To the Golden State Warriors, size doesn’t matter.
They don’t have staggering size, with only one active player standing above 6’9” and they run less pick and roll than almost any other team in the NBA. Spearheaded by the all-time great Steph Curry on offense and the one of a kind undersized Draymond Green on defense, Steve Kerr’s Warriors have been breaking professional basketball’s seemingly cardinal rules.
A dominant run atop the league through the mid- and late 2010s has now blossomed into an intriguing second act, where the current Warriors straddle the line between their present (52-29, 3rd in the west) and their future (three high draft picks in the last two years).
A recent article from Synergy Sports found that the Warriors were the only team in the NBA not to run a “pro-style” offense. The Warriors’ movement offense, with its distinct lack of isolation or pick and roll possessions, fits more in the Ivy League than in any professional matchup. But the Warriors’ style has garnered them significant success, to the point where their G League team is all in on this organizational philosophy.
“The pro style offenses are characterized by relatively high amounts of pick-and-roll actions and isolation. NBA teams also tend to use handoffs more than their collegiate counterparts. “- Synergy Sports Todd Whitehead
Santa Cruz Warriors’ 6’10” center Selom Mawugbe draws a stark contrast to every other player on the roster. Mawugbe is big and athletic, while no one else on Santa Cruz stands above 6’6”. Mawugbe’s skills are raw, while every other player on the roster can dribble, pass, shoot, and defend multiple different positions. When Mawugbe is on the floor, the other Warriors swirl around him — cutting and relocating to the perimeter for open shots or giving the ball to their big man for a vicious dunk.
However, things get uniquely interesting when Mawugbe is off the floor. The lack of a traditional giant means that everyone has to pick up a bit of the slack; in a way, all of them are playing Mawugbe’s role, while simultaneously, none of them are.
Quinndary Weatherspoon is a 6’3” guard who plays for both Santa Cruz and Golden State, and despite his smaller stature, he still cuts and puts pressure on the basket, rebounds on both ends, and rotates to defend. He’s not the big man positionally, but on the floor he and his teammates should, and do, act like it.
Weatherspoon does all the little things while being a top 10 scorer in the G League, two things that don’t often go hand in hand. Outside of Weatherspoon, the Warriors spread their scoring around fairly evenly –– another manifestation of their ball movement based, team culture..
When this style is at its best, opposing teams are left fumbling against the Warriors’ greater offensive skills and ball sharing while being unable to leverage the advantage their superior size gives them. When the style fails, teams exploit the lack of size and defense in these lineups for easy baskets, while forcing the mini-dubs away from the rim.
Other teams have gone small historically, or deployed similarly sized three guard lineups, but no team in recent basketball history has ever so completely been all in on this small ball style; it represents the nadir of the three point shooting revolution that Steph Curry ushered in a decade ago. The results have been mixed, but not necessarily unexpected.
The Santa Cruz Warriors are leading the G League in assists and are sixth in points per game, which is good for a top 10 offense. On the other hand, they are also bleeding points on the opposite end to the tune of a bottom five defense. They’re currently 10-13, looking to make a late run into the playoffs where the single elimination tournament means that anything can happen. All of the data fits with what would be expected of such an audacious roster construction.
However, whether or not they make the G League playoffs is fundamentally inconsequential to whether or not this roster construction was a success. If the purpose of a G League team is to help their NBA affiliate win a championship, then getting the most you can out of guys that fit into your system is more important than the wins and losses of a single year.
No one on the Santa Cruz Warriors was born after 1999, abandoning the youth typical of a G League team. No one on the Santa Cruz Warriors is above 6’11”, with only one player above 6’6”. Yet, the Warriors organization has been advanced far more by this year’s G League project than any other. They found their guys, got them into their system, and now have a stable of potential immediate contributors for years to come.
This article was a part of City on a Hill Press’ backlog. The article was originally written on March 19.