Outside the Bubble: The Evolution of the Golden State Warriors

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Golden State Warriors were a hapless NBA franchise before their sudden dynastic rise. What overlooked factors contributed to their success?

Plagued by injuries for much of the 2019-20 season, the Golden State Warriors are once again expected to at least be in the running for an NBA championship next season after winning three of the previous five championships. Led by their deadly shooting backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have become one of the most dangerous teams to go up against when healthy.

Sometimes even when they’re not. However, their road to excellence was not necessarily straightforward.

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After drafting Curry in 2009, Thompson in 2011 and Draymond Green in 2012, the Warriors unknowingly secured their core for the future. Also drafted in 2012 would be another key cog, Harrison Barnes. With those pieces in place, the Warriors would go on to a 47-35 record that year, more than doubling their win total from the previous season.

For the 2013-14 season, the Warriors made a key signing in free agency, Andre Iguodala, and improved yet again to 51-31. Another key acquisition in 2013? Keke Lyles, who accepted a role as the Warriors’ director of athletic performance and is credited for improving Curry’s stance to reduce his well-documented ankle injuries.

The true transformation of the team however would begin in the 2014-2015 season. Steve Kerr took over the head coaching role from Mark Jackson, they would pick up key role players Shaun Livingston and David Lee. This iteration of the Warriors would prove dangerous to all comers and would go to win their first NBA championship since 1975. Far from a fluke Finals win, they finished the regular season with a 67-15 record, led the league in pace and defensive rating at 100.4, and they were second in offensive rating at 110.4.

That same season, Curry averaged a career-high (at the time) in true shooting percentage at 63.8 percent, 3-point field goal attempts with a total of 646 and even led the league in free throw percentage at 91.4 percent. This was the season that many would recognize as the genesis of the Warriors’ dynasty as we know it today.

It is important to note, however, that the 2012-13 season was not only a 23-game win improvement from the previous season, it was also the season after they dealt Monta Ellis (and acquired big man Andrew Bogut in the same deal), but also was Draymond’s rookie season. This singular and dramatic turnaround can more accurately be described as the true genesis of the Warriors’ dynasty.

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True to their mantra, “Strength in numbers”, the 2012-13 Warriors had 5 players who averaged double digits in the points per game category. When considered on a per 36-minute basis, it balloons to 11 players.

Another key aspect of the 2012-13 season that proved to be a pivotal transition point is Steph Curry’s increased shot attempts from the 3-point line, attempting an additional three 3-pointers per game while maintaining almost identical efficiency.

In the 2013-14 season, they would acquire Shaun Livingston and in their championship breakout year the very next season, was the year that they would crucially pick up Andre Iguodala.

Many, understandably, largely credit the success of the Golden State Warriors to Steph Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s virtuoso level shooting and Steve Kerr’s outstanding coaching. A deeper analysis of the growth of this team however shows how many pieces fell into place to contribute to their success.

Good fortune and the Golden State Warriors focusing on their strengths

Firstly, they drafted well and developed those players appropriately. It is noteworthy that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes were all drafted by the Golden State Warriors. To be sure, there is a degree of luck when drafting players, but this is also where player development comes in as well.

Draymond Green is a unique talent that has been positioned appropriately to maximize his skill set. While some may argue that Draymond Green is a system player, it is clear that his talent and situation are collectively able to allow him the greatest impact. Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes, whilst his contributions were not gaudy in the box score, his contributions to their first championship were vital nonetheless.

Secondly, they made the right moves at the right time. Monta Ellis was moved at the peak of his value and served two roles, allowing them to get a talented big man while removing a ball-hungry undersized guard that was ultimately stifling Steph’s growth as a player. As mentioned previously, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala were key acquisitions. Both were rangy, switchable players, assets on defense and capable on offense. This still of course is not including the monstrous acquisition of Kevin Durant in the 2016-17 season.

Lastly, they embraced their strengths. Drafting well and developing your players mean little if they aren’t placed in offensive and defensive schemes designed to maximize their talents. Any team could theoretically have ended up with the Splash Brothers, but without giving them the green light to shoot and stretch the floor, they are just above average players who can shoot.

Green may well be a defensive genius, but without the freedom to roam defensively, his defensive impact would be drastically suppressed. Even in the Kevin Durant era, due to the singular greatness of his abilities, the Warriors adapted, moving from a more free-flowing offense to one that allowed Durant more opportunities to break down defenses.

In short, the dynastic run of the Golden State Warriors can be boiled down to great front office moves, excellent coaching, having the right personnel and quite a bit of luck.

Next. Warriors: Five free agency targets for 2020-21. dark