Gone are the days of the dominant big men of the NBA. Even while Michael Jordan was clearly the best player in the sport, power forwards and centers playing close to the basket made getting out on the break something that happened in situational moments rather than within the flow of the game. But as European-style big men made more of a mark in the NBA, the international game also caught up with the United States. As a result, USA Basketball restructured their foundation and devoted more development of team chemistry to catch up to countries like Argentina and Lithuania (even though they still had more talent than any team in the world).
The NBA is a different game than Euroleague basketball. There’s more isolation plays and the free-flowing game of our Eastern counterparts isn’t there at the pivotal points in games. Individual athleticism negates poor plays in the NBA. That’s not as easily the case in Europe when an entire team plays every possession. And you can tell the difference when a guy like Sarunas Jasikevicius (I’m a Maryland fan but I can’t remember that well) goes from being a repeat MVP of Europe (essentially anyways) to barely become a rotation guy for a competitive Indiana Pacers team some 7 or 8 years ago.
And now the fundamentals are being taught at the Grassroots (AAU) stage and kids that are 6’9 or taller have the skills of players that were likely between 6’4 and 6’6. This phenomenon, of course, starts from the top. It became “a thing” with the last World Championship version of the Miami Heat with Lebron James playing a point forward from the 4-spot because it was the best way to play against teams with the kind of team defense and individual talent across a front line that made Miami look so small. It’s been popularized by a Golden State Warriors franchise that was a run-n-gun offensive team with little defense prowess when Baron Davis was at the helm. Now they are something completely different.
Every NBA team is deep. There’s guys that play at the end of this Golden State team that could go over to Europe and easily be the best player in Spain or Italy or Russia or Israel. There’s guys that could go to other teams in the NBA and put up good numbers as well. But the lure of winning and the chance to do it several times over is very real. Standing at 24-1, the Warriors are a team of destiny and showing that they are not going to slack off after their triumph in the NBA Finals of the previous season. Led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they have the athleticism, work ethic, intelligence, and skill level to continue their current trajectory.
What will give them a realistic chance of competing for the record of 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls? The depth of this team will be what makes it happen. A guy that was a bit of an after-thought on draft night and even after having joined the team, Draymond Green has quickly become a player to be reckoned with. He’s become the small power forward that plays big and still manages to do literally everything you need from a player. And that’s as the third option. Another guy that can do the same kind of thing, but hasnt exactly stayed as healthy as needed, has been Harrison Barnes. He’s actually the higher ranked guy with more appealing potential of the two. Having guys like Finals MVP Andre Iguodala coming off the bench is great. He was once a star in the league and is still only 31, so he’s got a few more productive years left.
And what’s a team without guys that can come in a provide particular skills? Well, Andrew Bogut is the sometimes-starting center with defensive ability and rebounding and size to play with the big boys down low (a few reasons he was once a top pick in the draft). The other big guy is Festus Ezeli, who blocks shots and can get out and run without sacrificing the kind of ball movement/defensive pressure necessary for keeping up high intensity. Instant offense comes from veteran Leandro Barbosa and Ian Clark while backup lead guard Shaun Livingston has the smarts and physical presence to make a significant matchup problems for teams looking to take advantage when Curry is out of the game. End of the bench guys like Brandon Rush, Marreese Speights, and Jason Thompson all have athleticism and the kind of size and ability to make an impression on games going forward. At the end of the bench are two younger guys with potential in James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney that could eventually provide help but are more likely to watch action from the sidelines. But both are supremely gifted athletes.
So what will happen for this team the rest of the season? Well, they will lose games. They aren’t going to win 81 but they might win 73. Most importantly, they have a legitimate opportunity to repeat as champions regardless of the regular season win total. Surely, the small ball of an entire league has changed, but this franchise’s mastery of the game plan and execution is what will ensure optimum results for a team with such talent and depth.