OAKLAND – There will come a game when DeMarcus Cousins scores at least 30 points gets maybe 20 shots and reminds everyone of the beast he was before the serious injury that last July landed him atop the league’s clearance shelf.
Not until it happens can we feel the gravity of what the Warriors have assembled.
Five accomplished stars, all in mid-career, born within 30 months of each other, each striving to be his best while acutely aware of the brilliance of the others. This has never happened and may never happen again, which brings us to the question the Warriors have been asking themselves for six months.
Is it possible for five players to reach peak performance – and production – simultaneously?
It is one thing to espouse egalitarian principles, as coach Steve Kerr does on a daily basis. He spreads credit and criticism honestly without being harsh. Still, it’s a big ask of reality to consistently adhere to those principles.
Consider Monday in Charlotte. Cousins was rolling on offense, punishing the Hornets in the paint and beyond. Kevin Durant was shooting well, Klay Thompson even better. Draymond Green sprinkled in some scoring but mostly fed his horses.
Meanwhile, Stephen Curry, the league’s No. 3 scorer, got up three shots in the first quarter and was 5-of-18 for the game.
Golden State Warriors
Durant, the league’s No. 5 scorer, got up two shots in the second quarter and one in the fourth quarter. He shot 0-of-3 in those quarters, 7-of-12 in the other two.
Though all four primary scorers – Cousins, Curry, Durant and Thompson – finished with at least 15 field-goal attempts and no more than 19, there were stretches when world-class talent was reduced to spectating.
The Warriors were less than fantastic yet emerged with the win, 121-110. Boogie was the talk of the night, with season-highs in points (24) and minutes (31) to go along with 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Kerr had a simple, honest explanation: “Talent,” he said of Cousins. “He’s just an unbelievably skilled big man. And sooner or later that talent takes over.”
But the Warriors offense often operated with more force than grace. Cousins bangs. Green does, too, though to a lesser extent. Curry, Durant and Thompson neither want nor need to bang. They are sleek and elegant basketball thoroughbreds.
This brawn/finesse dichotomy contributes to poor first quarters by the Warriors. They’re trying to feed Boogie so he can be bullish around the hoop. They’re also looking for Curry, Durant and Thompson so they can mesmerize defenses with basketball ballet. Minutes pass before there is any rhythm.
When Cousins signed with the Warriors last summer, two elements dominated the conversation. One, there was concern about whether his volatility would threaten the general aplomb of the Warriors. Would he suck the air out of the locker room? And, two, some wondered if he could he keep up with the preferred fast pace of his teammates. Would he be an albatross on the court?
Oh, and one more: How will Boogie react when he doesn’t get what he wants?
Cousins is passing those tests. He has been less difficult than what many imagined. He grumbles a bit but doesn’t stray from the flock. And, for the most part, he doesn’t slow the team in transition. There is less of it when he’s in the game, but he runs the court better than might have been expected of someone who is 6-foot-11, 270 pounds and coming off a one-year layoff after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon.
The problem the Warriors confront is one of balance. Green, the one player who doesn’t need shots, is tasked with trying to manage and maintain it. It’s a tough job insofar as Cousins, Curry, Durant and Thompson are all too valuable to fade for long stretches. If they’re not involved, getting touches if not shots. they wither.
The optimistic view is that the Warriors have enough brainpower on the roster to figure out how to maximize the talent. It helps that Curry is secure in his status as team leader and is, therefore, willing to hand out generous slices of the team pie.
The pessimistic view is that this is insolvable because four great scorers cannot operate effectively without tripping over each other. Somebody will get bruised, mentally if not physically.
Realistically, the Warriors have some work to do. They are a test case for franchises without limits on ambition. They have 22 games to crack their own code.
If they do, plan the parade.
If they don’t, a grand experiment will have failed.