Numbers don’t lie: Warriors’ style historic but not revolutionary

May 19, 2016 — by Kyle Wang

Nonetheless, while brilliant basketball certainly drives the Warriors’ success, the Warriors have by no means revolutionized the game.

 

About one month ago, the Wall Street Journal released a story proclaiming that the Golden State Warriors had revolutionized the game of basketball.

In retrospect, the story was as prophetic as it was timely. On April 13, the Warriors made NBA history by winning their 73rd game, surpassing the Chicago Bulls’s record of 72 wins and 10 losses from the 1995-1996 season; on May 10, Warriors star Stephen Curry became the NBA’s first unanimously recognized MVP.

Nonetheless, while brilliant basketball certainly drives the Warriors’ success, the Warriors have by no means revolutionized the game.

Calling them a revolutionary basketball team is as inaccurate as it is unfair: They merely exemplify a model centered around 3-point shooting and smaller lineups that has been built over the years.

During the 2015-2016 season, the Warriors attempted an average of 31.6 3’s per game, making 13.1 of them. This is high, considering that the average NBA team only makes only 8.5 of 22.5 attempted 3’s per game, but not a distant outlier by any standard. After all, the (noticeably less skilled) Houston Rockets made 10.7 of an attempted 30.7 per game.

The point here is that the Warriors aren’t breaking any new ground — they’re taking a formula that other teams have already experimented with and using it to their advantage. And having players such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green instead of Dwight Howard or Josh Smith certainly doesn’t hurt their shooting percentages. They’re simply doing what other teams have already done at a much higher level.

Of course, one might argue that stylistically the Warriors have revolutionized the sport. That their success and innovation cannot be quantified through numbers or algorithms; that the Warriors’ genius can only be understood when seen through the naked eye.

Without their 3-point shooting, however, the Warriors are little more on offense than a more fluid version of the Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns or Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.

Yes, Warriors basketball is beautifully fluid, dynamic and efficient. But they were not the first to try a “small-ball” based approach toward the game, which sacrifices size and strength for speed and agility (the general idea is that smaller, more versatile players can create more scoring opportunities than taller, less mobile ones).

Before LeBron James left the Miami Heat, the Heat employed a similar small-ball strategy to great success from 2010-2014. And as for aesthetically pleasing basketball, the Spurs have epitomized fluid team basketball for almost a decade.

Under Coach Steve Kerr, The Warriors took these tried and tested techniques and took them to new heights with their skills as individuals and as a team. A small-ball approach, for example, led to easier scoring opportunities with shooters for Thompson and Curry; shooting more 3-pointers is easier to justify with players of that caliber as well.

This isn’t to say that Kerr isn’t a genius or even that the 2015-2016 Warriors won’t go down as one of history’s greatest basketball teams, but their success isn’t based on a revolutionary style of basketball. The Warriors went 73-9 this season by combining a series of styles that have already been explored in the past. Just because they can exploit the 3-pointer with more success with players such as Thompson and Curry does not mean that the Warriors have invented a new form of basketball. Judging from the season to date, they’re just better at it than anyone has ever been.

 

 
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