I’ll be the first to admit that I chose to watch my childhood hero Kobe Bryant close out his career, rather than to watch the Golden State Warriors win number 73. But instead of talking about the ridiculousness of his 60 points, I will spend the day before the NBA playoffs trying to explain my love-hate relationship with the Warriors, including why I fear their success.
It’s hard to really grasp what the Warriors have done to the NBA in the last few years, and especially the last two seasons. Second to only my loyalty to the Lakers, I’ll watch Golden State whenever it plays. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the team ─ somebody who cheers for them to win ─ I can’t help but be a fan of its playing style, simply from my love for basketball.
Their fast-paced offense is brilliant to watch. Curry’s dribble penetration draws double-teams and leads to kick-out threes. His absurd three-point range makes it nearly impossible for defenders to choose between protecting the layup and laying off, or closing out all the way. The Warriors play great fundamental basketball, using the shooting threat to create opportunities inside, but what makes them different is that multiple players pose that three-point threat. Historically, most teams have had one shooter who would hold other teams in check and prevent the double-team inside ─ Robert Horry, Steve Kerr, Kyle Korver, Peja Stojakovic, etc. ─ but the Warriors have done the opposite. Their team is based around the jump-shot, and their incredible shooting efficiency allows them to get easier inside buckets.
But what scares me about their great play is the way it has impacted the league in two years alone. Charles Barkley always used to say, “jump-shooting teams don’t win championships.” But not only did the Warriors prove him wrong last year, they also put together the greatest regular season in NBA history this season under their philosophy. In addition, their influence on the rest of the NBA has been staggering.
Twenty of the NBA’s 30 teams increased their overall three-point shot attempts this season. The NBA, as a whole, shot more than 4,000 more three-pointers. Additionally, the Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks, who shot the most and least threes this season, respectively, with 2,592 and 1,277 attempts, each put up nearly 500 more threes than the highest- and lowest-shooting teams from 2005-06 and more than 350 more threes than those respective teams from 2010-11.
And the three-point craze isn’t just limited to team offenses ─ many players, including All-Stars, have changed their games to increase their three-point attempts. Notably, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard and James Harden all attempted more than one three-pointer more per game this season than last.
The impact the Warriors have made is already noticeable. When I learned to play basketball as a kid, feeding the big man down low or posting up for a turnaround jumper was the norm. And it was beautiful seeing players such as Kobe, KG or Dirk operate with various post moves. But many from that generation of players are ending their careers, and going with them is the post-centric game.
It is scary to think that a sport can change so much. But at the same time, it’s exciting. The Warriors, along with a few other teams in recent years ─ as a Lakers fan, the 2010-11 Mavericks come to mind ─ have brought a new beauty to basketball. If players respond well to this new trend, the game could reach new heights with respect to offensive efficiency and entertainment value.
Maybe Stephen Curry and these Warriors are once in a lifetime, or maybe hitting 400 threes in a season will become the norm for the next-generation superstar. Regardless, let’s take a step back and appreciate the beautiful basketball that we’ve seen this season. As we enter the best games of the year, let’s also appreciate the greatness of past players such as Kobe and let’s be ready to accept the changes that are likely to come.
Vikram Muller covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].