Here's an interesting thought:
Before the draft, in the debate over Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, we looked at the Warriors as the leading example of the modern NBA offense and the vanguard of it's future. Where the Warriors are right now is where the rest of the NBA wants to be - NBA champions chasing the best single-season record in NBA history.
There's no question that the Warriors' offensive system is why they're on top. Golden State leads the league in basically everything on that side of the ball: points, FG%, 3pt%, assists, whatever. You name it, they're probably at the top of the list. And there's no question that Steph Curry is the key component to that offense. Draymond Green makes a strong argument as a freak Pippen/Rodman hybrid, but his versatility and willpower still don't quite amount to Curry's gravity and sheer, dumbfounding shooting antics. Steph, more than anyone, if the guy putting points on the board.
Our look at the 2015 draft detailed a lot of what makes the Warriors' offense so magical. If you haven't read it yet, first of all, shame.
Second, here's the general idea: the Warriors build their offense on the classic pick-and-roll play (like all but two teams in the NBA do *cough*) but flow it into the spacing of the D'Antoni system, married to the corner three sets and Triangle split screens Steve Kerr picked up playing for the Spurs and Bulls.
The result is a fast and furious hybrid offense that moves almost quicker than defenses can react to, much less adjust to. The Warriors come at you from all angles and all ranges, regardless of who has the ball. It's daunting to even contemplate defending.
The Warriors also add a new element to the mix, which is what throws teams off more than anything: to take advantage of Steph Curry's unprecedented shooting ability, they invert the process, using Draymond as a point guard so the wings and guards are free to set screens and shoot.
This is critical because it flips what teams normally plan for on defense upside-down. The typical switch play, whether it be a screen or a pick-and-roll, has traditionally been run to get a defending guard on a big man near the hoop. The idea here, of course, is that the guard has little chance of contesting a point-blank shot from a player much bigger than himself.
However, the Warriors run it for the opposite effect - to get a defending big man on one of their guards. Three is more than two, and the Warriors like their chances with Klay coming off a screen of Curry in isolation against an Enes Kanter or Omer Asik. It's the same action that D'Antoni would occasionally run for Steve Nash and that Tom Thibodeau began running between Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Portland has basically built it's playbook on this now with Damien Lillard as their focal point. The Clippers love to put the ball in Blake Griffin's hands and run scoring sets for Chris Paul and JJ Redick. And the Spurs still ingeniously and hilariously fall back on this with Boris Diaw anytime they want to screw with an opponent. They took down LeBron and the Heat in the 2014 Finals running the ball through Bobo in the high post. They did it again just a couple weeks ago to take down the Warriors themselves.
With the rule changes putting scoring point guards front and center on the NBA stage, it stands to reason that this method of playcalling is going to become more and more popular as teams see the success of other teams already using it. The Warriors could lose just nine games this season. Nine. All year. You think everyone else won't want to try what they're doing?
That, of course, has led to the question, how do you stop the Warriors? Much like when D'Antoni blitzed the league with the Nash/Amare Suns pick-and-roll, teams are struggling to come up with a repeatable formula for even slowing down W's-ball. Thibadeau finally "solved" defending the pick-and-roll - as much as it can be solved, at least - in 2007 with Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. But no team knows what to do with Golden State. Basically everyone except San Antonio has resigned themselves to a gunfight, trying to just sheer outscore them.
Yeah. Good luck with that.
The Warriors themselves don't really have this problem. At worst, they can resort to their "lineup of death" (basically moving Green to Center) so that the best possible matchup a switched guard can hope for is Harrison Barnes. That's not very ideal, all things considered. But otherwise you have Andre Iguodala or Green on you, which is even worse. At that point, you might as well not switch at all and just attack Curry head on, and hope the help defense doesn't happen. (Pro tip: the Ws' help defense always happens)
So what can a team do?
Well, it appears that one option might be to have Karl-Anthony Towns.
Thing that stuck with me: How many guys can do what KAT did to the Warriors? Not sure GSW has a guy to cover him + he switches onto Curry— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 6, 2016
Much as we talked about the Warriors and modern NBA offense, we also talked about modern NBA defense, and the new role big men must play in that.
From Zach Lowe
Love is not a two-way player â at least not now. And even if his defense improves, he'll never be quick enough to regularly switch onto wings during the pick-and-roll â a skill more coaches crave from big men as the league gets smaller and faster. Most perimeter players can switch among themselves without creating fatal mismatches, but that doesn't do much good against a pick-and-roll involving a point guard and a big man. A power forward who can switch that play has unique value. He is the pivot point between a normal NBA defense and a switching machine that walls off the paint.
The premise of it is very simple: get a center who can guard a point guard. The practice of that, though, well...
There are thirty teams in the NBA. Of those thirty, I'd say three of them start a center who can reliably switch onto point guards in isolation and not get killed outright by a Kyrie Irving or James Harden - Marc Gasol in Memphis, Al Horford in Atlanta, and Rudy Gobert in Utah (and for him, it's just by dint of having arms the length of 747 wings). Four, if you count Nerlens Noel as a Center.
The rest have a complicated set of problems to solve when it comes to their bigs, who often get stuck out on an island near the three point line on defense these days. It's a lot of pressure to be 7' tall and heavy, matched up with a guy like Russell Westbrook 28 feet from the hoop with no teammates behind you to help.
But Towns is in a different class when it comes to switching.
Towns not only holds his own against guards, he shuts them down. Absolutely bricks them. A guard getting switched onto Towns this season has about the same chance of success as a guard getting switched onto Kawhi Leonard. Meaning, that guard should pass to someone else.
That's a tremendous thing to have in a Center. For a Center who's actually the size of a Center, it's basically unprecedented, both in terms of physicality and teams having the need for it in the first place. As incredible talented as Towns is at scoring and moving the ball on offense, it's this ability to switch on defense that really makes him a phenom, and of the two sides of the court, is actually the more important one for him to excel at.
As Kevin Garnett says, "If you can defend in this league, you can play." In fact, for bigs, it's overwhelmingly more important to be modern on defense than on offense. Plenty of big men have psuedo/non-modern offenses and play fine. Many of the key bigs for this year's playoff teams - DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Robin Lopez, Timofy Mozgov, Andrew Bogut - have extremely limited offense, or simply no offense at all. But because they don't take away from their teammates' offense, and can defend the modern offense on the other end of the court, they end up being cornerstones that their teams rely on.
That's likely the real answer to the Warriors, if there is one. Beating the Warriors probably takes a team built like the Warriors: a roster full of multi-dimensional players who can pretty much all run, pass and shoot on offense and switch on defense.
The key here is that, because Towns can do all this at the Center position, the Wolves can also field a Power Forward who can do this, and then have the ability to switch from all five players on the court. (This is why Dieng is not an ideal big to pair with Towns) Much like the Warriors do when they have Green at Center and Harrison Barnes at Power Forward.
But against the Wolves, that would leave Green at a 6" height disadvantage against Towns, making him easy prey in the low post. Kerr seemed unwilling to test that too, playing Bogut a season high in minutes against the Wolves. But that then left the Warriors vulnerable to KAT's perimeter skills. He's a matchup problem no matter who the Warriors put on him.
That's why Towns is probably as close to an answer to Golden State as there is in the NBA right now. There's no single Warrior who can guard everything he has, and he can guard any of them.
Does this make KAT and the Wolves the answer to the Warriors? Well....we'll see, I guess. The league evolves fast, and the Warriors evolve faster still. But it's fun to think that the Wolves have probably the best single tool to counter the best team in the NBA on their roster. After a decade-plus of nothing but misery, Minnesota suddenly has something very special to work with.