One could be forgiven for calling the Golden State Warriors the perfect team. After all, just what is it they lack?
Exciting style of play? Check. Championship caliber defense? Check. Young, "marketable" stars (whatever that means)? Check.
They’ve now won an NBA title in what has been one of the most dominant seasons by a team not coached by Phil Jackson. And so, just as the confetti began to fall, executives around the league began scrambling to manufacture another Golden State.
To be fair, the book on how to win in the "modern" NBA has existed for a while, but the Warriors seem to be the paragon of these philosophies. You need a floor spacing big man and lots and lots of three-point shooters to complement a dribble penetrator. Systems will differ, but it’s no secret that the Grizzlies and Wizards of the league are winning on borrowed time. And who could argue with that after the season the Warriors just had?
And yet, I think there’s a lot to be learned from the past. It wasn’t so long ago that everyone was certain you needed a "big three" in order to win. One could argue that a lot of the reason Miami’s big three happened was their desire to emulate the effectiveness of Boston’s. But before that, everyone felt you needed a "big two" like the Lakers’ Shaq and Kobe. And still earlier, organizations league-wide attempted to model themselves after Houston’s winning formula of three shooting guards plus a dominant center. Let’s not forget when everyone felt you needed a big, Jordan-esque iso two guard.
The point here is that whoever is winning is imitated and that’s to be expected. But what we shouldn’t forget is that very rarely are these dominant teams displaced by those who can beat them at their own game. By contrast, dynasties either fall from the inside out or are defeated by a different formula. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers lost to Larry Brown’s team ball (although there may have been some internal strife there as well). Miami’s big three lost to the Warrior-forerunners that were the Spurs.
And so rather than searching for the next Draymond Green or Stephen Curry, NBA coaches and executives should instead develop a style of play that, while not entirely different, counters Golden State’s up and down pace, their ability to jack up threes from seemingly anywhere, to go small and yet still play great defense. The Warriors might look unbeatable now, but so did Lebron, Wade, and Bosh circa 2010. Organizations that win consistently are always one, two, sometimes three steps ahead of their competition, responding to, not mimicking, whoever’s on top. That’s what separates teams like the Spurs from just about everyone else.
Now, you might be thinking "Easier said than done" and I wouldn’t argue with that. But whoever said this was supposed to be easy? You’re just never going to beat the Warriors at their own game. Steph Curry is maybe the greatest shooter of all time and Klay Thompson might very well be a close second. How do you improve on them? Can shooters shoot much more efficiently? Can players hustle much more than Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala? The Warriors won by being the very best Golden State Warriors, not by trying to emulate the Spurs or the Heat or any other team.
I don’t want the Wizards to fixate on a stretch four or a "Draymond Green type" in the draft. Instead, we should think outside the box. The Wiz, as I wrote earlier, need to change if we are to contend, but we’ve got to discover our own identity, capitalizing off our unique talent rather than trying to imitate the greatness of others.