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On Curry, Green, leadership & sustainability: What makes a dynasty?

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O Captain! My Captain!

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2017 NBA Finals - Game Five
Draymond Green and Steph Curry in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Who can forget the hubris of the Miami Heat’s ‘Not one, not two, not three…’?

It has always been tempting to predict multiple championships and a budding dynasty for fans, but as Janelle Moore points out in her piece pumping the brakes on pre-season predictions of titles in the bag, it ain’t that simple.

No one can say definitively who is going to win, but the Warriors are stuffed with smart people thinking about how they can compete over a long period of time. As Bob Myers recently said he’s ‘a long-view guy’.

What makes a dynasty?

Zach Lowe’s latest podcast with Sam Walker is well worth a listen in this context. Walker has recently written ‘The Captain Class’, scouring all of sports dynasties to identify the thread that runs between the greatest teams of all time.

There’s plenty of contestable stuff in there — not least the methodology that left the 90s Bulls off the final list — but he comes out with a big conclusion:

‘the beginning of the streak and the end of the streak corresponded precisely to the presence of one player - and that player was always the captain’

Leadership

Stephen Curry is the obvious place to start here. He’s as team-first as they come, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr comparing his leadership style to Tim Duncan, the linchpin Walker unsurprisingly identifies as the centre of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty.

So if success corresponds with Curry’s career arc, how long can the Warriors hope to be mindblowingly awesome?

Curry himself has recently addressed the question of the longevity of his career in an interview with Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer.

“When I came in the league, that’s the only thing I did say – I want to play 16 years just because my Dad did,” Curry said. “I’ve always had an appreciation of what that meant. But now – having done eight years and understanding the work that it takes and whatnot – playing eight more years somewhere near the level I’m playing now would be solid.”

So can Curry play another eight years at this level? In seeking out comparable players, perhaps the most recent example of a all-time shooting, playmaking point guard is Warriors Development Consultant, Steve Nash.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2003-04 29 DAL 78 78 33.5 5.1 10.8 .470 1.3 3.3 .405 3.8 7.5 .498 .531 2.9 3.2 .916 0.8 2.2 3.0 8.8 0.9 0.1 2.7 1.8 14.5
2004-05 30 PHO 75 75 34.3 5.7 11.4 .502 1.3 2.9 .431 4.5 8.5 .526 .557 2.8 3.2 .887 0.8 2.6 3.3 11.5 1.0 0.1 3.3 1.8 15.5
2005-06 31 PHO 79 79 35.4 6.8 13.4 .512 1.9 4.3 .439 4.9 9.0 .548 .583 3.3 3.5 .921 0.6 3.6 4.2 10.5 0.8 0.2 3.5 1.5 18.8
2006-07 32 PHO 76 76 35.3 6.8 12.8 .532 2.1 4.5 .455 4.8 8.3 .575 .613 2.9 3.3 .899 0.4 3.1 3.5 11.6 0.8 0.1 3.8 1.5 18.6
2007-08 33 PHO 81 81 34.3 6.0 11.9 .504 2.2 4.7 .470 3.8 7.2 .527 .597 2.7 3.0 .906 0.3 3.1 3.5 11.1 0.7 0.1 3.6 1.4 16.9
2008-09 34 PHO 74 74 33.6 5.8 11.5 .503 1.5 3.3 .439 4.3 8.2 .529 .566 2.6 2.8 .933 0.3 2.8 3.0 9.7 0.7 0.1 3.4 1.5 15.7
2009-10 35 PHO 81 81 32.8 6.2 12.2 .507 1.5 3.6 .426 4.6 8.6 .540 .570 2.6 2.8 .938 0.4 2.9 3.3 11.0 0.5 0.1 3.6 1.3 16.5
2010-11 36 PHO 75 75 33.3 5.3 10.8 .492 1.1 2.7 .395 4.2 8.1 .525 .542 3.0 3.3 .912 0.5 2.9 3.5 11.4 0.6 0.1 3.5 1.2 14.7
2011-12 37 PHO 62 62 31.6 4.8 9.0 .532 0.9 2.3 .390 3.9 6.7 .580 .581 2.0 2.3 .894 0.4 2.6 3.0 10.7 0.6 0.1 3.7 0.9 12.5
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/14/2017.

Interestingly Nash’s best years came on joining Phoenix at the age of 30. He was leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals, the furthest they ever got, at the age of 35.

Can Curry still get better?

In a frightening development for the rest of the league, Curry’s trainer says he’s still getting better. While that sounds crazy I recall when they added Nash to the coaching staff after Curry’s first MVP season thinking how much better can he get? Then came his unanimous MVP season.

Curry had a bit of a ‘down year’ by those standards last year, but that was due to taking a step back for the first few months to integrate Kevin Durant, and his flow and rhythm being somewhat disrupted. That mainly manifested itself in his three point % being at a career low .411%, though he still shattered all previous non-unanimous records for three pointers made with an astonishing 324. Some down year!

