’ve enjoyed incredible success that I mentioned above, but with that increased success they’ve played a lot of basketball that has to be weighing on them physically. Along the past four postseasons the Warriors have played a total of 83 playoff games, a total nearly equal to the total of an extra regular season.
Mostly for that reason, I am predicting that the Warriors will finish under their projected win total of 62.5 games.
There’s not many teams we can look back on to compare their ability to prolong their success for as long or at the level that the Warriors have been able to enjoy. To try and find some past examples that might show how the Warriors might regress, I’ll be using the first 3-peat of the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls and also the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led Lakers of the early 2000s.
The Chicago Bulls First 3-Peat
Going into the 1992-93 season, the Chicago Bulls were coming off back-to-back championships in addition to two conference finals exits before those two championships. That’s a lot of extra games played in the postseason. With their second championship in the 1991-92 season, the Bulls went 67-15 with an Offensive Rating of 115.5 (1st in the league) and a Defensive Rating of 104.5 (4th in the league). Those numbers dropped in their 5th straight year of conference finals or more, as the Bulls went 57-25 with an ORTG of 112.9 (2nd) and a DRTG of 106.1 (7th) as they still went on to win their 3rd straight championship.
Now — you’d be hard-pressed to find a team in the NBA who would be upset about those numbers. But you’d definitely find a lot of teams who don’t want to decrease in 10 wins from season-to-season. The Bulls did that after numerous extra postseason games, theoretically because of the wear and tear on their bodies. You can see the fatigue in Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant’s efficiencies between the 1991-92 season and the 1992-93 season.
Pippen and Grant in 1991-92: 50.6 FG%/76.0 FT% — 57.8 FG%/74.1 FT%
Pippen and Grant in 1992-93: 47.3 FG%/66.3 FT% — 50.8 FG%/61.9 FT%
Did Michael Jordan’s efficiencies drop theoretically because of the fatigue? Well…no. MJ usually defies normal statistical trends though.
So as the Bulls seemed to hit a fatigue wall in the 5th year in increased games, we will have to see how the Warriors fare in their 5th year of their dynasty. The Warriors went 67-15 in the 2016-17 season just as the Bulls went 67-15 in their 1991-92 season. The Warriors went 58-24 last season, and if the Bulls history of fatigue from prolonged success is indicative of how things with the Warriors will go, I have doubts of them improving and going over that 62.5 mark.
The Shaq & Kobe Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers tumultuous dynasty of the early 2000s ran into similar problems that the Chicago Bulls ran into in the early 90s (never mentioned that after Jordan’s stint in baseball along with two years of early playoff exits, the Bulls of course started another 3-peat).
The Lakers went to the Western Conference Semis and lost in Shaq and Kobe’s first year (1996-97 season) together, followed by a WCF exit, and then another Semis exit. Once those years were over, the Lakers dominated the world and won three championships in a row in the 1999-00, 2000-01, and 2001-02 seasons. The “Dynasty Fatigue” came into play in the 2002-03 season once the 3-peat was over.
The Lakers went 50-32 in that 2002-03 season, which was Shaq and Kobe’s worst record since they got together (only other season lower was the reduced lockout season of 1998-99), and was 8 games worse than their 58-24 record in the previous year.
All of the Lakers core players’ offensive numbers stayed right around where they were at, but as you can see their fatigue came into play with their defense. Almost all of the players Defensive Box Plus-Minus totals were cut in half between the 01-02 season and the 02-03 season (Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were the only ones to improve).
This was the 4th year of their dynasty if you just count the 3-peat years, but if you add the playoff games from the 3 years of exits prior to the 3-peat, you get around the same total of games that have been talked about with the Bulls and Warriors above. The cores stayed pretty much the same, so fatigue is a pretty easy explanation.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Warriors fair in this upcoming 2018-19 season. Injuries were a big theme during this past season as Stephen Curry (31), Kevin Durant (14), Andre Iguodola (18), Klay Thompson (9), and Draymond Green (12) all missed games. There was also an interesting quote from David West at the conclusion of the NBA Finals which made it seem like there was some discord among the guys over the course of the season.
Has the stress of the dynasty started to take an emotional toll on the seemingly invincible Warriors? Will fatigue get to them either way? I think it will, but I also think they will still win the championship again this year. You also have to take into account that they probably don’t take the regular season all too seriously anymore. They’ve got bigger fish to fry in June. For the fatigue and these little reasons, I have a hard time thinking they’ll get close to that 67-15 record again, and I think they’ll more likely be around the 55 win mark which would be far below the Las Vegas total of 62.5.