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Cracks in the Warriors’ Armour



The Warriors are begging for scrutiny. Whether it’s the in-game swagger, the messy trade rumours, or the trendy “super villain” balloons, Oakland’s finest have earned the spotlight on them right now. They’re so attractive too, for us onlookers. With so many stars, so many enigmas on one team, Golden State will carry the league’s mantle throughout the season, whether you tire of them or not.

What about the basketball side of it, though? The Warriors offense is living up to its headliner billing. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are both averaging over 27 points per game. Durant is shooting 62% on two-pointers, a number so good I had to do a triple-take before including it. Klay Thompson is fresh off his first 30-point outing of the campaign. Things are running smoothly when the Warriors are in your end of the court.

Yet, for a team coming off 73 wins and the addition of Kevin Durant, there’s a desire to hold them to higher account. Things haven’t looked as easy as they were supposed to, especially during the 29-point shellacking by the Spurs on opening night. Since then, the Warriors have been winning enough — they’re now 8-2 headed into tonight’s matchup with the Raptors — but the success has come in fits and starts.

Golden State, for all their phenomenal offensive talent, have shown flaws early in wins and losses. This reassures us that they have competition for the title, namely the Cavaliers and Clippers, and shows that it’s impossible to make perfect predictions in the NBA. They’re not champions, not yet at least, and the blueprint to beat them is being printed as we speak.

Preseason murmurs have turned into genuine talking points. The Warriors aren’t running through teams like they were in 2015-16, and here are three major reasons why.

Lack of a quality big

In their first ten games, the Warriors have looked their weakest on the interior. When Death Lineup 2.0 isn’t out there (Curry-Thompson-Durant-Iguodala-Green), most of the minutes are going to Zaza Pachulia or David West at the five.

To generalize, this means Golden State lineups are either too small or too untalented to grab rebounds at a high rate. They’re getting creamed on the offensive glass so far, giving up 12.8 offensive boards per game and grabbing just 72.4% of available defensive rebounds. Only the Boston Celtics can statistically say they’re doing a worse job on the glass.

Against teams with tenacious rebounders, such as the Spurs and Thunder, this has led to helpless sequences like this.

These rebounding struggles are exacerbated by a lack of rim protection among Steve Kerr’s preferred centres: Pachulia, West, and Draymond Green. When these guys come to help on penetration, Golden State is left scrambling with even smaller players on cleanup duty. As a result, they’re giving up 47 points in the paint per game, which is seventh-worst in the league.

That said, the Warriors have come up with a solution in recent games: effort. They’ve offset a lack of rim protection with incredibly active hands on defense. Their 10.1 steals per game trail just the Atlanta Hawks, and with the handsy defense of Curry and Green leading the way, they’re slapping at the ball in passing lanes before teams even get a shot up.

With sequences like this, they’re forcing 15 turnovers a game and scoring 17.3 points per game off those cough-ups — both top ten numbers.

It’s worrisome for a team with championship aspirations to rely on active hands, though. In the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals last year, the Warriors’ main weakness was their inability to keep tenacious rebounders off the glass. For the Thunder, Steven Adams averaged 3.1 offensive boards a game, up from his regular season average of 2.0. For the Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson grabbed an awesome 3.9 offensive boards while shooting 64% in the Finals.

In the playoffs, when the quality of opponent goes up, turnovers will be harder to come by. Just as an example, the Cavs averaged 13.6 turnovers in the regular season, and whittled that down to 12.5 in the playoffs. In response, the Warriors can get as handsy as they want, but they’ll still struggle to beat teams in the playoffs if they’re being outshot by ridiculous amounts.

Just look at opening night. By out-rebounding the Warriors 55 to 35, the Spurs ended up with 13 more shot attempts (98 to 85). That kind of discrepancy is how a non-super team stays in the ring with a super team.

Continuity is important

You also don’t need to be a super team to get along with each other, and friendship counts. Continuity is so important in the NBA, and the Warriors have hit a partial reset to start the season.

In order to free up the cap space to sign Durant, they had to bid sayonara to three vital pieces of their 2015-16 run: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezeli.

This left the Warriors with six returning rotation players, and a whole lot of roster to fill with limited cap room. The result? Pachulia is your starting centre, with David West joining Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala as the first guys off the bench.

