Every now and then, you get asked a question for which the answer seems so blatantly obvious, that you feel it’s ridiculous it was even asked.
A question like, for example, did the Golden State Warriors recent dynasty actually underachieve?
After the Toronto Raptors defeated the Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to claim the 2019 championship, I was posed this very question and I immediately dismissed it as utterly stupid.
Five straight NBA finals appearances, and three championships. If that’s underachieving, then sign me up for some, please.
The person who asked the question – a friend whose identity I will protect for the sake of their credibility – then went on to point out that for all the Warriors talent over the last five seasons, they’ll ‘only’ walk away with three rings.
That they were up 3-1 against Cleveland in 2016. And they entered this season as such unbackable favourites that many people said the season would be a waste of time.
My friend – who has now been downgraded to ‘acquaintance’ – reasoned that the Warriors choked in 2016, and were the favourites this year but didn’t win, thus leaving “two rings on the table”, and hence, they underachieved.
I’ll be honest: all these facts did give me reason to pause and consider my initial position of thinking the question was preposterous.
There is a tendency these days to immediately dismiss unpopular or left-field opinions as nothing more than ‘hot takes’; to believe that the intent of the opinion is to attract attention, rather than the individual actually believing what they’re saying. Call it the ‘Skip Bayless Effect’, if you will.
However, not every viewpoint that you vehemently disagree with should automatically be classified a hot take. It may just be a difference of opinion.
As such, I didn’t want to arrogantly reject the question outright, and I’ll broadly repeat what I said to my friend, in case there are others out there that feel it’s a legitimate enquiry.
The first thing to unpack is the assumption that this Warriors dynasty is even over. Is it? While it’s been assumed that superstar Kevin Durant would be leaving, it was far from a fait accompli, and there were plenty of people that believed Durant was a big chance of staying at Golden State.
ESPN writer Brian Windhorst reports that the Warriors intend to offer Kevin Durant and fellow free agent Klay Thompson full five-year max contracts.
Ignoring the elephant in the room that both players are likely to miss most – if not all – of next season due an Achilles and ACL injury, respectively, but if Durant and Thompson accept those offers, the nucleus of the Warriors dynasty would be locked up for many seasons to come.
Having three of the greatest shooters of all time on your roster is an assurance that your team is a contender. Plus, even if Durant does leave, the Warriors still have a championship-winning core in All-Stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green (pending his own free agency) and Thompson.
As such, it’s not even fair to judge this era if we’re still in the middle of it. There’s every chance Golden State isn’t done winning titles yet.
However, let’s just pretend for a second that this is the end of the dynasty, and we’re asking if the Warriors underachieved. My answer remains a firm ‘hell no’.
We’ll ignore the three championships Golden State won, because it’s impossible to underachieve if you win the title. So what we’re focussing on is the two lost series in 2016 and 2019.
We’ll start with this year, as it’s more straight forward.
Even the most talented teams, in any sport, need a little bit of luck to succeed. Whether it’s officiating, health, or the bounce of the ball, you need a few things to go your way in order to win. Having amazing talent improves your margin of error, but you still need luck.
When it comes to luck via health, it works two ways: you can come up against opponents that are not fully fit, or you can have zero injury concerns yourself. In that regard, the Warriors have been a little lucky over the years. In 2019, that luck ran out. And then some.
Losing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson was too much for the Warriors to overcome. Not just because they’re elite-level talents, but because the over-investment in said talent means the Warriors sacrificed depth.
You could argue that decision cost them a ring, but I’m not sure that’s fair or true. Whether you have a lone star player, or five star players, if you lose one, the impact will be felt.
More depth may not have been enough to beat Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors anyway.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Warriors may have been victims of their own success. They have played more games than everyone else during their dynasty run, because they’ve gone further in the playoffs than everyone else.
That may have contributed to the injuries they sustained. Yet even if they didn’t, it would have certainly added to a fatigue factor, and therefore a disadvantage.
Whatever the case, injuries happen in sport, and they happened to the Warriors this post-season. It robbed whatever chance they had of winning the title, and it can’t be held against them. The bottom line is that you can’t say they underachieved this season.
The 2016 title is a more interesting discussion.
The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to lose a finals series after being up 3-1, and lost Game 7 on their home court.
Calling it a ‘choke’ may or may not be a bit harsh, but they certainly had hand one hand on the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and if not for Draymond Green getting suspended for game five, they may have wrapped the series up in a ‘gentleman’s sweep’.
Yet I’m not sure how much disgrace there is in losing to the best player of his generation, in his prime. LeBron James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebound, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks, on his way to 2016 Finals MVP.
He was ably backed up by Kyrie Irving, who averaged 27.1 points per game, and hit the dagger 3-pointer in Game 7 to give Cleveland the title.
It’s undoubtedly a title Golden State feel they should have won, but is losing in game 7 of the NBA Finals against LeBron James really ‘underachieving’? I think not.
Truth is, it’s really hard to win a title. It’s even harder to win them back-to-back. The Warriors did both.
Five years, five Finals appearances, three championships. Golden State have been the absolute gold standard in basketball for the last half decade, and in no way, shape or form did they underachieve.
Plus, they may not even be done.