How the Golden State Warriors Finally Perfected Small Ball

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Stacy Revere / Getty Images

Now that the Warriors have captured the NBA Title, basketball is truly, legitimately, and without question a guard's game.

It's taken more than a decade for the transformation to take hold, but the Warriors championship run confirmed as much as they dismantled LeBron's Cavaliers with as dominant a backcourt as we've seen in years. Maybe ever.

They won with tough defense, one of the stingiest in the league this year. They won it with Finals MVP Andre Iguodala crushing minutes off the bench. They won it with long-rage shooting, a high-octane spread offense led by the indomitable season of Stephen Curry. And they won it playing the kind of small ball born in the Arizona desert more than a decade ago.

Golden State didn't reinvent the game, didn't engineer any revolutionary new way to ball. They didn't do anything we haven't seen before. Instead, they fine-tuned a blueprint drawn up by the Phoenix Suns in 2004, when Steve Nash and coach Mike D'Antoni's :07 Seconds or Less offense ran opponents out of the gym and began the shift away from the big men.

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Nash won the MVP in 2005, the first pure point guard since Celtics legend Bob Cousy earned the trophy in 1957. But that was the greatest accolade any of those Suns teams earned in an era when the last dominant big men, highlighted by Duncan's Spurs, Shaq's Heat, Dirk's Mavericks, and, arguably, Howard's Magic, reached their peaks.

Steve Kerr, a five-time NBA champion as a sharp shooter for the Bulls and Spurs who just guided the Warriors to the title in his first year as head coach, was consultant and later GM of those Suns teams, and credited Golden State's identity with the culture developed in Phoenix. Playing the part of Nash all these years later, Warriors guard Stephen Curry set the league on fire this year and captured the MVP as the best player on the NBA's best team.

"Steve [Nash] was kind of the original Stephen Curry," Kerr said, doused in champagne in the aftermath of Golden State's win. "Slightly different, but similar mindset in terms of — and similar skill set of passing and the ball handling. And the Suns were so close. Things didn't go their way. But I imagined it. And I was there with Steve as general manager, and I thought it was going to happen for him. But he set the stage for Steph."

Nash ran the point in Phoenix from 2004-2012, and helped transition the game from the big men to the little guys. The Suns made it to the Western Finals three times between 2005 and 2010, but never could get past the likes of the Spurs, Mavericks, or Kobe's Lakers.

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"Steve kind of laid out a vision for a whole generation of young point guards," Kerr added from the podium. "And with the game changing, Mike D'Antoni kind of initiating that style in Phoenix, the floor starting to spread, the whole league kind of playing shooting fours and fives and playing a little faster. I think Mike and Steve in many ways set the table for Steph Curry. And I think Steph would tell you that, too. He has great respect for Steve."

Now the NBA has great respect for do-it-all guards like Curry, who helped to usher in a new era of basketball. And GMs with lottery picks this year have no idea what to do next.  

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