Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Do Celtics, Anyone, Have a Chance Against Golden State This Year?

By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

Why the Warriors’ Chances at 2018 Title are Still Sky High
While Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks dominate the current NBA news, the Warriors are readying themselves to defend their second championship in the last three years as the NBA’s heavy favorite to win the 2018 Finals.

Golden State is getting the band back together after registering the league’s best offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and true-shooting percentage during last year’s regular season. Although they were the Western Conference’s worst squad in terms of defensive rebounding, they were among the league’s top teams on the defensive end of the basketball.

The Western Conference has improved once again and expects to be an overwhelmingly better conference than the East, but the final test for the Warriors in 2018 will come from the weaker conference; we will begin our trip around the association there.

There were not many improvements from the Eastern Conference elite over the offseason. The Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors did not find new pieces while the Philadelphia 76ers established themselves as a dark horse. However, none of these teams seem to have enough firepower to win a significant game against Steve Kerr’s squad.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Celtics, as described in a recent SuiteSports article, are ready to once again battle for a spot in the Finals against the overpowering Warriors. The Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, who still need to improve their team, have had more trouble finding a new star player than finding a new general manager. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward gives a boost to his college coach in Boston after the former Butler guard helped Quin Snyder become the first person not named Jerry Sloan to coach a 50-win Jazz team to the playoffs. While a Marc Gasol acquisition could get the Celtics past the Cavaliers, it may not be enough for the green to have a chance against the Dubs.

As we move westward, we begin with the San Antonio Spurs, who are looking to zig while the rest of the league zags. San Antonio has been the best and most consistent franchise since Gregg Popovich took over as the head coach two decades ago. However, the Spurs now are employing a moneyball-like technique by holding onto LaMarcus Aldridge and signing Rudy Gay (credit to Dan Le Batard and his radio show for this angle).

Teams not named the Spurs are looking to give up on players like Aldridge and Gay; these two players and others, such as DeAndre Jordan, are part of the “old NBA,” the one that did not prize 3-point shots. Aldridge attempted fewer than one 3-pointer per game last year and Gay’s career 3-point percentage is worse than the 2016-17 league average. Aldridge, Gay and Patty Mills do not seem to be the pieces to help the Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs to the 2018 title.

The Southwest Division includes the other main competitor to the Warriors in the Western Conference. Although Houston’s below-average defense does not measure up to the Spurs’ top-ranked defense or the Warriors’ second-ranked one, the 2016-17 Rockets owned the league’s second-best offense, right behind Golden State’s.

Chris Paul, who has not “been this excited about basketball in a while,” continues to rank among the league’s best in assists and steals. He expects to make the NBA’s third-fastest paced team even more efficient. He will be added to the juggernaut offense that included the recipient of the largest contact in NBA history: James Harden, who last season became the first player to score 2,000 and assist on 2,000 points in a single season.

The Mike D’Antoni-led Rockets will be able to put up a fight offensively against the Warriors, but their defense will need improvement. An acquisition of Carmelo will unfortunately not help the team’s defense. A bright spot for the Rockets is Harden’s defense – his defensive win shares during the 2014-15 season ranked in the top 10 in the NBA. Then in 2015-16, he was the team’s second-best defender, and he was the team’s best one last season.

The Rockets may be the closest team to the Warriors, but it will be an uphill climb for a Houston squad that could not even get past the Spurs in the 2017 playoffs. 

Other teams that could put up a fight in the Western Conference are the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves. After acquiring Paul George, the Thunder should surpass 50 victories after winning 47 last season. Oklahoma City expects to be an underdog in any game against Golden State though, especially because the last time the Thunder defeated the Warriors was January 16, 2015.

The Timberwolves, who acquired Jimmy Butler as they attempt for their first playoff berth since 2004, look to finally make some noise in the Western Conference. Similar to the Rockets, they had a much better offense than defense last season, but an improvement from the 26th spot in defensive efficiency is expected for Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and company. However, they seem to need another piece to dethrone the champs.

Unfortunately, that previous sentence could apply to all the teams that are trying to threaten the Warriors.

For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam. Statistics used from and

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