It’s hard to believe the Golden State Warriors are what they are today, an international phenomenon and the envy of the NBA.
It was just five seasons ago that the Dubs were a 23-win team, tanking for a high draft pick to bolster their burgeoning backcourt. They qualified for the postseason once over a span of 18 years and sent four total players to the All-Star Game from 1988 and 2013.
Today, they’re the eighth team in NBA history to send four players to the All-Star Game.
“Never thought it’d be a possibility in my Warrior career, especially when I was younger,” Klay Thompson said Wednesday, recalling his rookie season, the last time the Warriors didn’t make the playoffs. “Having it come to reality is really cool. Hope it’s not the last time either.”
The cause of Golden State’s meteoric rise is multifaceted yet simple: By utilizing practices that would make most businesses successful, owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr have created a super team that has jelled faster than any other in the modern era.
Converging factors of luck, being on the forefront of a changing landscape and maintaining a holistic company culture have brought the franchise to new heights — even if the randomness of sports stopped the Warriors from reaching their ultimate goal last season.
RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PEOPLE
Before the 2004-05 season, the NBA implemented a rule change that proved to alter the way the game was played. After years of low-scoring teams dominating the league and hurting ratings, a prohibition was placed on hand-checking on the perimeter.
The result in the abstract was freer movement by offensive players. In practice, it allowed for the fast-paced Phoenix Suns to seriously compete and force people to change the way they view the game.
Between 2006 and 2008, the Mike D’Antoni-led Suns captivated the league with their open-style play that relied on 3-point shooters, finishers at the rim and ’tweeners bending position constraints.
But, most importantly: It proved there was more than one way of putting together a great team.
Kerr overlapped with D’Antoni for one season in Phoenix.
Within a couple years, though, D’Antoni’s ideas became commonplace as teams adjusted to the rules and relied more on analytics that — among other things — placed a higher value on 3-pointers.
Teams have shot more long-balls per game each season since 2011. That creates a greater demand for shooters. Fortunately for the Warriors, they drafted Stephen Curry in 2009 and Klay Thompson two years later.
Adding two of the best shooters of all time while the game shifted to place a higher value on 3-pointers was either a stroke of luck or genius — and most likely somewhere in between. And the same could be said about changing course by firing Mark Jackson in 2014 despite coming off a pair of playoff berths.
When the position opened, Kerr pitched to Lacob and Myers a new approach the team could take toward its offense.
“When I took over, the team had been ranked fourth defensively the year before,” Kerr said. “So, we knew we had a great defense. My whole pitch was we’ve got to play faster and move the ball and take advantage of that defense and convert defense to offense.”
Thompson attests to the effectiveness of the shift, saying, “The ball moves a lot more,” when asked what the biggest changes have been under Kerr.
NO GOOD INTEL IS WASTED
Myers isn’t obsessed with analytics like a few of his counterparts. But he appreciates what the numbers can offer, which is information.
The Warriors’ GM is thoughtful, approachable and unafraid to emulate strategies that have worked in the past. And no group has been more successful over the last two decades than the San Antonio Spurs.
So, in addition to dictating the pace of games, the Warriors don’t pigeonhole players according to position. It’s a strategy that draws from D’Antoni, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley.
“I think it probably always should’ve been that way,” Myers said. “Why didn’t we shoot more 3-pointers before? I don’t know. Sometimes things seem obvious and then it takes time. Takes time to embrace them. There are a lot of barriers you have to break down — psychological, philosophical. We’re there now. Multi-position players are probably the most valuable players now in the league.
“Why was it not viewed that way? Maybe we’re not that smart. I don’t know.”
In reality, it’s proved to be smart for the Warriors because of Draymond Green, who recorded the only triple-double in the history of the NBA without scoring 10 points earlier this month. Green’s flexibility to play multiple positions has allowed the Dubs to play up-tempo in transition, stretch out defenses by forcing opposing bigs to the perimeter in half-court and switching on all screens on defense.
“I do think he’s a good paragon of positionless basketball,” Myers said.
And, partially because of that, he’s the ultimate complement to Curry and Thompson, whose defensive burdens lighten as they don’t have to worry about fighting over screens because Green can shut down point guards and centers alike.
“I had no idea Draymond was an All-Star caliber player when I took this job,” Kerr said. “He quickly proved that he was.”
Everyone’s voice has value in the Warriors’ Oakland headquarters. If someone has an idea, he or she is encouraged to send them to Myers.
Everyone is heard, because you never know what could tip the scales of competitive balance until it does — like, for example, shooting more threes or utilizing players in non-traditional roles.
And by fostering a company culture that has become the envy of most of the league, the Warriors landed a former MVP in the offseason — drawing the ire of most of the league.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Kevin Durant wrote in the Players’ Tribune when he shocked the NBA this summer by joining the 73-win Dubs. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man.”
Landing Durant, the organization’s largest non-draft acquisition since Baron Davis, was yet another sign of how far the franchise had come — and a validation of how the Lacob/Myers/Kerr group operated as they were all heavily involved in Durant’s recruitment.
And now, the Warriors are taking another step as a franchise. Yes, the All Star Game is largely meaningless in the grand scheme, especially when the actual goal is winning championships. But, there’s nothing wrong with smelling the flowers if you’re fortunate enough to come across them.
As Kerr the realist and coach of the West team reminded, “You have to recognize this is not how it’s going to be forever.”