Originally posted on RealGM | By Colin McGowan | Last updated 4/22/21
We hit this point every year, where the games seem not to matter very much and all the best teams are just trying to get into the playoffs with their full roster intact. It’s usually a March phenomenon, but we’re time-shifted this go round, with the postseason starting in mid-May rather than late April. We normally spend some of this period yammering about the MVP race, but the limits of our collective imagination, forces that dictate we must always be having the Most Important conversations have rendered than an ongoing debate that kicks off around game 20 and spends itself entirely by All-Star Weekend. Having smoked the whole pack, what we’re left with is the tar-ghostly aftertaste of some really inconsequential basketball, in the midst of a season soaked in ennui. Everybody has to muddle through, and they will. The world will soon feel like a less forbidding place, NBA players will stop making small talk with their hotel room walls, and we’ll all get a little more free.
In the meantime, the only thing worth following is Steph Curry. With Klay Thompson’s Achilles tear, James Wiseman’s up and down and now-kaputt season, Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre’s “help,” and Draymond Green settling firmly into early old age, this is Steph’s Kobe-in-the-wilderness year. He’s carrying a hodge-podge and deathly not-great Warriors squad toward an early playoff defeat, because that is literally the most he can do. If he doesn’t break 30 points on a given night, they’re completely screwed. Last week, he posted 47 and Golden State lost to Boston by five.
The NBA has never been in a better place than it is now in terms of popularity, excitement and quality of play. The league has a number of things to thank for that, most notably its superstars led by the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, who continue to perform at a high level. And as we’ve seen in recent years from players such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, Father Time remains undefeated.
The best way to delay the inevitable athletic decline is to enhance new skills and play a less physically taxing brand of basketball. Take Dirk Nowitzki, for example. He developed a tough-to-block-shot — a one-legged fadeaway jumper that allowed him to get a high-percentage shot off anywhere on the court — and he remained one of the best offensive players in basketball until late in his career.
Let’s take a look at a handful of today’s older superstars and see if there’s a historical parallel they can model their games after to help them age gracefully into the twilight of their careers. As far as my criteria, a player must:
Be a future Hall of Famer (sorry Jimmy Butler!)
Still be playing at an All-NBA level (sorry Chris Paul!)
Be entering at least his ninth season.
LEBRON JAMES, LAKERS, 17th season (turning 35 this season)
Twilight should mirror: Magic Johnson, seasons 10 thru 12, 29-31 years old. Key three-year averages: 21.4 points, 12.3 assists, 7.1 rebounds per game.
Because of his Karl Malone-like frame, most assumed LeBron would move up positions (small forward to power forward to center) as his career progressed. While he’s clearly capable of that progression as evidenced by him dominating the restricted area throughout his career, he continues to develop his guard skills (8.8 assists per game the past three seasons) to evolve with the wide-open, perimeter-oriented evolution of the game. Put differently, he’s already adopted the Magic Johnson career evolution over the Karl Malone one, so he might as well take it full tilt and become a point guard now that he has a go-to scorer in Anthony Davis whom he can rely upon. Assuming good health, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James flirt with double-digit assists per game this season.
STEPHEN CURRY, WARRIORS, 11th season (turning 32 this season)
Twilight should mirror: Steve Nash, seasons 12 thru 16, 33-37 years old. Key five-year averages: 33.9 minutes, 15.4 points, 10.8 assists per game, 51-43-92 shooting splits.
Curry always will be a better scorer than Nash ever was, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try to mimic the latter stages of Nash’s career as he ages out of his physical prime. When Curry can no longer shake the NBA’s best defenders out of their shoes, he’ll need to focus more on his playmaking (only 5.2 assists per game last season) to remain an elite offensive weapon into his mid-30s. Nash, a player development consultant for the Warriors, was still playing at an All-Star level until his final season in Phoenix by keeping defenses on edge with his brilliant orchestration of pick-and-rolls and willingness to pass up good shots for great shots. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Curry do the same.
KEVIN DURANT, NETS, his next season will be his 13th (turning 31 this season)
Twilight should mirror: Dirk Nowitzki, seasons 11 thru 14, 30-33 years old. Key four-year averages: 24.1 points, 7.5 rebounds per game 48-38-90 shooting splits.
Given what we know about the effect Achilles injuries have on a basketball player’s athleticism, Durant is going to be a different kind of player when we next see him on the court. He’ll still have his amazing bucket-getting skills, but he probably won’t have the same kind of quickness and leaping ability, making this comparison even more apt. Like Dirk, KD has the height (7 feet) and length to get a shot off anywhere on the court. Thus, even if Durant can’t get to the rim like he has his entire career (7.7 free throw attempts per game for his career), he should be able to score 25 per game until he’s 40 if he masters some of the fadeaways, pump fakes and moves Dirk had. Good news Nets fans: He’s already pretty damn good at the one-legged fadeaway.
