As the Golden State Warriors languish outside the Play-In seedings, one element has become a glaring factor in the success of the top three teams in the respective conferences - SIZE.
Of course, the sport itself lends itself to such, but for nearly a decade the Warriors redefined the game and defied the idea that genuine size was needed in order to win. Golden State, led by a 6'3" point guard in Stephen Curry, often made traditional big men obsolete (especially in the playoffs) thanks to their shooting and the ball and player movement that accompanied it.
Now, modern big men have adjusted by adding skill and shooting to their offensive repertoire, while also becoming more versatile on the defensive end. The result is that centers have re-emerged as dominant forces in the league, seen by their impact on the top teams around the league.
The Golden State Warriors off-season trade to acquire Chris Paul reflects their poor judgement on where the NBA is headed
Right now, the top three teams in each conference are either led by big men, or have centers that have significantly influenced their rise up the standings. Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetekounmpo continue to lead their respective teams to a top three seed, with the trio having finished top three in MVP voting last season.
The league-leader out East, the Boston Celtics, have been refreshed by their offseason addition of 7'3" big man Kristaps Porzingis. Back in the West, the conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves have emerged as easily the best defensive team in the league thanks to a frontcourt trio that stands at 6'9", 7'0" and 7'1". The third-seed Oklahoma City Thunder have exploded up the standings in large part to the addition of rookie center Chet Holmgren who sits fourth in the league in blocked shots.
While the league has transitioned back towards an era of big men, the Warriors have stood pat and are now being punished for their poor judgement. In fairness they tried with James Wiseman, the second overall pick who they hoped would be the epitome of a modern center. Instead, the seven-footer's development was stalled by injuries and the style in which Golden State play.
Kevon Looney has been a solid and valuable piece to the Warriors over the last few seasons, but the franchise's reliance on him doesn't align with the fact he's clearly not a top dozen (maybe not top 15) big in the league. This season Looney's looked more like a solid backup rather than someone who should be starting every game.
By this point, Golden State should have moved with the times and been able to find a modern center capable of two-way impact. They had an opportunity in the offseason when they wanted to get off from Jordan Poole's contract, yet they instead chose to acquire a 6'0", 38-year-old point-guard in Chris Paul.
The 12-time All-Star has largely played well, but one has to consider that the Warriors could have been much better had they prioritized frontcourt help. That decision seemingly reflects the franchise's viewpoint -- that their skill, style and IQ is still enough. Now they're left with no answers to teams with genuine size -- Golden State has a combined 1-7 record against the Timberwolves, Thunder and Nuggets, having been eliminated by the LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led LA Lakers in last season's playoffs.
Trayce Jackson-Davis has been a major revelation over the past week or so -- the fact is he simply needs to play more. Even still, Jackson-Davis is a rookie who's still only 6'9 -- is he going to be the season-defining answer? How long are the Warriors -- from Steve Kerr to the front office -- going to continue with their head in the sand thinking that their way is still capable of winning championships?