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We Did the Math: Not Even Alien Invasions Will Keep Golden State from 60 Wins

An illustrated guide to the unlikely scenarios that would need to occur for the Golden State Warriors to not utterly dominate the NBA in 2016-17.

by Todd Whitehead
25 October 2016, 8:50pm

Illustration by Todd Whitehead

The Golden State Warriors are the Voltron of basketball teams: with the four badass robot lions that are Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, plus Steve Kerr hollering, "I'll form the head!," they are ready to combine into a giant super-robot and take on the universe.

But life outside Saturday morning TV can be more unpredictable; Voltron sometimes loses. Below I catalog some of the events, with varying degrees of plausibility, that could conspire to keep the Warriors from winning all 82 games this season. Oh yeah, and I use cartoons.

Everybody Stays Healthy

Before we get into everything that could go wrong for the Warriors, let's talk about how things will turn out if everything goes smoothly.

For my predictions, I'm going to rely on the Simple Projection System that Basketball-Reference created to forecast player performance for the upcoming season. Using the per-48-minute Win Share statistic of each individual Warrior provided by the Simple Projection System and the Warriors' predicted minute distribution provided by Kevin Pelton, I can estimate their total number of regular-season wins.

00-Simple Projection System-GSW Win Projections.png

The System predicts 71.1 wins. That's a little higher than the Vegas line, which was 66.5 the last time I checked, but right in sync with what more sophisticated projection approaches are predicting for the Warriors (71, 72 wins, somewhere in that range).

This System allows me to easily tweak the expected minutes played for each individual and find a new projected win total. So, for example, if we max out the Voltron lineup (i.e., Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green, and Andre Iguodala) at 48 minutes per game for 82 games, the System predicts 81.9 wins. Sounds about right.

Now with our baseline expectation for the Warriors' season in hand, we can examine how things might go wrong.

Steph Gets Injured

Scenario #1: Curry misses 20 games with a sprained ankle and is replaced by Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, and Pat McCaw.

Projected Wins: 68.5

It's a recurring nightmare for any Golden State fan: Stephen Curry drives toward the basket for a layup, but then suddenly pulls up short. The Bay Area wails as he lamely hops off the court.

Curry's notorious ankles have held up pretty well since he missed 40 games in 2012. Still, it's been hard to shake the nagging feeling that one rolled ankle could topple the Warriors at any moment.

Scenario #2: Curry misses 40 games with a sprained knee.

Projected Wins: 65.9

Of course, now Warriors fans have a new reason for angst: the looming specter of a Donatas Motiejunas sweat slick and another Curry knee sprain. Curry's injuries in the playoffs last year gave his teammates a chance to prove their mettle without him. The team went 6-2 with a 13-point average margin of victory to start the postseason, despite Curry playing fewer than 38 minutes combined.

Scenario #3: Curry misses 60 games with a broken leg.

Projected Wins: 63.3

No doubt Warriors fans will once again hold their breath any time Curry comes up hobbling this season, but with an extra MVP in reserve, the Warriors' prospects sans Steph seem a lot less dire than in years past.

KD already faced a similar situation in Oklahoma City in 2014 when Russell Westbrook broke his hand and missed 36 games. Durant kept the ship afloat, eventually steering the Thunder to 59 wins, with a less impressive skeleton crew than he would have in Golden State.

KD Finds a Better Team

Scenario 1: Durant misses 20 games with a foot injury and is replaced by Andre Iguodala, James-Michael McAdoo, and Pat McCaw.

Projected Wins: 69.0

Durant has struggled through his own injury issues, missing most of the 2015 season with a broken foot. What if that foot acts up again?

Well, the projections seem to think this would not be a big deal and, at least in the short term, I agree. The Warriors would basically be in the same situation they faced last year when Harrison Barnes missed a month with a sprained ankle. The Dubs slotted Brandon Rush into the starting lineup and the win machine kept right on whirring. Rush and Barnes both left, making way for KD's max contract, but the Warriors still have Iguodala and some other options to fill in at small forward.

Scenario #2: Durant misses 40 games on loan to F.C. Barcelona.

Projected Wins: 66.9

While a KD injury may be a legitimate concern for Warriors fans, the bigger threat is probably that he finds another, even more super super-team to join. Durant attended Steve Nash's celebrity soccer match this year, so, presumably he's a fan of the footie. What if KD decided to join fellow world-class forwards Messi, Neymar, and Suarez on F.C. Barcelona? With Barça's weekly league schedule and ample international breaks, Durant could still make it to perhaps half of the Warriors games stateside, but the travel would be brutal.

Scenario #3: Durant misses 60 games traveling through time.

Projected Wins: 64.8

Durant's intercontinental cross-sport team-jumping would probably be a disruptive issue in the locker room, but refolding the fabric of space-time itself? That would make waves.

I'm sure KD is tempted to connect with the Boston Celtics of the 1950s. These guys were even more loaded than the Warriors are now. In the 1958-59 season, the Celtics featured the previous two MVPs (Bob Cousy and Bill Russell), another '58 All-Pro (Bill Sharman), two future All-Pros (Tommy Heinsohn and Sam Jones), and two future Hall of Famers (K.C. Jones and Frank Ramsey). Plus, the C's lost in the '58 Finals, so KD would still feel needed.

Unfortunately, time-traveling DeLoreans are notoriously unreliable: flux capacitor parts are impossible to find, the gull-wing doors leak, and it literally takes a freaking lightning bolt to jump-start the things if the battery dies. If Durant gets stuck in the 1950s, he could definitely miss at least 60 games.

