Note: This story is an updated version of previous Santa Cruz Warriors analysis heading into the 2022 G League playoffs. Read the first story here.
To the Golden State Warriors, size doesn’t matter.
They don’t have staggering height, with only two players on the 2021-22 roster 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 cardinal rules en route to a championship.
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
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 apex of the three-point shooting revolution that Steph Curry ushered in a decade ago. The results were mixed, but not necessarily unexpected.
No one on the 2021-2022 Santa Cruz Warriors was born after 1998, abandoning the youth typical of a G League team. No one on the Santa Cruz Warriors last year stood above 6’11”, with only one player above 6’6”. The Sea Dubs took the big club’s formula for success to its ideological extreme this past season.
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.
Former Santa Cruz Warriors’ 6’10” center Selom Mawugbe drew 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.
However, things got uniquely interesting when Mawugbe was 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.
This undersized, democratized attack was more favorable to Santa Cruz Warriors management, who let Mawugbe walk to Germany’s Rostock Seawolves. Months after a miracle turnaround to sneak into the playoffs, Santa Cruz let the living, breathing embodiment of traditional positions walk out of the door for free.
When this style is at its best, opposing teams are left fumbling against the Warriors’ greater offensive skills and ball sharing. 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.
The Santa Cruz Warriors finished third in the G League in assists and were top half of the G in points per game, which was good for a top- 12 offense on the year. On the other hand, they bled points on the opposite end to the tune of a bottom ten defense. All of the data fits with what would be expected of such an audacious roster construction.
Numbers aside, this team got the job done. After a rough start, the SC Warriors snuck into the playoffs and gave the one seeded South Bay Lakers a run for their money. However, 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.
We’ll know more about this year’s Santa Cruz Warriors once NBA training camp is over and rosters shrink back from 20 to 15 players. Re-signing Quinndary Weatherspoon and letting Mawugbe walk were some pretty good hints that the back to back G League franchise of the year won’t be abandoning their emphasis on ball skills and perimeter play.