Here is yet another case of a classic team comparing their success to that of current teams. Magic Johnson, who was in charge of running the “Showtime” Lakers back in the 1980’s was asked by ESPN anchor Cari Champion in an interview alongside Pat Riley, ‘Who would win in a series between his “Showtime” Lakers and the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors?’ Johnson responded fairly confidently stating: “We would probably sweep ’em.”
Naturally, this response would get any NBA fan riled up, so it is only fair to either justify or scrutinize Johnson’s claim. Johnson went on to say that the Warriors team now would be “too small” in opposition against the “Showtime” Lakers. So this begs the question: Was Magic right or wrong?
In order to fully break down these two teams, we must pick apart what each of these teams brings to the table in terms of scoring, rebounding, passing, and defense.
The Golden State Warriors led the NBA in scoring with 115.9 points per game. It may not come as a surprise that they were able to do so with two of the greatest scorers this game has to offer in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Not to mention they send out one of the league’s quickest and most efficient triggers from deep in Klay Thompson. With their ability to get up and down the court, and find one of these three targets on the perimeter or driving towards the basket, makes it near impossible to defend. Especially with the proficiency in which these players score with. It is not only the shooting that makes this offense so dangerous, it is the amount of high-percentage looks they get when they do get into the paint. Who needs an interior presence when you can shoot the lights out of the gym?
This Lakers team averaged 117.8 points per game for which they finished second in the league that year. The Lakers were buoyed throughout the year by league MVP Magic Johnson. It was Johnson who would set the tempo for this team and give them their identity. Johnson would play alongside Hall of Famers such as James Worthy and all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
Worthy had an offensive arsenal that allowed for him to score in a multitude of ways whether it be in isolation plays in the half-court or running on the wing on those famous “Showtime” Laker fastbreaks. Although Abdul-Jabaar, at first, probably was not the ideal player to have in an up-tempo offense, it may have ended up as the perfect fit for him. His game would consist of playing down low in the post as the person they could throw the ball into and expect an almost guaranteed two points ala the sky hook. In order to space the floor, it was Johnson’s backcourt teammates like Byron Scott and Michael Cooper who would be their sharpshooters as well as filling in on the wing in the open court.
1986-1987 Lakers – With the ability to run in transition as well as get production from inside the paint, mid-range, and from deep makes the 1986-1987 Lakers a more difficult team to beat in a seven-game series. Shooters and teams can get cold and when that happens it is vital that the team can adjust and turn to a different style of play and in that instance, the slight edge goes to the “Showtime” Lakers, due in large part to Abdul-Jabaar.
This Warriors side is more the team to crash the defensive glass rather than rebound on the offensive end. Averaging 44.4 total rebounds per game, 35.0 of those rebounds came on defense and only 9.4 of them coming on offense. Seeing that teams get more defensive rebounds than offensive rebounds in a game is no surprise, however, the lack of height and weight that the Warriors have on the interior allows for an opposing team that can assert their will inside. With the personnel that the Warriors have, the guards such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson may be a bit undersized and overpowered when going against bigger stronger guards to box them out. It is not taking anything away from Curry or Thompson as rebounders, it is more their consistency to gather rebounds at a high rate when switched onto bigger opponents.
Similar to the 2016-2017 Warriors, the 1986-1987 Lakers finished the season with a total of 44.4 rebounds per game. The thing that makes these two teams different is the focus that the Lakers had on crashing the offensive glass. In that season the Lakers would total 13.7 of their rebounds on offense with the remaining 30.7 rebounds coming on defense. In being the better offensive rebounding team the Lakers would create more opportunities to score on second chance points.
It is the bigs such as Frank Brickowski, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green, and Abdul-Jabaar that are credited for doing the dirty work down low. These big men would be crucial in the series versus the Warriors in terms of getting a body on a body when the shot goes up. Having a 6’9″ point guard in Johnson can go a long way in the rebound department in terms of pinning the smaller defenders out of position when gathering possession of the ball.
