It’s hard to forget the mesmerizing Phoenix Suns offense of 7 seconds or less created by Mike D’Antoni and orchestrated by Steve Nash. That free-flowing, apparently anarchic basketball had, however, a very specific purpose: dismantle other teams defense with their creativity, speed and team basketball. It was all about giving the shot to the player with the best option, while doing it in supersonic speed. The days of Stoudemire, Marion, Diaw, Barbosa, Dudley, Jason Richardson, Raja Bell, etcetera seem to resonate in our minds as we, in 2015, realize they were the innovators, the creators of nowadays paradigm for achieving a NBA Title.
High IQ players + Team basketball trumps Superstars Teams
In 2008 Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen forged what seemed to be the perfect formula to get an NBA title, fast and easy. Just unite 3 high caliber players, surround them with serviceable players and voilà, NBA rings on the way. Unfortunately for the Celtics this formula only gave them one Title.
The next “installment” of this formula came in 2010 when Lbj joined forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. With the later addition of Ray Allen, the Heat seemed a team capable to win multiple titles and completely dominate the NBA for many years. However, it ended how it started… losing in the Finals. They got 2 out of 4 Titles but they won convincingly in only one of them, against the (back then) rather inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder.
The last two seasons made it clear that high IQ players + team basketball trumps superstars teams. The paradigm for NBA success has changed. NBA GM´s have realized it as well and are now trying to assemble powerful rosters, full of depth and flexible offensive/defensive solutions to withstand any kind of problems coming their way.
Spurs won without having a traditional “go to” player. One night it could be Duncan, the other Tony Parker. Manu might come from the bench and light it up alongside Bellinelli, Diaw or whoever felt good that day. Last Finals we saw that as well. Although Curry had the green light to shoot and create, Warriors also displayed a vast array of solutions. One day it could be Iguodala, next day Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green… even David Lee and Barbosa were impactful players in some moments of the Finals games.
It´s not only the fact you possess a more balanced team. It is also the fact the team isn´t dependent on 1 or 2 major contributors. A case study for this theory: the OKC last season. Although Russel Westbrook did everything he could to get the Thunder to the playoffs, their roster wasn´t built the right way. Durant went down and so did the Thunder. You could make the argument the same (or slightly similar) outcome would happen if it was Westbrook instead of Durant. The time for superstars rosters built for a quick and “manufactured” NBA title are done. In all fairness, the Association has evolved to a more modern way of thinking, aligned with the daily products we consume and treasure. It is safe to say that, like in many other areas of business, these are the days ruled by…
Everyone agrees organic creation provides a much better experience than a manufactured one. If you doubt this, just taste an organic farm apple from a full of chemicals manufactured apple. Yeah, it tastes “kind of” different.
In a similar way, NBA basketball has also shifted to this organic way of constructing rosters. Savvy GM´s have noticed it and are now trying to reshape their teams to be equipped with these new weapons. High IQ basketball players, team basketball first concept, willingness to sacrifice and, last but not least, chemistry. In case there is any doubt concerning this concept just take a page or ten from the Spurs model of success book the last fifteen years. Their core (Duncan, Parker and Ginobili) was always protected by surrounding them with players able to execute San Antonio team first basketball. Time changed, players came and went, styles of play were adapted but the philosophy inherent to their success never changed.
Some teams have noticed this shift and have tried to update their roster to this reality. The Heat and the Thunder are two teams trying to catch the Spurs and Warriors train of success. By tweaking and getting rid of some pieces that weren´t aligned with the right vision, these two teams now have plenty of weapons able to cause serious damage on the opposition. With several defensive and offensive players allowing a multitude of schemes, both of these teams are prepared to endure a long season without a heavy dependence on their franchise players.
An obvious advantage of this concept is that it allows for much-needed rest and “off days” (or even weeks) for a specific player. Minor injuries can heal faster and the team doesn´t suffer with this option. Potent in-depth rosters can battle almost any “ailment” in a long NBA season. When Spring arrives, organic created rosters can play at their maximum strength, having made the smart options to rest the best players when it was needed.
Can we say the “fast-win” 3 superstars model is dead and buried? The NBA Scholar will invoke the Basketball Gods and try to have an Oracle moment… for those who support the Cavs at the Q. Cleveland is the best example of the “dying breed” of the artificially and manufactured quick and easy “let´s win now” teams (heirs of the 2008 Celtics and 2011- 2012 Heat). In the last playoffs Love went down and the Cavs production trembled. With Kyrie Irving going down they were unable to win the Title.
The last news coming from Cleveland say Kyrie will take a while to come back. As we all know, you don´t come back and start playing at a high level. On the other hand, Love, the 3rd part of this equation, is also recovering from an injury. Cavs main additions were two good but, unfortunately, old players in Richard Jefferson and Mo Williams. Are the Cavs prepared to withstand the maladies of a long NBA season? Have they got a deep and solid bench to make for their starters in case it is required? The answer to both of these questions is: no.
A model for the ages?
All things considered, can we say this model, this paradigm of organic constructed rosters that value personal growth, high basketball IQ, sacrifice and chemistry are built to last? The NBA Scholar thinks it is possible. Spurs, Warriors, Mavericks with only one true superstar (Nowitzki) and a collection of smart, high IQ basketball players, the Pistons with no apparent superstars (remember?)… there are many examples to substantiate this fact.
In all fairness, the manufactured 3 superstars teams built to win it all, fast and furious style, will go down in history as single occurrences, mere distractions from the norm. In the end, team basketball played with excellent players willing to sacrifice win most of the times. Ah, and with the right chemistry as well… no rotten apples allowed!