This has led to a brief interruption in the Warriors’ flow. On a team that thrives on pace and a zen-like understanding of where each body is going to be as movement speeds up, Pachulia and West are still catching up.

As a starting centre, Pachula isn’t quite the passer that Bogut was, unable to make plays like this one where the centre is the crux of ball movement, and not a distraction from it.

This issue, though, will probably diminish as the season progresses. In most NBA seasons, it’s the teams with continuity that prove surprisingly bulletproof early on. The 10-1 Clippers have proven that: by bringing back the Paul-Griffin-Jordan core and making small upgrades on the fringes, they’ve been able to dominate without missing a step.

The Warriors, meanwhile, still have all the time in the world to work in these new faces. Steve Kerr has never been one to hold back his stars in Curry, Thompson and Green, and it’s hard to expect anyone with less talent than Durant to jump in and play at their speed right from the get-go.

Under the microscope

The adjustments on the basketball court, though, could end up paling in comparison to those off the court.

If Kerr and the Warriors players weren’t ready for the media spotlight coming in, they certainly got a wakeup call before the season started. Before they even got on the floor, ESPN’s Ethan Strauss wrote a damning, popular Draymond Green article, detailing how the 26-year-old’s attitude could fester and implode the Warriors’ locker room. There were many stand-out anecdotes in the story, including Green’s emotional locker room breakdown and his continuing tug-of-war with Kerr over usage.

Green isn’t the only problem, though. With the aforementioned weaknesses popping up, there’s been trade rumours surrounding Klay Thompson. We always have to consider our sources on these things — sorry, Brian Scalabrine — but these calls aren’t happening in a vacuum. If Golden State management is even picking up the phone and breathing Klay’s name to other general managers, that in itself says a lot about the state of their roster.

The more teams take advantage of the Warriors’ weakness, the more scrutiny they’ll be under — and that talk is a problem in itself.

After giving up a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and birthing a thousand memes, there’s no questioning the perception around the league that the Warriors can be mentally broken. They were angry in June at Draymond risking a Game 5 suspension when he waved at LeBron James’ genitals. They were ready and willing to excuse Curry’s poor playoff shooting on injuries. Their new star in Durant has opened a shade war with former teammate Russell Westbrook.

All these subplots leak and become instant headlines. In doing this, the Warriors have become the Kanye West of the sports world — talented, sure, but never able to say the right thing.

It was these very same subplots that fueled the Warriors in 2015. Even after winning the title, they came out hungrier than anyone. They let headlines drive them to the best regular season in NBA history.

To put it bluntly, we haven’t seen that mental fortitude yet this year. Now, in the face of even more scrutiny, they’re having a harder time.


Up here in the middle of Canada, TSN (the softer ESPN, with 500% more Auston Matthews content) has started running a new commercial. It touts the network as the home for the Golden State Warriors, a team 940 miles removed from any Canadian border. It sells us on Curry, on Durant, on this team that’s so impossibly entertaining, it’s deserving of its own billing, above the rest of the NBA.

That’s what the Warriors are. They’re an All-Star team in one city, a manifestation of talent that will change how the league governs its cap, and how we benchmark super teams in the future.

When that’s the bar set for us, yeah, 8-2 doesn’t seem so hot. However much Golden State’s negatives have been offset by the sheer talent of Curry and Durant, digging deeper reveals fascinating trends, both statistical and not.

Whether those struggles are a question of continuity, a lack of big men, or the microscope focusing in, the cracks in the armour make Golden State all the more fascinating to watch. We all want flaws in our heroes, and the Warriors are shaping up to be dramatic in a way we haven’t seen in the modern NBA.

John is a sports writer hailing from the flat part of Canada. He's an editor and podcast host at SB Nation's Raptors HQ, with other sports work published in The Classical. As a freelance reporter, he's covered sports at every level in Winnipeg: from the NHL's Jets and CFL's Blue Bombers, to CIS basketball and hockey at both major universities. In his spare time, John writes too seriously about music and posts good-to-okay photography on Instagram.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers



Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool



Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns



Masai Ujiri is a smart guy.

No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out the Warriors, or you’re stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out LeBron James. For Ujiri’s Raptors, the latter is the elephant in the room. So when the offseason came, the club had some decisions to make that would indicate the direction of the franchise’s future, both immediate and long-term.

