How the Golden State Warriors are learning a lesson from LeBron James
Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors this summer drew countless comparisons to LeBron James’ time with the Miami Heat. Two months into the season, we’re learning how similar the situations really are.
The question now is whether this “superteam” can learn its lesson faster than LeBron did when he joined forces with Dwyane Wade in 2010.
Like Wade and LeBron before them, Durant and Stephen Curry suffer from a significant overlap in their skill sets. Both are alpha scorers used to dominating the offense (although KD has had to deal with a ball-dominant point guard before, naturally). They largely shoot from the same places and operate in the same spaces. And unless they concentrate on working in unison, one of them often ends up standing in the corner while the other goes to work.
The only real differences between the Durant-Curry and LeBron-Wade pairings are the obvious height disparity and the way they each tandem gets the job done. The Warriors’ stars thrive on the perimeter, while the Heat’s dynamic duo feasted in the paint — until Miami fell in love with the 3-pointer in LeBron's second season.
Either way, that redundancy creates an impasse — but if the Warriors are smart, they’ll study the blueprint LeBron’s Heat laid out in his first two seasons in Miami.
James eventually worked on his 3-point shooting while simultaneously focusing on his post game; Wade, meanwhile, became one of the smartest off-ball cutters in the NBA (and a more willing passer than he’d been before). And coach Erik Spoelstra freed LeBron as a playmaker to run the offense depending on how he read the defense.
Slowly but surely, the Heat incorporated more LeBron-Wade pick-and-rolls. Their simple isolation sets grew increasingly intricate. A LeBron drive would be complemented by a Wade cut to the free-throw line at just the right moment. Rather than a loose assemblage of talent, Miami became a team — but it took time.
Golden State, however, already has made it through the “My turn, your turn” stage we saw play out for a full season between LeBron and Wade. The Warriors have also moved past the phase where one star (Durant) dominates at the expense of the other (Curry), which reached its peak on Christmas Day. Now, they’re in the precarious position of trying to strike the right balance.
After that holiday loss to the Cavs, coach Steve Kerr acknowledged Curry needed to be more involved on offense. The Warriors point guard, in turn, offered a simple fix: more pick-and-rolls.
The results were almost instantaneous. Although Curry didn’t light up the scoreboard in Wednesday’s win over the Raptors, he was once again an offensive focal point. He moved more effectively off the ball, played with joy and cut down on the high-risk turnovers (mostly).
For his part, KD doubled down on his role as a “big man”: setting screens, crashing the boards and protecting the rim in the clutch. Add his presence as a spot-up shooter and offensive creator out of the post, and Durant was essentially the LeBron to Curry’s Wade.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, to be sure. The Raptors made several runs on the Warriors, mostly when Golden State reverted to bad habits on offense. When everything clicked for this super squad, though, it was a thing of beauty:
That the Warriors are even trying to fix the problem is a huge step in the right direction. The Heat didn’t reach that all-important juncture until a Finals loss to the Mavericks jolted them into reality.
Golden State, on the other hand, already experienced its taste of failure in last year’s Finals. Durant, too, knows what it’s like to blow a 3-1 lead. This group shouldn’t need another epic defeat to spur improvement.
If the Warriors can keep evolving, though, they might turn LeBron’s own lessons against him — and avoid wasting a year of a potential dynasty.