Instead of loading up on stars, Warriors, Celtics find another way to win

Danielle Michaud is joined by Marc Stein to discuss about the 2022 NBA Finals, including how the Warriors match up with the Celtics' defence, and if Golden State can be put up with echelon of the 90s Bulls.

You see the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and there is a tendency to roll your eyes.

Boston’s Big 3 in 2008 of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce started the super team domino effect that cascaded towards Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City and heading to the Bay area to create the “Super Villain” dynasty Warriors that defined the era.

But don’t get it twisted. What you’ll be watching over the course of the next two weeks are not super teams, punctuating what has become the super team era. In fact, they are anti-super teams, built off drafting and developing, not free agency and teaming up with fellow all-stars.

To better understand the two teams left standing, you have to recall who walked away from them.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving left these teams to join forces. Not long after, the teams they left are forces and are facing each other in the Finals.

In the 2019 NBA off-season, Irving left Boston (via free agency ) and Durant departed Golden State (via sign-and-trade). The all-star duo teamed up in Brooklyn and the Nets were immediately pegged as title favourites once Durant was back at full health. That was further cemented when their all-star friend James Harden joined the team.

We obviously now know every super team isn’t created equal as the Nets have been far from superb.

On the contrary, the two teams they left have bounced back to a championship level. Why? The championship formula of patience and prudence still plays even though we are currently in an on-demand, microwave society.

The biggest reason these two teams are in the NBA Finals is the emphasis they’ve put on the draft. The best players on each team are homegrown products.

This is the first time since 1998 the top three scorers on both NBA Finals teams made their debut with their respective team.

Andrew Wiggins and Al Horford are the only starters that will take the floor for the opening tip on Thursday that weren’t drafted by their current employer.


Jayson Tatum

Round 1

No. 3

2017 NBA Draft

Jaylen Brown

Round 1

No. 3

2016 NBA Draft

Marcus Smart

Round 1

No. 6

2014 NBA Draft

Aaron Nesmith

Round 1

No. 14

2020 NBA Draft

Grant Williams

Round 1

No. 22

2019 NBA Draft

Payton Pritchard

Round 1

No. 26

2020 NBA Draft

Robert Williams

Round 1

No. 27

2018 NBA Draft

In addition to landing some lottery picks, both teams have also nailed their late draft picks, something you have to get good at when you’re a contender. The fact that Jordan Poole, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Robert Williams, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard were all taken outside the lottery, and they all are rotation players in the NBA Finals, is why these teams are set up for sustained success.


Steph Curry

Round 1

No. 7

2009 NBA Draft

Jonathan Kuminga

Round 1

No. 7

2021 NBA Draft

Klay Thompson

Round 1

No. 11

2011 NBA Draft

Moses Moody

Round 1

No. 14

2021 NBA Draft

Jordan Poole

Round 1

No. 28

2019 NBA Draft

Kevon Looney

Round 1

No. 30

2015 NBA Draft

Draymond Green

Round 2

No. 35

2012 NBA Draft

NOTE: James Wiseman (No. 2 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft) has not played this season. He is recovering from surgery to his right knee following the 2020-21 season.

The emphasis on the draft and prioritizing player retention has benefits in multiple ways.

Do you remember the New Orleans Pelicans wanted a draft-pick haul and Jayson Tatum included in any trade for Anthony Davis? Now Tatum is a first team all-NBA player.

Do you remember earlier this season when Boston was 20-21 and people were calling for the Celtics to break up Jaylen Brown and Tatum at the trade deadline? Now, those two players are the leading scoring duo in the NBA Playoffs and the Celtics are the first team in the last 40 years to reach the NBA Finals after being below .500 halfway through the season.

Those rumours are not too dissimilar from the ones calling for the Warriors to break up the Splash Brothers and trade Klay Thompson and potentially Green for Kevin Love to help Stephen Curry break through.

The trio of Curry, Thompson and Green are now headed to their sixth NBA Finals, becoming the first trio to do that in the last 59 seasons. But they were almost split up before they got to their first.

The measured approach of Warriors general manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob hasn’t waivered with heightened expectations.

Two years ago, the Warriors had the worst record in the NBA. Last year, they missed the playoffs after losing both play-in games. While much of that was due to injuries piling up, it would have been easy to overreact and blow things up because the dynasty was over.

The Warriors are now the fourth team in NBA history to go from having the worst record to the NBA Finals within three seasons. They could be the first to do so and win a championship.

The similarities are there not just in what the franchises did but what they didn’t do. They showed patience. When the studio talk shows criticized them, they didn’t flinch. They didn’t break things up. They didn’t mortgage their future and draft capital and cap space to sign another star. They rolled up their sleeves and developed stars in their role on their roster to help their existing stars compete at a high level.

The element people are missing about super teams is that championship teams aren’t built overnight. But whenever they do come to fruition, it is rooted in defence. There are two sides to a basketball court after all. We mention players’ offensive numbers when they sign in free agency or are drafted but defence long has won championships. Just because you assemble all-stars, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to defend at a high level (see the 2022 Nets and Lakers).

The defensive data is overwhelming: 24 of the last 26 NBA champions were top-10 in defensive rating. The only exceptions were the 2018 Warriors, who finished just outside the top 10 (11th) and the 2001 Lakers (21st.)

The streak will continue this year. This is the first NBA Finals to feature the top two teams in defensive efficiency since 1996, when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Seattle Super Sonics. Just to give yourself a chance to win you have to defend. The four conference finalists this year are first (Boston), second (Golden State), fourth (Miami) and seventh (Dallas) in team defence.

In the era of inflated offence, having a strong defence is more valuable than ever.

Whether it is pace and space or load management, the NBA has become pretty copycat. Teams looking to build a winner would be prudent to follow the blueprint on how to build one like the teams playing in the NBA Finals rather than trying their luck on buying one.

The NBA has been distilled down to an NBA Jam like level of all-star asset management. But that’s not the true prerequisite to winning.

Draft. Develop. Defend. Not too dissimilar from what the Milwaukee Bucks did in their 2020-21 championship season. Now the Warriors and Celtics have taken it to another level and proven what the championship formula in the NBA can be -- the question is will anyone else be patient enough to follow suit?

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