JAMES HARDEN, ROCKETS, 11th season (30 years old)
Twilight should mirror: A super version of Manu Ginobili, seasons 7 thru 9, 31-33 years old. Key three-year per-36 minute averages: 20.7 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 turnovers per-36.
I used per-36 averages because Ginobili played only 28.9 minutes per game during this stretch, and Harden will almost certainly be playing more minutes late into his career. When Harden loses his insanely quick first step and elite ability to change speed and direction, he can still be one of the best offensive players in the league by constantly attacking defenses the way Ginobili did his entire career for the Spurs. Ginobili’s ability to play an ultra-aggressive playing style while not turning the ball over was especially impressive. As Harden’s athleticism wanes, his insane usage rate will likely drop and he’ll need to give the ball to the other team less (5.0 turnovers per game the past three seasons). With Russell Westbrook, another record-setting player in terms of usage rate, set to join Harden this season, perhaps we’ll start to see him take care of the ball a little better -– if he doesn’t, the Rockets might be in trouble.
Before his devastating block on Andre Iguodala in Game 7, the most talked about rejection during the NBA Finals was LeBron James’ swat of Steph Curry in Game 6. The King followed it up with a torrent of trash talk and a look of absolute disgust that many took at the time to simply be the release of competitive spirit.
There might have been more to that moment, however.
On Tuesday, Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group released his new book, Golden, which details Curry’s rise to a two-time MVP.
Over the weekend, Thompson joined Jason McIntyre on The Big Lead to talk about the book, and shed some light on the dynamic between some of the games’ top superstars. According to Thompson, LeBron, along with Russell Westbrook, are not fond of Curry and the hype he has received:
“I think if you ask them and they’re being honest, they don’t like all the hype he gets, and they have to direct it that way. I think, out of all of them, if somebody doesn’t like Steph Curry, I think it’s probably Westbrook. He just shows no sign of … this ain’t really about Steph, it’s bigger. His seems to be, ‘I don’t like that dude.’ But LeBron and them, I think they will say, ‘Man, I like Steph. We can have a conversation.’ But there’s something that burns them about the fact that Steph is the one that is exalted and because of that they want to go at him and demean his hype. They want to take him down.”
Being the competitors they are, of course LeBron and Westbrook would want to beat Curry, but this seems to go beyond just a simple need to defeat anyone in your path to a championship. It’s also interesting to hear the reasoning being the way the media hypes Curry.
Normally, the conversation surrounding All-Star “snubs” takes place after full rosters are announced in any sport. On Thursday, the NBA announced only the 2017 starting lineups for both the East and West and, in something of a rare twist, the outrage machine got a very early start. This time, those screaming were actually right.
The frontcourt selections on both sides were quite reasonable. The East’s trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James was the consensus choice across the board and each player earned the nod with lights-out play throughout the campaign. In the West, Kevin Durant andKawhi Leonard were virtual locks, with Anthony Davis garnering the nod in a (slightly) controversial pick.
At the time of the selection, the Pelicans sit with a 17-26 record, but Davis sports incredible numbers (28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game) and the likes of Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gobert should (hopefully) be recognized with deserved reserve nods. Plus the game is in New Orleans, so Davis getting to start in front of his home crowd is cool.
However, the backcourts were not as clean. In fact, they were flatly wrong. Russell Westbrook is the first player in NBA history to enter the All-Star break while averaging a triple-double that includes a 30-point scoring average.
Naturally, he was left off the quintet of players who will represent the Western Conference to start the game in New Orleans, with Stephen Currytaking the reins. In the East, the “snub” was far less noticeable to a casual observer, but it was a case of the wrong member of the Toronto Raptors garnering the honor, with DeMar DeRozan set to start ahead of backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.
Fan voting was partly to blame for both outcomes, but both are amiss with what has taken place. Yes, Curry is the reigning two-time MVP and one of the best players in the NBA. His production, though, has slipped a substantial amount with Durant in the mix, and Curry’s numbers (24.6 points, 6.1 assists per game, 39.7 percent from three) look positively pedestrian when compared to that of Westbrook.
There is always the argument that Curry’s team success (the Warriors are the best team in the NBA) should buoy him to some degree, but in this case, the statistical argument for Curry is virtually non-existent and Westbrook’s singular dominance has been one of the bigger stories of the 2016-2017 season.
