The 21st century NBA is a much faster and looser game. But that doesn’t stop us from comparing different eras to determine who’s the best. As we crown the Golden State Warriors the new NBA champions and debate their legacy going forward, this team, as with any of the post-Jordan/Zone era has to be placed in their own category. Today we’ll break down the past 17 years of NBA champions to see who is indeed the best.
2002: A new defensive three-second rule will prohibit a defensive player from remaining in the lane for more than three consecutive seconds without closely guarding an offensive player.
There is a misconception that zone defenses balance out the removal of the hand-checking rules. That’s not true because of the institution of defensive three seconds. Because of that, big men could no longer hang out in the paint. That opens up the paint for driving wings. The intended effect happened, and the game moved away from the big man.
2004-05: the rules were, “introduced to curtail hand-checking, clarify blocking fouls and call defensive three seconds to open up the game. – Bleacher Report
Think about that. The NBA purposely wanted to “open up the game“. Why? A faster game is what the ADD generation wanted. Non-stop scoring, uptempo play, and a way to appeal to the advertisers looking to make money off of those new fans that have no patience for defensive duels.
This brings us full circle to the Golden State Warriors. They are the direct result of what the NBA always wanted, the future of the sport to be honest. Regardless if you hate them or love them, you have to admit that this style of play is here to stay, and it’s not that other teams have to catch up, they’re already doing it (example Houston’s 3-point experiment) it’s just that they do it better in the Bay Area… for now.
Looking back in history:
Are The Warriors the best 21st century team?
The Los Angeles Lakers went back to back to back from 2000-2002 and returned in 2004 only to lose to that infamous 2004 Detroit Pistons squad. There’s a huge argument to be made about that Shaq-Kobe team that ushered in the century being a hybrid of what the NBA was and what it was about to become. Hand-checking and illegal defense, as the above Bleacher Report notes, took until 2005 to really become clarified and regulated. So it can be argued that this iteration of the Lakers were in that generation gap.
The San Antonio Spurs of 2005 and 2007. That Miami Heat title run of 2006. Both great teams still anchored by the traditional center. The 2008 Boston Celtics that put the breaks on Lakers to reignite that dormant rivalry were the first real BIG 3, with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce forming like Voltron to dominate the Eastern Conference for years. It could be noted that Garnett often playing at center started the trend of the successful Forward-Center position that’s now a standard.
Bu the time the Lakers returned for their 2009 & 2010 championships it was the Kobe & Pau Gasol show, center Bynum could hardly be called a dominant big man, and that’s the point. The game had moved beyond the need for a marquee center being the foundation of a championship team.
2011 is probably the most notable year in this century of the associate with the formation of Miami’s own version of The Avengers in LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and long time staple Dwayne Wade. Although they lost to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, they would go on to capture the title in 2012 & 2013 before stumbling against Tim Duncan’s 2014 Spurs which had created a sharp shooting team around the aging Tim Duncan.
Which leads it full circle to the Golden State Warriors of 2015 and the coming of age of the Splash Brothers tandem of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. What Danny Green did for the Spurs in spurts, they did the entire game, taking full advantage of the poorly guarded 3 point line of this century’s NBA.
Of course the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and the historic 3-1 comeback showed the flaws in Golden State’s defense and exposed what happens when you slow down HD-ADD Basketball. However this year with their 2nd title in three years, the Warriors improved, not on defense, but offensively with the addition of Kevin Durant who slashed to the basket consistently through the barely competitive finals series with the Cavs.
While older fans and journalist will debate that this team would have been ran off the court by defensive powerhouses, can we even compare it in this way? It was the slow change in style and rules that created this team, so it’s unlikely that if an old school defensive team would be able to compete as effectively under these referees.
“The way Golden State plays is rare. The players go into attack mode when they are off the ball, not on the ball,” Bryant said. “They don’t force you to defend 1v1, they force you to defend 3v3. They force you to cover split actions, rip actions, hand-off actions, curl actions, slice actions, just to name a few.” – Kobe Bryant
The NBA clearly wanted to make a league where every team could have a Jordan like player as opposed to a big sluggish center guarding the basket. The debate is no longer about the rules of the old guard versus the relaxed rules of today. When judging these teams you have to ask:
Who dominated all aspects of the game the best?
Who faced the tougher competition?
Who was able to sustain year after year?
Are the Golden State Warriors the best team? Were the Lakers? The Spurs? Maybe the Heat? Comment below and let us hear your answer. The STU team will be debating this and many other topics soon on the weekly audio show, coming soon.