It’s one of the most debated questions around the NBA heading into the season:
What team has the best shot at knocking off the Warriors?
Let’s be honest, “knocking off the Warriors” involves Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or maybe Draymond Green rolling his ankle (or otherwise being injured) and missing a playoff series. But if that happens, what team has a shot? Cleveland has come closest in recent years and may top that list, and Houston has the tools to score with the Warriors (if they can get stops is another question).
Except the Warriors “don’t fear” Westbrook, something ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his The Lowe Post podcast, echoing what Jack McCallum said in his book “Golden Days.” The problem, as Lowe put it, is Westbrook’s “style of play is so easy to defend; it’s like cake to them.” (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)
First, do the Warriors fear anyone?
Second, what they say is true of Westbrook’s “me against the world” isolation style of last season, it was defendable by good defensive teams. While Westbrook’s raw numbers were good against the Warriors — 27.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game — he shot just 37.5 percent, he averaged 8 turnovers a game, and when he was on the floor the Thunder were outscored by 23.9 points per game.
This gets to the heart of the Thunder’s challenge this season — will Westbrook, George, and Anthony make the sacrifices necessary to win? Will Anthony willingly be a dangerous spot-up guy for stretches while Westbrook and George run pick-and-roll off each other? Can Westbrook forget the raw numbers, focus on getting his teammates involved, and be a true leader of an elite team? More importantly, can all these guys figure it out in one season and be a real threat by the playoffs? (Remember in Miami how it took LeBron’s big three basically a season and a half to put it all together? This squad may not have that much time as constructed.)
The Thunder are potentially the second best team in the NBA, but living up to that is another thing entirely.