On Wednesday, it was Drake Night at the Air Canada Center, a special occasion for the Raptors — Toronto had not lost on the rapper’s dedicated night. After losing to the Golden State Warriors, Toronto’s pristine record on Drake Night is no more.
The Raptors started the game strong, making the extra pass and getting good looks on offense. But then Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry got going and so did Golden State’s defense. The Warriors held the Raptors to 15 points in the second, forcing Toronto to shoot 5 for 24 and went into the half up by 13 points. And despite Toronto’s valiant attempt at a comeback in the second half, the Warriors never gave up their lead and ended the night with the 127-121 victory.
New Splash Bros: Although Klay Thompson struggled with his shot against the Raptors, it didn’t affect Golden State too much, mainly because they have Curry and Durant. The dynamic duo combined to score 65 points, more than half of Golden State’s total points.
Durant finished 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting. He also dished out six assists and grabbed nine rebounds. Curry was also sensational, drilling three 3-pointers and finishing at the rim with relative ease. He finished the game with a game-high 35 points on 10-of-19 shooting. When Curry and Durant are scoring 30-plus points, it is quite hard to beat the Warriors.
Dynamic Draymond: Led by Durant and Curry the Warriors closed the first half on a dominant 21-4 run. But while Durant and Curry did most of the heavy lifting on offense, it was Draymond Green who keyed Golden State in the first half.
Green was extremely active on both ends of the floor, playing tough defense and helping to facilitate Golden State’s offense. The Warriors All-Star was just everywhere and finished the half with 11 points, four rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal. Green’s performance in the first half was crucial to the Warriors getting and sustaining a lead.
The chorus arrived with 2:23 left in the game Monday night. As Stephen Curry took his seat during a timeout, a sellout Oracle Arena crowd of 19,596 rained “M-V-P!” down on the man who won the award the previous two seasons.
Curry had just set an NBA record with his 13th three-pointer, breaking the single-game mark he had shared with Kobe Bryantand Donyell Marshall. His long-range performance helped the Warriors stave off the Pelicans for a 116-106 win.
Three nights after snapping his NBA-record streak of 157 straight games with a three, Curry poured in a season-high 46 points on 16-of-26 shooting (13-of-17 from beyond the arc). Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant chipped in 24 and 22 points, respectively. Draymond Green had four points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks.
“This was a special night,” Curry said.
He began to eye the record around when he hit his ninth or 10th three-pointer. His team nursing a five-point lead with less than four minutes left, Curry netted three threes in a 70-second span to ice the victory. On the one that broke the record, facing two defenders, he hoisted the high-arcing trey from 26 feet.
As ball met net, fans erupted from their seats. Curry stomped his feet, bobbed his head and unleashed a roar. It had taken more than 9,000 games with the three-point line in the NBA for this feat to materialize.
“When he’s going off like that, you don’t really have to find him,” Green said. “He’ll find a way to get a shot off, that’s for sure.”
In Golden State’s lopsided loss Friday to the Lakers, Curry had failed to hit a three for the first time since Nov. 11, 2014. The only player to make 400 threes in a season concentrated in practice Sunday on regaining his trademark flow from deep.
Curry fired with the reckless abandon Monday that has long made him a household name. To set his latest record, he converted at least a few “bad” shots. Curry knifed through two defenders in the second quarter before pulling up for a 26-footer. The official box score gave it the accurate title of “running jump shot.”
There would be no sequence as if out of a movie on this night. This is sports, where the better team almost always wins.
A night after the Chicago Cubs completed the feel-good story of the century with a dramatic Game 7 victory in the World Series, there would be no such dramatics in Oakland, California. The Golden State Warriors faced the franchise from which they took the second-best player in the league– Kevin Durant– and beat them into oblivion. The Warriors beat Oklahoma City 122-96, but led by as many as 31.
In what was billed as a high-stakes matchup in the feud between Durant and Russell Westbrook, Durant left no doubt who came out better of the exchange when he left to join the team that beat him in the playoffs last spring. It was a total evisceration. The Thunder played well to start the game, but the Warriors put on a blistering show, the kind we had been expecting since Durant signed with Golden State. Durant was a human inferno, smiling and laughing as he burned his former teammates for 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting and 7-of-11 from 3-point range.
Durant even stayed in during the fourth quarter when the game was well out of hand. There was no mercy, there was no notion of being beyond needing to rub it in. For Durant, this was clearly about the little jabs that had come from former teammates, critics and whoever else. All those critics he yelled at in his post-practice workout? They were in flesh and blood, and Durant let them know who he is.
Kevin Durant. Former MVP. Second-best in the world. Golden State Warrior.
