The Golden State Warriors have weaponized their continuity

The Golden State Warriors have weaponized their continuity

 

The Golden State Warriors are demonstrating the power of roster continuity and chemistry and they’re not the only contender benefiting.

One of the most beautiful and impressive sequences of the NBA Playoffs so far ended in a missed shot. It was near the end of Game 3 of the first-round series between the Nuggets and the Warriors. Draymond Green had the ball in the high post and was looking for Stephen Curry, who was trying to shake loose from Aaron Gordon. Green sent Curry a bounce pass between Nikola Jokic and Gordon. For a brief moment, it looked like Curry had an open lane to the basket but Jokic rotated, prompting Curry to pass the ball back to Green. Curry immediately dashed to the corner where Green passed him the ball a second time.

Again, it looked like Curry had an open look but Gordon closed out, forcing Curry to sidestep and pump-fake in the hopes of recreating that opportunity, though with no luck. The ball went back to Green. This time, with Gordon out of position after biting very hard on Curry’s pump fake, Curry cut along the baseline where he received one final pass with Green. With Jokic rotating, Curry rose up for a floater which, after eight seconds of movement and five combined passes, failed to fall. It was glorious.

I was smiling so much during this sequence. So rare to see players with chemistry like this. Beautiful basketball (even if the floater didn’t fall) https://t.co/BXFElmktPz

— Micah Wimmer (@micahwimmer) April 22, 2022

This back-and-forth was not only a result of Green and Curry’s unique talents and gifts as basketball players. It was also a consequence of the years they have spent together, learning each other’s habits, tendencies, and preferences. Green knew that Curry would keep working to get open and Curry knew that if he did so, Green would find him. It was a living tribute to the value of continuity.

This is the 10th season that Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson have spent as teammates. They found immediate success together even though Green was not yet the featured player he would soon become. In 2013, they made the Western Conference Semifinals before falling in the first round to the Clippers the following year. Then came the boom years. The Warriors fired head coach Mark Jackson and brought in Steve Kerr who installed a new offense and brought Draymond into the starting line-up. They won a championship in his first year, went 73-9 the second, then won two more titles, and made another Finals appearance before injuries put their historic run to an end. Though now, with the Warriors one win away from making the Finals yet again, that end has turned out to be less final than previously imagined.

Continuity and familiarity are helping elevate contenders besides the Golden State Warriors

Looking at the other teams in the Conference Finals, a sense of continuity can also be found with both teams in the East. While they are all still fairly young, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown have only ever played for the Celtics and the young trio has gotten to grow together in a similar way to those Warriors teams nearly a decade ago.

Their opponent, the Miami Heat, have had a lot of roster turnover in recent seasons. Apart from Udonis Haslem, who hardly plays, their longest-tenured player is Bam Adebayo who is in his fifth season with the team. However, Miami has such a strong institutional identity that they are able to compensate for this. Pat Riley has been running the team for over two decades while Erik Spoelstra is in his 14th season as head coach. The franchise knows who it is and deliberately seeks out players who align with its identity.

The NBA has tried to incentivize players to stay with their incumbent team in past collective bargaining agreements, but it has not worked. A player’s team can offer them a longer contract for more money while also going over the cap to retain them. Yet this has made little difference. Perhaps the only way to ensure players stay is to create an environment where they want to be. Of course, the best way to do that is to win consistently. If that is the case, then the collective continuity that the Warriors have found in their core may remain as exceptional as their success.

Continuity is not something that GMs can create out of thin air. In some ways, there is a bit of a chicken or the egg question raised here since the Warriors did not initially win the championship in 2015 because Thompson, Green, and Curry had been together for so long. At that point, they were only in their third season as teammates. Rather, they remained together and found continued success because they were already successful. Keeping the same players around for an extended period is no guarantee of success. Are the Kings bad because of their constant turnover or is there constant turnover because they’ve been bad for so long? With both success and failure, the continuity or the churn are reinforced.

Looking for continuity is something that some NFL teams are starting to do by pairing quarterbacks and wide receivers who were teammates in college. The strategy immediately paid off for the Cincinnati Bengals who, behind the combination of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, made their first Super Bowl appearance in decades last season. The goal is not only to make finding talent a priority, but talent that likes and works well together.

There is also the question of how much loyalty is too much. At what point are teams hurting themselves as players age? Most fault Jerry Krause for breaking up the 90’s Bulls too quickly while Danny Ainge is praised for being proactive in splitting up the Big Three Celtics. There is no inherent contradiction in this, but it does show what a fine line GMs walk when deciding whether to keep the squad together or break it up. Continuity may have some inherent value, but teams should only want it if it is partnered with success.

How can teams weaponize this? Possibly by looking for players who played in college or AAU tournaments together, similar to what NFL GMs have done. Alternatively, finding players who are already close friends, which worked for the Heatles but has yet to pay off for today’s Nets. Maybe continuity is something that GMs should consider more strongly when debating whether or not to keep a team together, eventually deciding that this is a value worth paying extra for.

Perhaps more GMs should be more patient with young players and coaches who are not immediately successful or have an underwhelming stretch. With every team looking for ways to gain an advantage over their opponents, however slight, perhaps looking for a way to stop the constant churn of players from team to team could be something new to exploit.