1986-1987 Lakers – Although Shaun Livingston can combat and compete with Magic Johnson at the guard position for rebounds, it was a focal point of the Lakers with their style of play to secure the rebound and then get off to the races. With the sheer size and mass that these Lakers possess, in a seven-game series the wear and tear in the rebounding battle would work against the Warriors and in the Lakers favor.
A focal point that contributes to the Warriors insane firepower is their willingness to share the ball. The Warriors finished at the very top of the league, ranked first with 30.4 assists per game. It is saying a lot about this team with the superstars that are sprinkled throughout the lineup. The egos are checked at the door and the benefit of getting the best shot available is what they pride themselves on the most.
With Draymond Green being one of the best passing forwards we have in the NBA, he has led the Warriors in assists the past two seasons. The teams that are truly great are the ones that share the ball and make the extra pass. When that is done, confidence and chemistry are boosted as the season rolls on. The Warriors do a good job at not overpassing as well, spacing the floor and finding the open man is shown more than any team we have seen in recent memory.
Known for their fastbreak offense, the “Showtime” Lakers created a new style of basketball that the NBA universe was attracted too. The man running the show, Magic Johnson, became “the man” of the league that season and his signature passes made fans rise out of their seats whether on the road or at home inside the Forum. It wasn’t so much those fastbreaks that signified all of their season’s assists, but the half-court offense as well that showcased their ability to pass as a team. The passing inside of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar to bigs like Green or Mychal Thompson or even a cutting James Worthy and Byron Scott made them a nightmare to defend for four quarters.
2016-2017 Warriors – The ability to control the game in a way that dictates the pace of play is a strong point for both these sides. However, the passing capabilities that the Warriors have throughout their entire roster make them the more pass-happy team. Getting the best look for your players is the primary focus when running an offense. The Warriors seem to be the team that focuses more on the fluidity of ball-movement and as many of these comparisons go, it boils down to who would have the advantage in a seven-game series? In that instance, the slight edge goes to Golden State.
The combination of length and tenacity is something that this Warriors team carries well. The ferocity in which players like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson play with aggravates opponents into being knocked out of their rhythm. How well they play on offense can be directly correlated to their defensive mindset. Even while undersized, Curry still sticks with his match-ups and looks to find a way to sneak the ball away from them.
Add a defender like Kevin Durant who can guard up to four positions on the floor. Due to his length on the perimeter, he can step out on shooters and slide his feet as well as bang down low amongst the trees. The only flaw to this defense would be their interior defense, but adding a big body like Zaza Pachulia who can anchor your defense and has a style of play conducive to that of the hard-nosed 1980’s, really rounds out a stingy defensive unit with good defensive rotation.
Similar to the length and quickness of the Warriors, the 1986-1987 Lakers had a similar make-up. James Worthy was a great two-way wing who could score on one end and then lock-down on defense. Magic Johnson was agile enough to stay with the point guards but would mainly defend the shooting guards or the small forwards as his size was more favorable to do so. Byron Scott had the stamina to stay with the point guards all game long. Bigs such as Kurt Rambis and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar would hold down the paint and not allow anything easy inside. Although not elite defenders, they were still able to make it known that it would not be an area of weakness to attack.
2016-2017 Warriors – With how well-renowned this Warriors team may be on offense in terms of sharing the ball and scoring the ball, an underrated facet of this team is their defense. Klay Thompson has emerged as one of the best two-way guards this league has to offer, and Draymond Green is always in contention for Defensive Player of the Year. While the Lakers have more of the grind-it-out type defense the Warriors have more of a mentality to shut you out. This Lakers team may find it hard to get anything going with a locked-in Warriors defense.
So who wins, and in how many games?
2016-2017 Warriors – 7 Games – In the end, it all boils down to who can stop their opponents strengths the most. In that aspect, the Warriors would be more adaptable to finding a way to limit the transition that the Lakers would try to get going in Game 7. Although the 1986-1987 Lakers could adjust their style to the half-court offense, the Warriors hold on for the slight victory with late-game heroics from Durant and Curry. While Magic, Kareem, and Worthy produce up to their level of production, the other role players find it hard to find their impact against this Warriors defense. The Warriors passing ability and willingness to get the highest quality shot where every possession is just as important as the next, in seven games, will be vital.