By: Jared Williams
Of the 5 major American sports, basketball is most conducive to selfishness. When playing, a single basketball player represents 20% of their team (1÷ 5). In football and fútbol this percentage is 9% and in baseball it’s 11%. Hockey seems relatively proportional at 16.7% until you remember that hockey’s best players don’t play more than half the game; when future MVPs like Steph Curry are playing 69% of every game, the two become incomparable -sorry Canada. If you’ve played basketball, you’ve played 1 on 1. Outside of youth leagues and Jim Boeheim, most teams play man defense. Basketball’s most recognized play is the isolation. The sport is marketed on individual matchups: Russell vs. Wilt (Russell!), Bird vs. Magic (Magic, I think), and Michael vs. his latest challenger (duh). Basketball’s lends itself to the individual. Its “me factor” is greater than any other sport.
As such, the greatness of a basketball team can be found in how substantially they’ve reduced that “me factor”. A low “me factor” doesn’t mean a team without a superstar, it means a team without player prerogatives -guys trying to “get there’s” (i.e.: 2012 Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, or 2015 Rudy Gay). For all their insane pull-up 3s, absurdly lanky wing defenders, and scoring supernovas, the Warriors differentiate themselves with a togetherness that’s palpable. In a team sport which lends itself to the individual, the Warriors are selfless. In a span of 4 seasons the Warriors have experienced an outright renaissance in team chemistry. In this piece we’ll use a superhero analogy to spotlight the 4 steps that forged a team so close you can find them dancing on airplanes, riding BART together, enjoying Thanksgiving as a team, and leading the league in smile per game. Then we’ll dive into why this team chemistry matters more than ever in the rapidly evolving NBA.
1) Building Chemistry -the Warriors’ Adaptation of the Marvel Movies
Four seasons ago the Warriors’ team chemistry was similar to Marvel’s movies before Iron Man, essentially nonexistent. This dark age was defined by Monta Ellis, the Warriors’ inconsistent and moody “team leader” who openly stated he couldn’t coexist with Stephen Curry. What came next was a 4 year period in which the Warriors did with team chemistry what Marvel did with their movies -comprehensively rebuilt it.
-Monta Ellis’ Trade = Iron Man. This was the birth of a new era. The Ellis trade ended the B.S. (Before Splash) age and turned the page to a chapter in which team cohesion was at long last emphasized. Marvel’s 1st movie, Iron Man represented to Marvel what the Ellis trade represented to the Warriors -a new start.
-Mark Jackson’s Coaching = Thor. Who is Thor? At his most basic level he was a man from another planet with loyal followers. This is reminiscent of Mark Jackson, whose preacher style of coaching was uniquely different yet undeniably united his players. Jackson empowered the relationships among his players and got them to excel at the half of basketball that demands communication, trust, and a willingness to sacrifice -defense. Just as Thor’s success served as a beacon for Marvel’s long-term potential in the movie industry, Jackson’s reign unified the Warriors and signified their long term promise.
-Steph Curry = Captain America. This one’s too easy. The All-American guy who is equally modest, charming, tactically smart, and diverse in his skills, Steph Curry is the Warriors’ version of the superhero with the patriotic shield. Comparable to Captain America’s acclaim being built off the success of its predecessors (Iron Man & Thor), Curry’s success is directly linked to the trade of Ellis and the hiring of Jackson. The Golden Boy’s humility and maturity have been central in building a squad that’s one of the tightest in the league -just check Mo Speights’ Instagram.
-Steve Kerr = The Avengers. Kerr’s success represents the culmination of the Ellis trade (Iron Man), the brotherhood Jackson established (Thor), and the emergence of Steph Curry (Captain America). Yet, like The Avengers, Kerr isn’t merely reaping the benefits of past progress in team chemistry, he’s improving it. Kerr staunchly advocated to keep Klay Thompson, a player who fits the description of the ideal teammate to a T. Kerr oversees an offense that’s 2nd in the NBA in field goals attempted per game even though neither one of the Splash Brothers rank in the top 10 in the league in field goals attempted -that distribution of shots is symbolic of this team’s selflessness. Kerr’s even convinced the Warriors’ highest paid player (Lee) and most prolific free agent signing in years (Iguodala) to come off the bench; he’s built a win 1st, me 2nd culture.
A team this tight-knit doesn’t materialize through one trade or in one season. The Warriors have been building this cohesiveness for years. Is the Marvel analogy a little nerdy? Sure. But remember, The Avengers didn’t become the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time on its own, just like Steve Kerr didn’t one create one of the NBA’s tightest teams by himself.
2) Chemistry -The Key to the Evolving NBA
For decades the NBA has been a talent league where elite players were synonymous with the best teams. Yet, as concepts such as “space and pace” and “position blending” have grown in importance and sheer talent has become a less accurate predictor of success, the importance of chemistry has escalated. Switching on defense, executing cross matchups (guarding someone who isn’t guarding you), and spacing the floor, all demand a certain level of cohesion. The successful teams this season have that cohesion: the Warriors, Atlanta, and Memphis for instance. The disappointing teams of late lack it: OKC and Dallas after the Rondo trade. Recent champions such as the Heat and Spurs have proven the necessity of it. This cohesion is integral in the maturing NBA landscape.
Watching this Warriors teams makes you believe in the power of selflessness and sacrifice. Will championship level chemistry win you a title? No way. But by no means should it be overlooked. A willingness to put the team before the individual is the NBA’s version of a superpower, and the Warriors have an abundance of superheroes. This team’s marvelous chemistry matters.
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