Draymond Goes Off the Deep End

Scenario #1: Green gets suspended for 20 games and is replaced by David West, James-Michael McAdoo, and Kevon Looney.

Projected Wins: 70.6

In last year's playoffs, the Warriors looked pretty unsteady when Green was suspended (15-point Game 5 loss to the Cavs) and even when he was just thinking about being suspended (28- and 24-point losses to the Thunder in Games 3 and 4). To be fair, those were very difficult games against the stiffest competition the Warriors faced all season. So, how would the Warriors cope with a Green suspension in the regular season against less intimidating foes and with the additional support of KD and David West at the forward spot?

According to the projections, at least, they would be just fine, but I feel like math might have underestimated Green's value a bit here. In contrast to Curry or Durant, Draymond's skill set—defensive flexibility, one-man fast-breaking, roll-man passing, and vocal leadership—is mostly not duplicated by any of the other players on the team. The Warriors are fortunate to have several of the best shooters in the league; they have more than one guy who can create off the dribble, and more than one heady passer, but they only have one Draymond.

That being said, even if serial groin violence did cost Green a 20-game suspension, I believe the Warriors would continue to find ways to outshoot and outscore most of their regular-season opponents without him.

Scenario #2: Green misses 40 games for court-mandated community service.

Projected Wins: 70.1

Imagine:

Green and the Warriors travel to Oklahoma City for the first time on a Saturday evening in February. They lose the game in front of an emotional OKC crowd. Dray decides to sample the local nightlife for afters. Taunted by a drunk Thunder fan, fisticuffs ensue. With an Oklahoma judge presiding over the subsequent hearing, and as a second-time offender, Green is sentenced to 500 hours of community service to be carried out right there, IN OKLAHOMA!

Sure, it's outlandish, but is it really more outlandish than what actually happened to Green this summer?

Scenario #3: Green misses 60 games with a broken hand.

Projected Wins: 69.5

Maybe this is a more plausible hypothetical mishap: Green breaks his hand punching someone or something. Current betting markets favor Steven Adams' face as the most likely target for the fateful punch (4:1 odds); other available bets include a teammate (8:1), an equipment manager (10:1), Blake Griffin (40:1), and Blake Griffin's equipment manager (100:1).

Klay Finds His Patronus

Scenario #1: Thompson misses 60 games on a wizarding sabbatical and is replaced by Ian Clark and Pat McCaw.

Projected Wins: 68.6

I won't waste your time with hypothetical Thompson injury scenarios; the guy is an ironman. During the past four years, he has started 320 of 328 regular-season games and all 64 playoff games for the Warriors. That's more starts than any other player in the league during that stretch.

But there is still cause for concern. Consider:

Klay hears a noise on his front porch—an owl's screech, maybe? Opening the door to investigate, he finds a mysterious missive with a signature that looks a lot like "Dumbledore" inviting him to Hogwarts Academy for a chance to "master your defense against the dark arts," "test your aerial acumen," and "discover your Patronus." The envelope's return address reveals the true nature of the invitation—a promotional flier soliciting return business from children who visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—but Klay is already arranging his travel from Platform 9¾. The dude is SO all in...

Finding your patronus can take a long time, even for a promising wizard like Thompson. It's cool, though: the projection says that the Warriors will be OK even if they are forced to start five muggles.

JaVale McGee Plays

Scenario #1: Zaza Pachulia misses 20 games with a broken face.

Projected Wins: 71.0

The Warriors need Pachulia to fill the giant shoes of departing seven-footer Andrew Bogut. Yeah, that means rim protection, but it's more than that. To keep Green out of trouble and prevent opposing teams from taking advantage of Curry, Golden State needs Pachulia to be the new enforcer. He'll be expected to stick his nose in often, and there's a decent chance it ends up getting broken.

Scenario #2: Pachulia misses 40 games with a sprained neck.

Projected Wins: 70.9

Zaza has a huge head. Neck strains could be an issue.

Scenario #3: Pachulia misses 60 games due to mind control and is replaced by JAVALE MCGEE!!

Projected Wins: 70.8

There's only one way JaVale McGee will start on this roster:

The extraterrestrial life form that has tapped into McGee's brain at the base of his skull, causing uncontrollable spasms of over-the-backboard layups as part of some inscrutable alien design, detaches from his head. It scurries across the practice facility floor and enters Kerr's office. The coach is dashing off his injury report for the league office when he feels a sharp biting sensation on the back of his neck. Unconsciously, next to every player's name he begins to scribble "UNLIMITED JAVAILABILTY" in big block letters. For reasons he can't quite explain, Kerr starts McGee that night...

According to the projections, the Warriors could sustain even this alien invasion.

All of the Above

Scenario #1: All five Golden State starters miss 15 games each for rest.

Projected Wins: 66.6

Even if the coaching staff isn't possessed by alien overlords, they could still suppress the team's win total. After falling short in the Finals last year, Kerr will no doubt have designs on sparing his starters from unnecessary mental and physical fatigue. Kerr could very comfortably rest his starters for 15 games and still have a great regular season.

Scenario #2: All five starters miss 40 games each.

Projected Wins: 59.0

The 59-23 record. We've arrived!

Before the Warriors could lose 20 games, we'd have to see Steph and Draymond breaking bones, Klay taking an extended Potter Sabbatical, KD joining the '58 Celtics, and JaVale McGee's alien infecting Coach Kerr's brain. I mean, each one is a likely enough scenario individually, but what are the chances they all happen at once?

At least 60 wins for Golden State seems like a safe bet to make this season.

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