Once DeMarcus Cousins is healthy, and assuming that he becomes the team’s starting center, the Warriors can run out a lineup with a combined 19 All-NBA seasons and 25 All-Star nods in 41 total seasons, despite nobody being 30 years old yet.
This is absurd on every level. It’s why the world figuratively burned in early July when news broke about Boogie’s decision to join the back-to-back champion Warriors on a cheap deal.
There is no disputing that it’s the most talented five-man unit in the NBA by far, and perhaps the most talented five-man unit ever based on raw inputs. We’ll have to see it in action to see if it actually works, but the ingredients are top-notch. The Warriors should have no problem expecting unadulterated greatness from those starters.
The question is what happens when some of them rest.
This is the weird issue with the Warriors this season: they have their best starting lineup ever, with an actually good center available instead of role players like defense-and-passing Andrew Bogut, space-filler Zaza Pachulia, or raw swag-machine athletes Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell. But Golden State’s bench has never been this sparse.
Even on opening night against the Thunder — a team known for its lackluster reserve unit, and a team forced to start Dennis Schroder in place of injured star Russell Westbrook — the Warriors’ bench fell short. In fact, Golden State went under water whenever Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant sat. They outscored Oklahoma City by 15 points when both were in the game, played the Thunder even when one was in, and were outscored by six points in the short time both rested.
Andre Iguodala left the game with calf tightness, which is a sign of how reliant Golden State is on a mix of older players prone to injury and young, unproven guys like two-way player Alfonzo McKinnie (who got some run in the second quarter of the first game of the season). Without Iguodala, the perimeter players on the bench are Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, and Jonas Jerebko. Livingston has been a Golden State hero in the past, but slowed down last season. The Warriors have shown some faith in Cook, and perhaps he will reward that faith some day. Jerebko was mostly invisible in his six minutes on Tuesday.
The Warriors are carrying four centers including Cousins, and that strains their depth elsewhere on the roster. Given that Cousins is a one-year rental in all likelihood, Golden State needs to figure out which two of Damian Jones (who started on Tuesday), Looney, and Bell are worth keeping for the future and which can be shunted off to make room for another wing. Honestly, had Boogie not approached the Warriors with his idea to take the mid-level exception in a rehab ring chase, Golden State would likely have used the asset to add a wing or back-up point guard. The incredible Cousins discount is hurting depth elsewhere on the roster.
But any time we start to fret about the Warriors’ imbalance — both the huge commitments to centers in terms of roster spots and the wild starters vs. bench disparity — we have to come back to the beginning, to that amazing starting lineup. How could it possibly matter who plays the few minutes Curry and Durant sit when they are so darn unstoppable for the 32-36 minutes they do play?
The denouement of Iguodala and Livingston, the strange absence of Patrick McCaw, the long list of big men who can’t play together — it’s all interesting as we look for ways in which the Warriors could fall short. But it also feels like none of it really matters. It would if the Warriors were a normal, fallible team, but they are not, at least until they are.
We won’t know if the roster imbalance issues in Golden State truly matter until the playoffs. Even then, perhaps they will matter, but that impact will be shrouded by the dust storm created by the starting five’s raw, unadulterated power.
We’ll see, or we won’t.