Are the Warriors Revolutionaries or Copycats?

Winston Churchill said it best “History is written by the victors.” As the Warriors make an attempt to break the Bulls record, history is being re-written. The Warriors are getting a lot of credit for playing small ball and taking the game to a new level. Ben Cohen with the Wall Street Journal wrote “The Golden State Warriors Have Revolutionized Basketball”. This rewrite of history is in favor of the victors, the Warriors. The premise of the article is that the Warriors are the first NBA team to have discovered the true value of the three-point line. The truth is this was discovered before the Warriors won the championship last season.

Prior to the Warriors, it was the Houston Rockets who was the team that was “revolutionizing the NBA game”, with a similar style. Grant Hughes back in December of 2013 wrote an article for Bleacher Report “Houston Rockets Revolutionizing Basketball Strategy, Starting in the D-League”. The article discusses how the Rockets used their D-League team to craft their three-point strategy. The idea was to take more lay-ups and three point shots, and less mid-range shots. The results brought 2 championships and a large win streak for the D-League Vipers. The Rockets began to stop practicing mid-range shots altogether and according their starting point guard Patrick Beverly “Only thing we’re shooting in practice are layups and 3”. In the 2013-14 season the Rockets attempted a league high 2,179 threes and eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Before the Rockets, came the ever-changing San Antonio Spurs. In the early 2000s, they were a post up team but as the game began to change the Spurs adapted. The Spurs were one of the few teams early on to see the value in the corner three. Hughes reported in another Bleacher Report article (“Who’s Responsible for the NBA’s Corner Three Revolution”), that since the 2000-01 season to the 2013-14 season the Spurs finished in the top three in corner three attempts in a season. In that span the Spurs never missed the playoffs and won four titles. In the words of Hughes “Leave it to Popovich, the ultimate basketball utilitarian, to revolutionize how good offense is played”. The Spurs began to drift away from posting up Duncan and began shooting more and more threes.

No team embraced the three point shot more than Mike D’Antoni’s seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns. This was the team that put small ball and three point shooting on the map for the NBA. The Suns’ style and pace with Steve Nash at the helm was the first team to challenge the old NBA style. In the 2005-06 season they led the league in pace, points per game, and three points attempted per game. Although they were never able to get over the hump in the playoffs these Suns laid out a blueprint for the Warriors to follow.

Cohen’s article ignores the teams that in the past have embraced the three-point line and anoints the Warriors as three point revolutionaries. The fact is they are copycats. The Suns brought this style of play to the NBA, the Spurs and Rockets modified it, and in the end the Warriors perfected it but didn’t invent it.

** Articles Referenced

Ben Cohen’s WSJ article – “The Golden State Warriors Have Revolutionized Basketball”

Grant Hughes’ Bleacher Report articles – “Houston Rockets Revolutionizing Basketball Strategy, Starting in the D-League”

“Who’s Responsible for the NBA’s Corner Three Revolution”

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