Obviously later in the season he righted the ship and in the playoffs Curry and Durant were incredible. If Curry continues that level of comfort his three point percentage will likely tick back up to his career level .438%. He’d then be mighty close to the 50-40-90 club for the second time — a feat only achieved by Nash and Larry Bird — and likely top 350 three pointers made.

Who would really bet against that? Remember the jump in the offense from Kerr’s first year to his second, and consider that Durant is going to be even better integrated this coming year.

So if Curry can pick up some tips from Nash on staying healthy over the long haul, we could be in for quite a treat.

The Captain

The job of the captain, however, isn’t always held by the best player. Walker gives the example of the Brazilian football (or soccer, if you must) team that won three World Cups between 1958-1970. In Walker’s book, Pele was of course the transcendent talent, but the ‘captain’ role was played by less heralded players.

These are the first six traits that Walker claims links the ‘captain class’ across his dynasties.

  • They took care of tough, unglamorous tasks.
  • They broke the rules – for a purpose.
  • They communicated practically, not in grand speeches.
  • They knew how to use deeds to motivate.
  • They were independent thinkers, unafraid to dissent.
  • They were relentless.

Sound like someone we know?

Enter the Draymond

He may have only gotten an 89 in NBA 2K18, he may be left off of too many people’s all time Warriors team, but herein lies the value of one Draymond Green.

For all his immense statistical impact on the court, it’s the leadership he brings that sets him apart. This dude wins.

But for how long can an undersized defensive monster really last in the NBA? Well maybe the best comparisons are Detroit legend ‘Big Ben’ Wallace, and all-around lunatic Dennis Rodman.

First to Big Ben.

Wait, that’s the wrong link. Here you go:

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2000-01 26 DET 80 80 34.5 2.7 5.5 .490 0.0 0.1 .250 2.7 5.4 .492 .491 1.0 3.0 .336 3.8 9.4 13.2 1.5 1.3 2.3 1.5 2.4 6.4
2001-02 27 DET 80 80 36.5 3.2 6.0 .531 0.0 0.0 .000 3.2 6.0 .535 .531 1.2 2.9 .423 4.0 9.0 13.0 1.4 1.7 3.5 0.9 2.2 7.6
2002-03 28 DET 73 73 39.4 2.9 6.0 .481 0.0 0.1 .167 2.9 5.9 .485 .482 1.2 2.6 .450 4.0 11.4 15.4 1.6 1.4 3.2 1.2 2.5 6.9
2003-04 29 DET 81 81 37.7 3.9 9.2 .421 0.0 0.1 .125 3.9 9.1 .424 .422 1.8 3.6 .490 4.0 8.4 12.4 1.7 1.8 3.0 1.5 2.0 9.5
2004-05 30 DET 74 74 36.1 4.0 8.8 .453 0.0 0.1 .111 4.0 8.7 .458 .454 1.8 4.1 .428 3.9 8.2 12.2 1.7 1.4 2.4 1.1 2.1 9.7
2005-06 31 DET 82 82 35.2 2.9 5.7 .510 0.0 0.0 .000 2.9 5.6 .514 .510 1.5 3.6 .416 3.7 7.6 11.3 1.9 1.8 2.2 1.1 2.0 7.3
2006-07 32 CHI 77 77 35.0 2.5 5.5 .453 0.0 0.1 .200 2.5 5.4 .456 .454 1.4 3.5 .408 3.9 6.7 10.7 2.4 1.4 2.0 1.3 2.0 6.4
2007-08 33 TOT 72 72 30.6 1.9 4.9 .392 0.0 0.1 .000 1.9 4.8 .397 .392 1.0 2.3 .426 3.3 5.1 8.4 1.5 1.2 1.6 0.9 1.7 4.8
2007-08 33 CHI 50 50 32.5 2.0 5.4 .373 0.0 0.1 .000 2.0 5.3 .378 .373 1.1 2.5 .424 3.5 5.3 8.8 1.8 1.4 1.6 1.0 1.7 5.1
2007-08 33 CLE 22 22 26.3 1.7 3.7 .457 0.0 0.0 1.7 3.7 .457 .457 0.9 2.0 .432 2.7 4.7 7.4 0.6 0.9 1.7 0.8 1.6 4.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/14/2017.

Wallace’s prime was from the ages of 27-32, so Green is just entering that realm now.

But Rodman went on for much longer. His last three years on the legendary Chicago Bulls teams coincided with his 34th-36th year on this planet. Well if you can ever say Rodman was on this planet...