The Warriors were merciless. They egged on Durant, constantly finding him on cuts to the rim for dunks, 3-pointers on the perimeter and celebrating with jubilation whenever he did anything. Durant embraced the Warrior’s aura of embarrassing teams and letting them know about it. When Enes Kanter chirped at Durant during a stoppage, Durant responded. Durant was spotted later saying, “Keep talking.”
Durant let his game do the talking, and he talked, and his teammates talked. There was a lot of talking.
The message, though, was clear. Durant joined the Warriors to take a special, once-in-a-lifetime team and make them better. They looked the part against OKC.
Stephen Curry will probably always wince when the memories of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals come up. After a regular season where he helped lift his team to 73 wins, on the biggest stage of the game it was LeBron James and Kyrie Irving who were making plays late, while Curry couldn’t shake loose from Kevin Love. The Warriors lost Game 7 on their home court, and Curry was hunting threes late despite going 4-of-14 from deep that game.
That’s going to eat away at any competitor. Curry told Sam Amick of the USA Today he’s not over that loss, but he’s using it as motivation.
“I still haven’t gotten over Game 7,” Curry told USA TODAY Sports during a break in the shoot (of a commercial). “That’s something that will stay with me pretty much forever, for good and bad reasons. Obviously you hated the feeling, but it’s also a motivator to come back even stronger and try not to have that feeling again.
“I’m at that point now where I can try to fuel any kind of terrible nightmares or thoughts about Game 7 into motivation for how I’m going to prepare myself for this year.”
Finals losses have fueled many a player and team (think San Antonio in 2014). Curry is certainly no different. It took him a little while to start turning the loss into fuel — he admits in the article he was down for a while — but he has come around and now wants his shot at redemption.
Hunger and desire are not going to be the questions for Golden State this season. Figuring out how to blend Kevin Durant into this star-laden team, and how to win consistently despite the loss of depth the franchise gave up to get Durant, are much bigger issues.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference the other day to announce some rule changes, but it was his comments on Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors that ended up making news.
Silver said he did not like the idea of the NBA being dominated by “super teams,” which many are assuming the Warriors will be when Durant joins Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of the squad.
“I’ve read some stories that the league wants this notion of two ‘super teams’ that is a huge a television attraction,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be clear. I do not think that’s ideal from the league’s standpoint. Part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league. On the other hand, I absolutely respect the players’ right to be a free agent.
On Wednesday, Curry got a chance to respond to that sentiment, which has come from many around the NBA world, not just the league commissioner.
“I mean, I’m not going to complain about it,” Curry told ESPN. “I know for a fact it’s going to be a different look having obviously lost some key guys. Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights, Leandro Barbosa — guys that meant a lot to us and our success. We gave up a lot to gain KD. We’re going to be a different team.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing guaranteed in this league. You want to avoid that kind of situation, but we have to go out and play and it’s going to be a tough test.”
As we’ve seen in the past, many of these “super teams” never won an NBA title, so it’s not as if the NBA should just give the Warriors the 2017 title. If anything, as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, making the Warriors a villain is a good thing for the league.
On the campus of the Old School, they will pass out mimeographed copies of the box score from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals and point to this as a moment that the tried-and-true ways prevailed, that inside beat outside and that the star system stayed intact.
The Golden State Warriors spent most of the past two years subverting all of those steadfast NBA truths, raining in 3-pointers and sending LeBron James to defeat after defeat on many nights when he was the best player on the court. Not in Game 5. Not when James controlled the floor with 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots — owning or sharing the game-high totals in each of those categories. And not when Kyrie Irving was the next-best player — more valuable in the fourth quarter, actually — with 41 points of his own.
James called Irving’s game “probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live.” LeBron’s visual history would have to include his own 45-point, 15-rebound, 73 percent shooting Game 6 in Boston in 2012 to keep his first championship run in Miami alive. That one still ranks higher for its singular majesty; Dwyane Wade was the Heat’s next-highest scorer that night with 17 points.
Monday night was the first time a pair of teammates went for 40-plus points in the same NBA Finals game. And now the Cavaliers still have hopes of another historic achievement: becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.
It helped that this wasn’t exactly the same Warriors team that won three of the first four games in this series. Draymond Green served his one-game suspension for exceeding the flagrant foul points threshold in the playoffs for his whack at James near the end of Game 4. Without him, the Warriors were lost on defense and couldn’t go to the lineup configuration featuring him at center that had wreaked havoc on the league since last year’s Finals.
Their roster was further depleted by a left knee strain suffered by center Andrew Bogut early in the third quarter. With none of their backup centers making contributions, the Warriors went supersmall by sending Shaun Livingston in with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. They couldn’t provide enough offense to make up for their defensive shortcomings.
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