Enjoy the Warriors But Don’t Try to Copy Them

The Warriors won their 23rd game in a row in Indiana

Steph Curry  was the latest to say it after so many others have said it, after anyone who has watched the Warriors these past two seasons have said it: the Warriors are rare. Structurally, they can’t be copied with analytics or by fitting pieces here and there. Organically, it begins with personnel and the patience to allow development over time and exceptional chemistry which can be hit or miss. It is dependent on ball movement, player movement, expert dribbling and high intelligence. Scoring is their oxygen. Defense is their blood. Persistence is their brain stem.

How did we get here, with one team so exceptional when all NBA rosters- the lucky ones particularly- are lined with talent? The vast majority of teams in the league follow a familiar and oh so tired script. They don’t trust nor depend on one another to the point that they are completely selfless. Their personnel mix isn’t as flawless. Curry said as much in an interview with ESPN the Magazine:

You can try to copy it (us), but you won’t have the personnel. There isn’t another Draymond Green, another Klay, another Andre. If you put your small-ball lineup next to ours, we like our chances.”

There isn’t a point guard in the league like Steph Curry. The 7th year guard is shooting 53% and 47% from three. He finishes at the rim at a 74% clip and takes 20 shots a game, over half of which are threes. Kyle Lowry comes to mind as a scorer/playmaker. He lost a duel with Curry a couple of days ago. He dropped 41 but while Lowry is a 42% three point shooter, he’s just an okay two point shooter, 43%. Curry makes 60% of his two point shots.

There isn’t a versatile forward like Draymond Green who leads his team in assists and rebounds, shooting 46% and 38% from three, and can guard any position on the floor.

And how about a Finals MVP still coming off the bench like Andre Iguodala? He’s shooting 52%, 44% from three and is still a lock down defender in his 12th year.

The NBA likes to copy what is successful but first they like to roll their eyes, dismiss it, put it into a box and list all the reasons why it can’t work. They are deniers. Then, like all conformists, they scramble and try to mimic it while pretending they loved it all along.

Let’s not pretend all of those General Managers who didn’t believe the Warriors would be championship level again and didn’t think Steph Curry would be MVP again have somehow turned over a new leaf and become creative innovators. They are the same traditionalists except now they have been proven wrong and need to save face.

The great thing about genius is that it doesn’t have to explain itself. The product does all the talking.

For the ones who are trying to create their own Warriors brand: stop. Stop.

The Showtime Lakers could not be copied. The Bird Celtics and Isaiah Pistons could not be copied. The Jordan Bulls and the Olajuwon Rockets could not be copied. The Shaq-Kobe Lakers could not be copied. The Duncan Spurs in all of their reincarnations cannot be copied. Great teams are great because of their ability to be outliers. No one can be like them. So why the insistence on copying the Warriors? Why aren’t they given the same respect of past champions and appreciated because they are special and unique?

Stephen Curry was drafted in 2009. It was a team with Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette. Curry was the third leading scorer on the team. He shot 43% from three, played 36 minutes. The Warriors won 26 games. They were last in rebounding and last in almost every defensive category. It was Don Nelson’s last coaching year.

The next year, exit Corey Magette, enter David Lee. The Warriors offense was still breathtaking. Their defense was still wretched. They won 10 more games but nowhere near playoff ready.

In 2011, Klay Thompson was drafted, a lottery pick. Mark Jackson was the coach. Curry’s first  three years in the league, he had three different coaches, not the best consistency but he and Jackson were very close. The three best players in 2011-12 were Curry, Ellis and Lee. But Curry only played 23 games and wore the label as perennially damaged because of his ankles. In March Monta Ellis, a fan favorite, was traded for Andrew Bogut. The Warriors won 23 games.

In 2012, Harrison Barnes was drafted, a lottery pick. So was Festus Ezeli. Draymond Green was drafted in the second round.  Enter Jarrett Jack, who would become one of Curry’s best friends and was pivotal on the second unit, providing ball movement when Curry was out the game. The Warriors offense added the necessary defense. They were 4th in field goal defense. They were 7th in 3-point defense. Their defensive rating inched up to 14th. They won 45 games and lost to the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. In Curry’s first playoff tour, he averaged 23 points, 8 assists, 43%, and 39% on three’s. The future was looking pretty good.

The next year, the Warriors won 51 games with mostly the same crew. In the off-season, they added defender Andre Iguodala and they made a last minute (failed) run at Dwight Howard. They couldn’t afford Jarrett Jack and he was let go. Curry and Klay Thompson were the best guard combo in the NBA: 42.4 points, 10.7 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 45.7%, 42.0% from three. They lost a heartbreaking 7 game series to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

Mark Jackson was let go in the summer and Curry was unhappy. His replacement, a 5-time champion in Steve Kerr , was gifted at dealing with people and won Curry over by not trying to replace the relationship Curry had with Jackson. The Warriors were the surprise team. Curry had a phenomenal year: 24 points, 7 assists, 44% from three, 67 wins, a MVP. Draymond Green could have won Defensive Player of the Year. The team hummed and passed and scored and stopped others from scoring. First in points and assists and three point shooting. First in defense. A NBA Finals championship in LeBron’s city.

All of it has led us here, to this extraordinary place in time.

23 wins in a row is something to envy, to want to copy, but the Warriors were built over a period of years. It’s taken six seasons. It’s involved players going out and players coming in. It’s been a blueprint: how to rescue players who have something to prove. Multiple coaches paced the sidelines. Losing came first, then winning. Finally, exceptionalism.

A lot of things in the NBA can be duplicated. Shot taking. Ball movement. Pick and roll defense. A lot of coaching sets can be mirrored. But chemistry and patience and even a little luck can’t be drawn up on a white board nor strategized in a front office. There are dreams. And then there are plans.

It has taken a long time for this Warriors team to be spectacular. Nothing about their success is overnight. Don’t believe the hype. Genius doesn’t love company. Genius stands alone.

photo via llananba