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1988-89 27 DET 82 8 26.9 3.9 6.5 .595 0.1 0.3 .231 3.8 6.2 .614 .601 1.2 1.9 .626 4.0 5.4 9.4 1.2 0.7 0.9 1.5 3.6 9.0
1989-90 28 DET 82 43 29.0 3.5 6.0 .581 0.0 0.1 .111 3.5 5.9 .589 .582 1.7 2.6 .654 4.1 5.6 9.7 0.9 0.6 0.7 1.1 3.4 8.8
1990-91 29 DET 82 77 33.5 3.4 6.8 .493 0.1 0.4 .200 3.3 6.5 .509 .498 1.4 2.1 .631 4.4 8.1 12.5 1.0 0.8 0.7 1.1 3.4 8.2
1991-92 30 DET 82 80 40.3 4.2 7.7 .539 0.4 1.2 .317 3.8 6.5 .581 .564 1.0 1.7 .600 6.4 12.3 18.7 2.3 0.8 0.9 1.7 3.0 9.8
1992-93 31 DET 62 55 38.9 3.0 6.9 .427 0.2 1.2 .205 2.7 5.7 .472 .444 1.4 2.6 .534 5.9 12.3 18.3 1.6 0.8 0.7 1.7 3.2 7.5
1993-94 32 SAS 79 51 37.8 2.0 3.7 .534 0.1 0.3 .208 1.9 3.4 .563 .543 0.7 1.3 .520 5.7 11.6 17.3 2.3 0.7 0.4 1.7 2.9 4.7
1994-95 33 SAS 49 26 32.0 2.8 4.9 .571 0.0 0.0 .000 2.8 4.9 .576 .571 1.5 2.3 .676 5.6 11.2 16.8 2.0 0.6 0.5 2.0 3.2 7.1
1995-96 34 CHI 64 57 32.6 2.3 4.8 .480 0.0 0.4 .111 2.2 4.3 .516 .485 0.9 1.7 .528 5.6 9.3 14.9 2.5 0.6 0.4 2.2 3.1 5.5
1996-97 35 CHI 55 54 35.4 2.3 5.2 .448 0.1 0.3 .263 2.2 4.9 .461 .456 0.9 1.6 .568 5.8 10.2 16.1 3.1 0.6 0.3 2.0 3.1 5.7
1997-98 36 CHI 80 66 35.7 1.9 4.5 .431 0.1 0.3 .174 1.9 4.2 .448 .436 0.8 1.4 .550 5.3 9.8 15.0 2.9 0.6 0.2 1.8 3.0 4.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/14/2017.

Both Wallace and Rodman played some seasons with very high minute totals. Steve Kerr on the other hand likes to keep the minutes down. Then there’s the fact that Green is playing in an era with fewer bruising big men.

So all things considered, Green should be able to go beyond what Wallace did and maybe even extend as far as Rodman.

Yin and yang

For all the remarkable qualities Green possesses, the seventh and final quality Walker identifies is one many wouldn’t automatically assign him: remarkable emotional self control. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you begin to see that he does tend to use his emotion and passion for a purpose: to fire up his teammates. Sometimes that boils over, but it’s a risk you have to take. And of course he is prone to the odd fiery speech.

Curry himself, though, also embodies many of the seven qualities, not least that self control. He communicates practically, in a quieter way. He uses deeds to motivate - from half court bombs to fighting to get back on the court and then gutting it out after multiple injuries in the 2016 playoffs.

He, too, is relentless.

Ultimately, Curry and Green are the yin and yang of this team. One fiery inferno, one cool and collected. But both driven, team-first leaders who prize winning above all else.

Collective captains

On the court they have rewritten what is possible. Curry’s shooting and wizardry is, as 538 famously said, the revolution.

Green’s defensive impact is just as revolutionary. He has the ability to guard any position, and lock down individual superstars.

His quarterbacking off the small ball defense, which operates as if five guys are on a string, constant switching and movement all in concert. He has elevated this art form.

It is important to note that Walker himself unsurprisingly identifies Andre Iguodala as one of the players that embodies the ‘Captain Class’ qualities. Obviously he’s not likely to be around anywhere near as long as Curry or Green.

So if the Warriors are going to end up being an extended dynasty, then at the core will have be the leadership that Curry and Green combine to bring.

Mindfulness

But there’s one more thing. Kerr is a man who has seen two of the great NBA dynasties up close and personal, the 90’s Bulls and the Spurs. He’s in charge of steering the ship on this one.

Even if these career arcs pan out, Kerr knows that you have to take it one game, one season at a time. That’s why mindfulness, staying in the moment, is one of his four core values.

And when asked about his legacy by Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, Curry avoided LeBron James’ hubris and gave an answer that embodied Kerr’s value of mindfulness.

“I never want to put limitations on myself, saying I want two or three or four more,” Curry said. “I don’t know what is possible. All I’m saying is I’m just going for more, across the board. I’m going to put the time and work in it.

“Obviously we (the Warriors) have a huge opportunity to do some special things, especially this year – hopefully keep the team together and really push the envelope. From that standpoint, (I’m) living in the moment. It sounds clichéd, but it is the way that I approach everything.”

So let’s be thankful that we are lucky enough to watch these unique players on this unique team, and enjoy every moment of this crazy ride wherever it takes us. In the end history is always written by the victors. Let’s hope it’s us.