What makes Warriors elite? Hustle, effort matter as much as talent

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Effort is a skill.

Friend of this site David Thorpe — who trains players in the NBA (and to get ready for the league) — says that all the time. So do a lot of coaches. Nobody is making the NBA without winning the genetic lottery to some degree, there is a baseline of athleticism, but what separates teams and players above that often comes town to effort. Tenacity. Drive. Work ethic. Whatever you want to call it.

Those are things that are hard to quantify — but the NBA is trying. All season on NBA.com the league has tracked “hustle stats” like deflected passes, who gets to loose balls, drawing charges, contesting shots, and the like.

Guess what it finds? The Golden State Warriors are good — and not just because of all that shooting talent. The brilliant Lee Jenkins breaks it down at Sports Illustrated in a must-read story.

The four-star juggernaut that won 67 games this season, that led the NBA in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense, that posted a higher net rating and point differential even than last year, outworked everybody too. The Dubs created the most deflections (18.7) and corralled the most loose balls (7.7), while racking up the second-most contested shots (68.4) and screen assists (12.7). After their opening-round sweep of the Blazers, they led three of the five major hustle categories in the playoffs.

“We’d be good even without all that,” Draymond Green continues. “We’d be damn good. You look around the league, you see a lot of stars who don’t make these kinds of plays, and they still have good teams. But they’re not serious. They’re not chasing greatness. We are, and we realize these plays are the difference between the stars that win and the stars that lose. So when you combine the little things we do with the skill and the talent and the dynamic scoring, then all of a sudden you have a f—— animal that’s almost impossible to contain.”

Cleveland has started to do this as well. In the playoffs, they are contesting 67.4 percent of opponents shots, compared to 67.3 for the Warriors. Golden State is doing a better job of contesting threes, as well as getting to more loose balls and deflecting more passes.

What matters for the Warriors is their stars do it and lead the way. There’s not a gritty part of the team and a star part of the team — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson buy into this defensive, hustle ethos.

In the postseason Curry is No. 2 in loose balls, while Green is No. 2 in contests. “But I have to do that,” Green interjects. “Steph doesn’t. All you ever hear is, ‘Oh, man, Steph Curry, best shooter in the world! Klay Thompson, 60 points in three quarters! KD, freak of nature, in-and-out crossover full-speed transition tomahawk! And, hey, that s— is sexy, so you fall in love with it. But there’s sexy s— all over the NBA. Don’t forget about the other reasons we win.”

Just remember this when everyone starts saying how the Warriors bought a title because Durant came West. Obviously that helps, but the Warriors are much more than that.