There has been a lot of talk about the small-ball revolution in the NBA. The seeds were planted by Mike D’Antoni (and Don Nelson before him) but have fully blossomed with Stephen Curry and Golden State. The NBA can be a copycat league and every team now thinks about small ball lineups (if not starting them).
Steve Nash doesn’t see it as a revolution. It’s an evolution. That’s what he told Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star.
“It looks easy, but the shots he takes are insane,” says Nash. “The speed, range, dexterity, going left, going right, leaning, fading. It feels like the possibilities are limitless. I feel like I could shoot the ball in as wide an array of ways as anybody, but he’s been able to do it with more range and more speed. It’s remarkable. It’s the evolution of the game. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody be able to do this….
“It’s a leap,” says Nash. “When you take all factors in, even without the accuracy, just to be able to take those shots at an acceptable rate is itself an evolution. We’ve had a lot of gunslingers, a lot of volume shooters. but to take the shots he takes, even without the accuracy, is a revolution. And then, the accuracy: it’s remarkable.”
It is an evolution. Curry is the at the top of that food chain right now, a guy in the right place with the right skills at the right time.
What the Warriors do on offense has roots going back to the early 2000s decision by the NBA to allow zone defenses and remove hand checking on the perimeter — the Gary Payton physical brand of defense went away. That gave advantages to isolation/pick-and-roll players driving from the wings, and the league adjusted with Tom Thibodeau’s overload defense (something that couldn’t be done pre-zone rules). The zone also made it easier to keep post players in check because you could front and back them, making entry passes hard. NBA offenses responded to that evolution with tempo — get up shots before the defense sets — and using the three to create space and pull defenders away from the paint. Going smaller helps those things. (That’s a very simplistic outline, but you get the idea.)
Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the current peak of that evolution. Curry’s ability to shoot off the catch or the dribble, and the spacing he creates opens up looks inside, his passing skills, all of that is perfect for a modern offense. As Nash said, he makes it look easy but it is not. The Warriors are also an anomaly because of the high-IQ players they have everywhere, plus the ability of Draymond Green to keep the Warriors playing elite defense despite going small separates them.
Curry is the next evolution, and if you want to call it a revolution go ahead.
It will last until the next one.