Golden State Warriors: Can the Warriors Be Replicated?

After winning their first NBA title since 1975 and dominating the regular season in such devastating fashion, it stands to reason that the Golden State Warriors are the envy of the league and the new gold standard for comparison. Widely regarded as the first three-point shooting-centric team to win the title, many are now wondering if the Warriors have paved the way for other teams to win with a similar style of play.

While you will always have your naysayers (looking at you, Charles Barkley), the Warriors’ success is a tantalizing prospect for many teams. With the NBA trending towards a more three-heavy focus, this could be the tipping point. Much like dominating big men in the post in the past, the Warriors’ style of play and the three-point shot might end up being the key to winning multiple championships in the future.

The question is: can the Warriors be replicated?

On offense, it’s easy to see where their success stems from. It all starts with Stephen Curry – one of the greatest shooters the NBA has ever seen. He broke his own record for most three-point field goals in a single season last year, finishing the season with 273 made threes. He then blitzed the record for most three-point field goals in a single postseason, destroying Reggie Miller’s record of 58 three pointers with 98 of his own. It took Miller 22 games to reach 58 threes, Curry did it in 13.

Next up is Klay Thompson. On the surface, Klay is your typical three-and-D player. He excels defensively, and is a perfect complement to Curry. Where Curry might struggle against an opposing guard defensively, the Warriors simply switch his assignment with Thompson’s. The two are a nightmare defensively, as both have lightning-quick and deadly-accurate releases. Sag off one for help defense, and prepare to be punished.

May 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates with guard Klay Thompson (11) and forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the second half against the Houston Rockets in game four of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green both help spread the floor on offense, and are capable enough three-point shooters to need attention from the defense. Barnes shot 47 percent from corner threes last season, and Green has enough range to trouble opposing power forwards. Andrew Bogut rounds out the lineup as their big man, one of the most underrated passing centers in the league. While others fawn over Joakim Noah and the Gasol brothers, Bogut’s playmaking and passing at the top of the elbow is often how the Warriors score their points.

The offense is fluid and relies on a lot of ball movement and off-ball screens. Only a handful of teams play such a fluid half-court offense, namely the San Antonio Spurs and the Atlanta Hawks. No surprise that all three teams are linked to the man who popularized the offense – Gregg Popovich. Where the Warriors are different is that they try to push the pace at every opportunity – a wrinkle that coach Steve Kerr has thrown in from his General Manager days with the Phoenix Suns. The Warriors led the league in fast-break points, and used their stingy defense to create turnovers and scored quickly on the other end. Even if the possession came from a dead ball, the Warriors would waste no time getting into their sets, ensuring they had as much of the shot clock to work with.

On defense, the Warriors were a juggernaut. With Thompson, Barnes, and Green similar in height and size, the team encouraged switching on the three’s defensive assignments. It reduced the likelihood of their player creating separation, and allowed them to contest shots more frequently. They were the best in the league at limiting their opponent’s field goal percentage, allowing just 42.8 percent from the field. It could be said that their success motivated the Milwaukee Bucks, who also started playing a similar style of defense.

It helps that all the five starters are (at the very least) above average defensively. Curry made big strides on the defensive end, and while he can still be a liability at times, the team hasn’t had to hide him as frequently as they used to. All five can hold their own in a one-on-one matchup defensively, which improves their defense significantly.

So, if possible, what do other teams need to replicate the Warriors?

Jun 16, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts in the closing seconds of game six of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Well, for starters, you’ll need a Curry-like player – a once in a generation talent that can shoot the lights out. He will need a quick release, along with an eye for the pass. He will also need to be able to balance his own scoring along with the needs of the team – something many guards are lacking nowadays.

Next, you’ll need to pair him with similarly good shooters at the wings and at the power forward position. This is to create as much space as possible on the offensive end, and allow for more driving lanes. Your center will also need to be a good passer, or ball movement will cease when he gets possession.

On the defensive end, you’ll need players of similar height at the wing and the power forward positions. By doing so, you’ll allow a fluid defense that can switch and matchup with other offenses comfortably.

In order to achieve such a defense, you’ll also need a player like Draymond Green – a small-ball power forward that can hold his own against the bigger power forwards in the post. He has to be agile enough to contain guards and wings, but strong enough to handle post brutes.

Throw in a bench unit that is one of the best in the league, and a team that is willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. Two former All-Stars that swallowed their pride and sat on the bench (despite still being in their prime), “washed-up” veterans hungry for a ring and vindication, and a rookie coach savvy enough to come up with exciting and effective out-of-bounds plays, but humble enough to seek help from the rest of the organization.

If I were to come up with a lineup that is similar to what the Warriors have, this is what I’d have:

G- Kyrie Irving/Damian Lillard. Both players aren’t as good shooters as Curry is (but then again, who is even close to Curry), but are good comparisons otherwise (passing, court vision).

G- Jimmy Butler/Khris Middleton. Middleton is a better three-point shooter than Butler is, but Butler can create his own shot better. Both are good defenders, but aren’t known for their shooting.

F- Kyle Korver/Kawhi Leonard. Both players play off-the-ball roles and aren’t relied upon to create in the offense. Both would also be upgrades over Barnes (sorry, Black Falcon!)

F- DeMarre Carroll. I cheated a little bit here, as I couldn’t quite think of someone that is similar to Draymond. Carroll is a small forward, but has been compared to Green quite a fair bit.

C- Marc Gasol. Not a lot of explanation needed here.

 

Now that the Warriors have seemingly broken through the barrier of “no three-point shooting team will ever win the title”, other teams will be quick to copy what they’ve done. Their strategies aren’t hidden away and locked in some vault, if a simpleton such as I can figure this out, you can be sure the geniuses in the NBA have also already cracked the code. However, it’s more than just getting the X’s and O’s – it’s also about getting the right chemistry and personnel.

That’s where the Warriors win – it’s hard to find the right group of five players that can do what the Warriors have done. The Hawks were close, but we’ll be watching a different version of them next year. The Spurs don’t play as quickly as the Warriors do, and aren’t as good defensively.

The recipe for success is there, but the ingredients are hard to come by.

 

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