The Golden State Warriors are an imperfect team.
As constructed, the team doesn't have enough players who are good at attacking the basket with consistent success. You can see the potential there with a few players in their rotation. Harrison Barnes looks like he's ready to take on more offensive responsibility. They have a shooting guard in Klay Thompson who has improved so much in such a short amount of time that it's conceivable he could add a mean floater off the dribble attack to his arsenal for next season. And Stephen Curry is so talented that it's weird he hasn't quite added the ability to shed defenders on his way to the hoop like Tony Parker does.
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But when we look at their strengths and what made them capable of upsetting the Denver Nuggets in Round 1 and then pushing the San Antonio Spurs to six games in Round 2, all of this should make a lot more sense. This run was fueled by fire. Fire that emanated from the stands of Oracle Arena. Fire that burned from the inspiration flowing from Mark Jackson's vocal chords. Fire that shot out from the finger tips of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Harrison Barnes, and even occasionally from Draymond Green.
It's easy to chalk up their shooting performances in the playoffs to luck. Actually, it's lazy to call it luck. By doing so, you ignore a pattern of behavior and execution from the Warriors all season long. You ignore the historic performance, not just by Curry, but by the combination of Curry and Thompson along with the rest of the team. While Curry set the record for 3-pointers made in a season and the Thompson-Curry duo set the record for most 3-pointers by a pair of teammates in a season, the Golden State Warriors were just the ninth team in NBA history to shoot 40 percent or better from 3-point range over an entire season.
This isn't just the team playing over their head for an upset victory in the first round. This is their identity and what they excel at. This is the Warriors maximizing their strengths by only shooting from where they're the most accurate. When it happened in the regular season, it was largely ignored or simply humored as something neat. It was never taken seriously because who can sustain that type of shooting?
Their attack from the perimeter isn't a matter of living by the three and dying by the three; it's changing the way the NBA thinks about offense. Over the last 20 or so years, the NBA has become weaponized like something Jack Bauer has to disarm. We've seen the occasional desperation heave become something role players get long-term contracts for because they specialize in that distance from the floor.
What the Warriors have done this season isn't overly fortunate; it's prescient. The NBA is rapidly approaching a league that focuses as much on shooting as it does attacking the basket. And when you have shooters like Curry and Thompson on your team, while getting a season-long contribution from Jack, why wouldn't you continue to shoot like this?
We've seen plenty of professional basketball players and teams excite the crowd with high-flying dunks, crossover dribbles, and thunderous alley-oops. What we rarely get to see is an explosive crowd hold their breath on 25 3-point shots every game as they wait for the pure shooting stroke to lead to the nylon of the net jumping up to set off a chain reaction of riotous celebration. That's what the Warriors did this season. They turned a fun weapon into a way of basketball life, but they made it work more times than the "live/die" cliché would like us to believe is possible.
And I think that's where the league is headed. The art of the midrange jumper hasn't died; it's been replaced with a cooler model. The league is slowly learning that the best shots are at the basket or behind the 3-point line. They're simply the most efficient way to attack, stay in a game, or get back into a game. Some coaches recognize this; some are slow on the uptake. But eventually everybody will get there. The Warriors are heading there faster than others and we saw that progress in their 12 playoff games this postseason. They had some successes and they had some failures, but mostly they had experience testing out Mark Jackson's theories of what is good playoff basketball.
The system works because the parts fit. The parts fit because they have a symbiotic relationship with the principles of the system. It's unlikely the Warriors will fade away in the next year or two. It's much more likely that they'll fade to the corner or fade to the wing to create space for a long distance launch. Eventually, everybody else will catch up to what this style of play is and why it's so successful in the evolution of the league. We'll then try to discount the next wave of development that comes our way to shock what we believe is possible and probable.
For now, let's stop trying to discount what the Warriors do. Instead, let's try to accept it and learn from what they do on the court. They're paving the way of the future; it just happens to be 23 feet, nine inches away from the basket.