Look, when the team you’re writing about never loses, it sometimes gets tough to come up with things to talk or write about. How many times can you describe Stephen Curry’s greatness? How often can you talk about Draymond Green’s incredible two-way play? How frequently can you repeat how picture-perfect Klay Thompson’s jump shot is?
After a while, you need a break from the accolades, you know?
The Warriors are now 23-0 and over the course of the past few weeks, we’ve all been thinking more about how to defend this team – whether you should switch or try to play as much straight-up man-to-man as possible, whether to pick up Curry full court or wait until he crosses halfcourt, whether to match their smallness with smallness or try to go big against them?
So, here’s what I was thinking … If there’s a group of Warriors’ fans I appreciate, it’s the ones who suffered through the lean years beginning in the mid 1990s and running through to the “We Believe” Team. The Warriors missed the playoffs for 12 consecutive years during one stretch, and those fans who endured those teams are the ones who likely most appreciate what’s going on with the Warriors now.
After 23 games, I’m convinced the best way to try to beat the Warriors is to play them man-to-man and switch as little as possible. It’s up to individuals to guard their men and do the least amount of helping possible.
So, between thinking of this and thinking of old Warriors teams, I asked myself: How would Golden State’s best defensive players of the past 20 years do against this team? Which former Warriors players would I put on these Warriors players? Here’s how I’d match up – using former Warriors dating back to 1995 – with this Golden State team.
Feel free to disagree or, if you want, go back further than 20 years and tell me who might have done a good defensive job against current Warriors. And, remember, we’re just talking defense here – not about an all-around matchup.
Mookie Blaylock on Stephen Curry: Blaylock was one of the best defensive point guards I’ve ever seen. By the time he got to the Warriors, a little later in his career, his All-Defensive Team days (First-Team All Defense twice; Second-Team All Defense four times) were done. He only had fleeting glimpses of his defensive glory days with Golden State, but in his prime he was dynamic.
Blaylock was only 6-feet tall, but he had an incredibly long wing span and just some phenomenal timing and quickness. He had the uncanny ability of picking an opposing guards pocket, and I’m talking quality opposing point guards. In Blaylock’s prime, he would have had the best chance against Curry.
Blaylock would have had the ability to pressure and turn Curry on his way into the frontcourt, which might pay dividends down the road in the fourth quarter. Curry would have to be extra careful with the ball, too, because Blaylock had a way of making opponents look bad on occasion. Blaylock always was among the league leaders in steals, but it’s not because he gambled a lot. It was because of his positioning, quickness and instincts.
Latrell Sprewell on Klay Thompson: Thompson would have had a few inches on Sprewell, but Sprewell would have no doubt taken on the challenge of guarding Thompson. When you picture Sprewell you picture a ferocious kind of player, an emotional player and one who played very hard when he was at the top of his game. Thompson is more low-key, more reserved, and it would have been interesting to see Sprewell do a little inciting or provoking – not in a dirty way but in the way they used to do it back then.
Don’t forget, Sprewell was a All-Defense First Team in 1993-94.
Stephen Jackson on Harrison Barnes: This would have been a fascinating matchup to watch live. You’ve got another contrast in styles – with a highly volatile, highly competitive, highly unpredictable Jackson going up against a rather staid and reserved player in Barnes.
To this day, Jackson’s defensive job on Dirk Nowitzki in Round 1 of the 2007 NBA playoffs was one of the most impressive efforts in Golden State history. Nowitzki was the MVP that season, but Jackson confounded him in the postseason. Jackson was like many of the current Warrior players, able to defend multiple positions.
Barnes has shown an ability to thrive in mismatch-type situations. But against Jackson he’d have no size mismatch.
Clifford Robinson on Draymond Green: Robinson would have presented a very different and unique challenge for Green. Robinson was 6-foot-10, all of it, and he was one of the original stretch 4s, improving his 3-point shooting as he went along in the league.
Robinson had it all defensively – size, sinewy strength, length and smarts. He had the ability to guard multiple positions and was as comfortable defending a 6-foot-6 wing player as he was a 6-11 back-to-the-basket guy. I could envision a player such as Robinson, without having to worry about help defense, being a challenge for Green. Robinson could have contested Green’s 3s and yet been quick enough to hamper his penetration. And it’s tough to see Green scoring consistently off Robinson in the low post.
Erick Dampier/Adonal Foyle on Andrew Bogut: If you can remember Dampier, chances are you don’t remember him fondly. While there are some legitimate reasons for that, it’s also true that Dampier was a pretty darn good defender. He had good size, a very good understanding of team defense and seldom, if ever, did his man need to be double-teamed. Foyle would have been a nice shot-blocker off the bench.