It’s that time again. It’s a new year, and that means an opportunity to check-in with some SB Nation bloggers from around the league.
Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I’m going to try and make an effort again this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This time around, Brady Klopfer of Golden State of Mind (goldenstateofmind.com) and the Athletic was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for him to help preview Thursday’s match-up between the Magic and the Golden State Warriors.
1) DeMarcus Cousins returned last month after a year of not playing basketball due to his devastating Achilles injury. How has Cousins looked since he’s returned? In your opinion, assess Cousins fit in the Warriors lineup alongside their core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA): Cousins has looked about how you would expect a perennial All-Star to look while returning from a severe injury - flashes of brilliance, mixed with stretches of severe rust. The fit has been equal parts odd and seamless. On the one hand, Cousins has displayed his elite passing skills and ability to stretch the floor, which, paired with Golden State’s existing all-world offense, has been dynamic. On the other hand, his inability to defend guards when switched, and the team going out of their way to get him involved offensively has been awkward at times.
Ultimately, the biggest thing Boogie provides the Warriors is an All-Star safety net. If Steph Curry or Kevin Durant gets hurt, they’ve got another go-to offensive force. But the reality is that the team’s best lineups against top-tier teams still feature Cousins on the bench, and that’s unlikely to change. Cousins has looked best leading the second unit alongside Klay Thompson, and those two complement each other magnificently when running two-man games.
After a rough stretch, Cousins has played some of his best Warriors basketball in the last few games. But his biggest weakness - the inability to defend the modern pick and roll - was apparent even before the injury. He’ll play a big role on this team going forward, but don’t be surprised to see Kevon Looney or Andre Iguodala closing out games in the playoffs.
2) Kevin Durant has an option to opt out of his contract in July and become a free agent. Klay Thompson is set to become an unrestricted free agent as well. Following this team as closely as you do, is there a sense among players, the organization, maybe even the fan base that this season could be the end of this version of the Warriors as we’ve come to know them?
Klopfer: Absolutely. At the start of training camp, Steve Kerr said that one of the priorities for the season was to enjoy the ride because it may be ending soon. Klay Thompson is almost surely staying - I’m having a hard time envisioning a realistic scenario where he’s elsewhere. But nothing would surprise me with Kevin Durant, and nothing would surprise the Warriors either. He could leave, he could sign another one-plus-one, he could sign the supermax - it’s all in play. And on top of that, Draymond Green’s contract is up in 2020. And while I think the team values Green and is willing to overspend to keep him around, they also will look to unload him if there’s any chance of re-tooling with a younger star such as Anthony Davis.
The Warriors could end up looking remarkably similar next year, and for years to come. But I don’t think fans, reporters, or organizational members have any idea what this team will look like going forward, other than the presence of the Splash Brothers.
3) 265 regular season wins from ‘14-’15 to ‘17-’18, three NBA championships, four Finals appearances. The team is having another dominant year leading the Western Conference this season, primed for another deep playoff run. Aside from the daily grind that comes from covering an NBA team, do you ever stop and think about just how crazy this run for the Warriors has been? Ultimately, where do you think these Warriors (in the last five years) rank among the great teams in NBA history?
Klopfer: I think about it all the time, because I grew up watching the Warriors, who were not only historically futile, but a laughing stock for their dysfunction. It can’t be stated enough how bad the organization was, so the contrast is glaring.
When they made the playoffs in 2013 it marked just the second time in the last 19 years. Two years later, they began a dynasty.
When Steph Curry was drafted, the entire roster had combined for zero All-Star appearances in their careers. This year, the roster has a combined 28 All-Star selections.
Perhaps this is me growing up, but what I stop and think about the most with the Warriors is this: This is likely the best Warriors team that will exist in my lifetime, and Steph Curry is almost surely the best Warriors player I’ll ever witness. Greatness is fleeting in sports, and one look around the rest of the league - and other sports leagues - is both a harsh and beautiful reminder that this level of success is exceedingly rare. It’s been poignant, honestly.
As for their place all-time? I always struggle with that, in part because eras change so much. My belief is that basketball is evolving rapidly, and evolution is progress. I tend to default to greatness - both individual and team - being better in modern eras, simply because the game is better. The game has grown. But, of course, it’s not that simple. There are Lakers and Celtics teams that have nearly infallible cases as the best ever. And the 90s kid in me is unwilling to bet against ‘96 Michael Jordan in any hypothetical matchup. But I’ll say this much: this era of the Warriors can stand up against any team we’ve ever seen.
4) Finally, is there a potential match-up (positional match-up, scheme, etc.) in the Magic/Warriors game that your’re looking forward to? Will the Warriors cover, or are you taking the Magic (and the points) at home?
Klopfer: I always am curious to see how the Warriors match up against bigger teams, and Orlando is a fascinating team from that standpoint. Even with DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors are kind of a small team; Draymond Green is hilariously short for a 4, and while Kevin Durant is an enormous 3, he’s still a perimeter-focused player. As a whole, the Warriors struggle mightily to rebound, and it often gets them in trouble against teams that they should, on paper, dispatch of with relative ease. Watching Green and Durant try to handle both the size and athleticism of Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac will be fascinating.
And while Magic fans don’t need me to tell them that Nikola Vucevic has been one of the top offensive centers in the league this year, what I can tell you is this: Cousins has been cooked by opposing centers on more than one occasion, including by Cody Zeller, who had 28 points on 13-14 shooting on Monday.
Orlando’s size and frontcourt talent will cause trouble for Golden State - the only question is how much trouble, and when do the Warriors decide to kick it into that special gear they have? While I do expect the Warriors to win the game, I don’t think they’ll cover the spread.
I want to thank Brady Klopfer again for taking the time to help us out at Orlando Pinstriped Post. You can find Brady’s (and the rest of our friends at Golden State of Mind) work at www.goldenstateofmind.com.
And at Orlando Pinstriped Post, you can check back here tonight (Thursday) for an Orlando/Golden State game preview, as well as for the community GameThread (7:00).