Ujiri and Toronto GM Bobby Webster were somehow able to re-sign Kyle Lowry for a three-year deal instead of the five years that Lowry desired, and then managed the same with Serge Ibaka. This effectively put the Raptors on a three-year timeline until the next big shift in the franchise. For these upcoming three years, the Raps will stay competitive with their tried-and-tested core, and they will simultaneously cultivate young talent around their stars.

It’s a great formula. LeBron is going to be 33 years old this December, and by the time Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts are up, he will be entering the twilight stage of his career. Suddenly, the East could be wide open again. Ujiri knows it, and he wants to be ready for it.

But what about the present? The Raptors lost a couple of their veteran role players this summer in the re-signing of their core, including Patrick Patterson (an advanced analytics darling), and P.J. Tucker (a terrific perimeter defender). The team also traded away DeMarre Carroll—who was never able to return to his Atlanta peak—to Brooklyn in order to shed his contract, as well as Cory Joseph to Indiana, who snagged them sharpshooter C.J. Miles—swiftly signed to a three-year deal, no less—as a return.

These changes have left the Raps with a squad that, outside of the starting lineup, is quite young. None of their bench players have played more than three seasons in the NBA, and their total average age is about 23 years old. A number of them have yet to see significant minutes, with Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and newcomer K.J. McDaniels being the exceptions.

The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the keys to racking up wins in order to put yourself in a good position come playoff time are chemistry and consistency à la the Spurs. If the Raptors are to continue their regular season success of the last few years, then they’ll need their young guns to step into formerly veteran roles and rise to the challenge.

Thankfully, a few of them already seem prepared to break out and have impactful seasons. Both Powell and Wright gave the team some fantastic minutes last year, especially in the playoffs. Norm in particular was a standout, putting the league on notice with his athleticism and tough defensive play. He was part of the best lineup the Raptors had in the postseason (a +5.3), and the team’s offensive rating shot up from 101.7 to 107.9 when he was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t.

In the first round against the Bucks, Powell went for 55/91/92 per cent shooting, averaging 12.4 points per game and torching his opponents. He was a key cog in helping the Raptors win that series and fully earned Dwane Casey’s trust, which is not an easy thing to do for a young player.

Wright didn’t get quite as much time to shine with CoJo being the primary backup point guard, but when he was on the floor he scrapped defensively and showed in flashes that he was able to run the team. His length and effort have been the two most noticeable qualities when watching him so far, and his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is one that Casey must love.

Siakam is another high-energy guy, and good for a few minutes a game, although playing him for a substantial amount of time isn’t a great idea since he’s undersized and a below-average rebounder. Jakob Poeltl should get more run, and like Wright—though less frequently—he showed instances of strong play, both on the boards and around the basket.

Perhaps the two most interesting youngsters are the newcomers: Raptors 2017 draft pick OG Anunoby and K.J. McDaniels. Anunoby has been touted as an excellent defender, a grinder, and he already has an NBA body that should allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor. Unfortunately, he’s recovering from an ACL tear and therefore it’s possible he doesn’t even play this season. Still, this is the kind of player you get excited for as a fan and as a coach—he’ll likely be impactful right away, at least in one aspect.

As for McDaniels, he’s spent time bouncing around the league during his three seasons. He’s already played for Philadelphia, Houston, and Brooklyn, and has never had a chance to get comfortable. He’s another player with defensive potential—he’s got some pretty sweet block highlights—but has yet to find any sort of consistent shooting. If he can’t show Toronto something this season, he may be on the move again.

And finally, as we ask every year, is this the season when Bruno Caboclo breaks loose and starts going Brazilian Kevin Durant on the rest of the league? My answer: Unlikely. It may be hard to believe, but Bruno is still one of the youngest guys on the team at 21 years old. His time in the D-League—now the G League—can only be good for him, but his scoring dropped off significantly last season compared to the year prior, when he was putting up double-figure numbers almost every game. There’s still a lot of time left for Bruno to prove himself, and as such it’s tough to imagine that time being this season.

It’s difficult—though intriguing—trying to judge a group of players who don’t have an extensive NBA resume as of yet (I feel for you, Philly fans). Even if one has seen a player be productive in spurts, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll be capable of handling a bigger role long-term without actually seeing it. For the Raptors in particular, Powell is probably the only young player that the team has a good grasp on.

So let the experiment begin. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And remember: It’s all part of the three-year plan.

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