I fell in love with Golden State last year though I won't pretend I had them pegged as NBA Champions. I knew going from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr was a significant upgrade, eschewing the Kevin Love trade was the right move for chemistry and salary cap (as well as an insightful bet on Klay Thompson's development) and compiling a bunch of selfless skilled guys who understand basketball usually results in good things. It turns out the Warriors created one of the better teams in NBA history. They built a roster that could shoot, defend, run and pass. It turns out these are useful attributes in a basketball team.
Their method of play, a natural extension of the Spurs recent success, is both fundamental and fun to watch. Positions are just labels. Competencies rule. You push the ball because it leads to good shots if your team will share the ball. Fun is a byproduct of that. You empower multiple players to shoot, pass or dribble because that breaks down a defense and disallows hedging. That allows your stars to shine instead of slog through a triple team. Some coaches still seem determined to hold on to the notion that fundamental play means grinding and that all players roles are narrow straitjackets, but they don't have much to support that belief. NBA teams that ignore the value of loading a roster with skilled position-less players who can all pass, dribble and shoot, push the ball up the court and will still defend even if they have to surrender a little size or flaunt conventional positional wisdom will continue to watch others hoist the trophy.
Don't get me wrong. Intense specialization has niche value - every team can use a defensive whiz, a great rebounder or a three point shooting maniac - but too many teams feature rosters with supporting players who can do nothing but one thing well. To the detriment of the game overall. And their title chances. The Spurs and Warriors have been the needed corrective. Two teams that evaluate players by their actual competencies instead of by lazy inference. A 6-7 guy can't guard the post. Except some can. And who is guarding him on the other end if he can shoot, dribble and pass? Everyone needs a position! Really? Are we sure? Don't we just need competencies? Or is a position - with the fixed physical characteristics associated - the average coach's way of making sure that everyone plays the game as they've been taught it? Specialization kills appealing basketball. Look at the fluidity of Golden State's line-ups (in fact, there were times last night where it wasn't clear what position any Warrior was playing) and you can only chuckle recalling Scott Brooks rolling Kendrick Perkins out night after night to chase a stretch big and guarantee a Durant double team.
Culturally, they're the most solidly grounded team in the league. Andrew Bogut, a season long fixture and key defensive presence, was benched for the last three games of the finals. Instead of an extended pout, he was the first guy off of the bench to greet his teammates. Finals MVP Andre Iguodala - who had started 750+ NBA games before his benching - came off of the pine to replace Bogut. His insertion into the lineup allowed Golden State to rattle off three straight wins - two in Cleveland - in order to win the series convincingly. Aside from his offense, he held the best player on the planet to 38% shooting from the field. There's your series. David Lee, a former All-Star and automatic 20-10 guy, took his season long demotion graciously and contributed key minutes in Games 4 and 5. In a league of willful pouts, agents with more pull than coaches, clueless owners and scheming GMs undermining their own teams in order to cement their hold over operations, the Warriors championship is the ultimate endorsement of team basketball and the sublimation of self for the greater good. Let's see how they handle success.
Any other takeaways? Well, aside from the value of having Steph Curry on your team to score an efficient 25 per game on incredible shot-making, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green were, in my opinion, the most valuable yet duplicable assets missing from so many other NBA rosters. These tough versatile Swiss Army Knives, consistently "outmatched" on paper defensively against bigger players (but rarely exploited) were each fully capable of racking up 25 points, 12 rebounds or 8 assists on any given night. Each could carry the team for a quarter of play. Or sit on the bench for a quarter with minimal grumbling. They space the court and allow defensive switching. They all dominated stretches of games but none require that they "get theirs." Maybe they will now. If they do, they'll be shipped off. The dumb NBA teams won't understand that it's these players who make the Warriors special. Multifaceted players with some dawg in them are the new efficiency.
As for my bigger recent themes around strength as a neglected and misunderstood underpinning for athletic performance, it's worth noting that the three strongest players on the Warriors roster are Green, Barnes (who is apparently deceptively strong) and Iguodala. Coincidence? Probably not.