Looking to build a super team to challenge the Warriors? You don’t need to spend lavishly in free agency or fleece an opposing GM via trade. The true way to build a super team is by draft and development. That’s how Golden State did it after all.
We discussed this premise on the Free Association podcast this week. Aaron Torres from Fox Sports raised the point: “Think about how many teams have been committed to building through the draft. Only Golden State has been able to deliver championship results.”
So, what is the secret sauce the Warriors have? After all, their best homegrown players were available to the rest of the league.
Draymond Green was chosen 35th overall in the second round in 2012. Every team in the league passed on him.
Klay Thompson was taken 11th overall 2011. That was after Jimmer Fredette and Jan Vesely were selected.
Stephen Curry was drafted seventh overall in 2009. The Minnesota Timberwolves chose two point guards before the two-time MVP. They are still looking for an adequate starting point guard.
Patrick McCaw was taken 38th overall last year. The Warriors didn’t even have a second-round pick. They bought the pick from Milwaukee for $2.4 million in cash considerations. The acquisition proved valuable as McCaw hit two big shots in the third quarter of the deciding game five of the NBA Finals and started for the Warriors while Durant missed a quarter of the year due to a meniscus injury.
Sure, they signed Kevin Durant to be the cherry on top, but he’s the only top-five pick they have on their team. Their culture of fun and cooperation is what lured KD to the Bay Area. And that came from drafting character players and working with them on their skill development.
Curry was considered too small to play off the ball but not crafty enough to play the point. Green was overweight and didn’t have a position. Thompson was just a set jump shooter and not athletic enough. Now they are two-time NBA champs and were on the winningest regular season team of all-time.
It’s not necessarily where you draft but who you draft and how long you’ve been able to evaluate them. Many of the big swings and misses in the draft are because evaluators have such little time to see them. In this year’s draft the top 10 projected players are either freshman or international products younger than 19.
“You’re drafting 19-year-old kids and when you look at the best players in this league they usually don’t hit their peak until 26, 27, 28 years old,” Torres points out.
Curry, Green, and Thompson spent at least three years in school, which is a contributing factor as to why the Warriors are not just talented but one of the smartest basketball IQ teams we’ve seen in some time. The vast majority of their rotation players were also drafted as upperclassmen. In the one-and-done-friendly NBA everyone is missing the point. The longer you have to evaluate a prospect and the longer they are able to work on their craft before turning pro, the better the outcome is likely going to be.
You also have to be committed to the process year in and year out to see it to fruition. Torres believes that long view is the toughest part for GMs with their job on the line. “There are a lot of teams that tried to build through the draft that got bored and blew it up midway. I can think of New Orleans, who got tired of building around Anthony Davis and signed Tyreke Evans and did a bunch of crazy things.”
The Warriors aren’t an accident or an evil conglomerate that was built unfairly. They were the smartest with their patient use of the draft. They didn’t get wowed by potential in lieu of production. If you want to beat them, join them. Strategize and prioritize how to dominate the draft. It’s easier said than done. But with the CBA being so punitive to teams with a high tax bill, you really have no other choice. Building a super team requires you to be super smart and super patient. That is your challenge NBA GMs, if you choose to accept.