What can the Trail Blazers learn from the Warriors and Cavaliers?


As we stand upon the brink of the 2015 NBA Finals, it is the perfect time to reflect on the season. For a Trail Blazers season that ultimately ended in a premature and disappointing fashion, there were a lot of positive aspects. With that being said, the playoffs are always a treasure trove of information about what it takes to succeed deep in the postseason, so let’s take a look at what our beloved Trail Blazers can learn from the two remaining teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Defense Still Matters

The Warriors were a regular season defensive juggernaut, finishing second in the league in defensive rating. It has been a huge part of their success, and on the rare games where their offense is not clicking, their defense has oftentimes been able to take care of business.

The Cavaliers represent a more interesting case study, though. Their regular season defensive performance was… not very good. They finished 20th in the league during the regular season, a shockingly low figure. However, the mid-season acquisitions of Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert likely played a large part in their eventual improvement and cannot be ignored.

Whatever happened in the regular season aside, the Cavaliers have been a completely different beast in the playoffs. They are third in defensive rating during the playoffs (one spot ahead of the Warriors), and this defensive rating would have been ranked third during the regular season. Whether the team decided to “turn it on,” the new players became used to the system, or Head Coach David Blatt himself grew more comfortable directing the team, the results have been impressive. For what it’s worth, I suspect it’s a combination of all three factors.

Building Through the Draft Can Be Viable

This applies to the Warriors, who did not have the benefit of LeBron James returning to his hometown. Instead, the Warriors boast four starters who they drafted themselves – including probably their three most important pieces in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

Consider where these three were drafted. Curry was selected 7th (2009), Thompson was selected 11th (2011), and Green was selected 35th (2012). Stop and re-read that previous sentence. Really soak it in. As I discussed with David the other day, the level of talent that the Warriors accrued with those picks is truly ridiculous.

For teams that cannot rely on free agency to bring in talent, the draft is the primary way with which to potentially acquire top-level contributors. It is imperative that a team’s front office nail the draft if they want to count on it as their main method of becoming an upper-echelon team. The Warriors’ front office has done exactly that, and they are now reaping the rewards of doing so.

-Superstars Are Always A Factor-

The Warriors have Curry, this year’s MVP. The Cavaliers have LeBron, who needs no introduction. Perhaps unfortunately for the rest of the league without a transcendent talent, this marks another year in which the Finals will be won by a team with such a player.

As addressed above, the way in which each team got their superstar varies greatly. Cleveland found itself in a lucky situation in which LeBron wanted to return home, but you had better believe there was still an intense recruitment process to convince him to do so, so kudos to those who made it happen.

Regarding Curry, it is worth pointing out that he was not drafted in the top five picks. To find such a talented player outside of top five is not easy to do, but this proves it is not impossible.

Don’t Forget the Role Players Though!

Despite the talent at the top, both of these teams have enjoyed great production from the rest of their rosters. The Warriors’ depth is unparalleled, as they are bringing Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and David Lee off the bench! That’s another sentence where you have to read it three or four times to have it make sense.

Besides those three off the bench, the other two starters who haven’t been mentioned yet for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes are extremely talented as well. Who single-handedly ended Game Five against the Rockets with a fourth-quarter outburst? Perhaps Curry or Thompson heating up? Nope, that was Barnes who poured in 13 points during the final frame to close out the Western Conference Finals.

On the other side, for the Cavaliers, Smith is contributing 13.5 points per game in the playoffs on 45.7/39.6% shooting splits, while Shumpert is adding a tidy 10.1 points per game himself. Once Kevin Love went down, Tristan Thompson stepped up in a huge way for the team too, as his 9.4 points and 9.9 (4.0 offensive) rebounds a game in the playoffs are making noticeable differences. In fact in some ways, namely defense and offensive rebounding, he is Love’s superior.

Obviously LeBron and Curry are special players, but it would be a gross disservice to not recognize the difference that some of their more unheralded teammates are making in these playoffs. Basketball is, after all, a five-man team sport, so you better believe that some of the upcoming games will be decided by a role player or two’s performance.

Final Thoughts

While it would have been nice to see what a healthy Trail Blazers squad could have done during the end of the regular season and playoffs, they still probably were a level or two short of true success. Simply put, going far in the playoffs is extremely difficult. If the Trail Blazers want to be able to take the next step, perhaps some lessons can be learned from the last two remaining teams.

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