The Golden State Warriors have a lot to attribute their ongoing dynasty to. Wealthy and willing ownership. Competent management. Reliable coaching. And, of course, the overpowering “championship narrative” that drove Kevin Durant’s wobbly personage into their 73-win arms.
While Durant’s monumental 2016 free agency decision is a crucial component to their three championships in four years, the Warriors have used a platform of team-building that all 30 NBA teams have equal access to.
The NBA Draft.
The Warriors are in a big market. Oakland, on the skirts of San Francisco, gives the team that arbitrarily claims the “Golden State” moniker a lot of commerce to work with. Free agency has been kind to them in the form of Durant, but make no mistake, the Warriors dynasty was birthed in the draft.
And it wasn’t even their doing. Which, spoiler alert, is why we’re here.
Steph Curry’s story is obviously remarkable. The NCAA Tournament darling from Davidson, son of former NBA player Dell, husband of forgot-her-name, father of Riley and others, who was not recruited and still posed a big question mark after his historic college body of work.
So, going into the 2009 NBA Draft, there were obviously concerns. Little did we know the petite sharpshooter would change not only the NBA, but basketball entirely. That’s beside the point, but the Minnesota Timberwolves and their former bumbling GM David Kahn weren’t buying it despite needing a point guard.
They had the fifth and sixth overall picks, the latter courtesy of the Washington Wizards’ desire to acquire future LeBron James teammate Mike Miller. They fatefully picked Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn over Curry, allowing the Warriors to select Steph at pick seven.
Curry, his dad and his agent reportedly didn’t want to go to the Warriors, a solid team who had taken down a 67-win, number one seed two seasons prior but a roster that also had Andris Biedrins and Anthony Randolph. Randolph was their top pick a year before, and while proving to be a serious weapon in NBA 2K10, never met his hopeful means. Biedrins’ contract was eventually utilized to pick up Andre Iguodala. Do what you please with that information.
The Warriors and Curry eventually came to a deal and multiple lower leg injuries later, his dominating three-point shot turned basketball into a game built around the long ball. Chicks dig it, after all.
But Curry was only a Warrior because four teams passed on him, the Timberwolves twice.
In 2011, Golden State dug up another fortune. (In 2010, the Warriors showed they were human and picked Ekpe Udoh.)
Still picking in the lottery, the Warriors had the 11th selection. With that pick, they selected future All-Star Klay Thompson. Another son of a former NBA player, his father Mychal, the Warriors clearly trusted a genetic process.
The pick before the Warriors selected Thompson out of Washington State, the Sacramento Kings, like the Timberwolves two years prior, did the Warriors a tremendous favor by taking BYU legend Jimmer Fredette at number ten.
Thompson became college Jimmer at the pro level, and Jimmer a non-factor in the NBA world.
A lot has to fall into place for a dynasty to be born, but the Warriors couldn’t have done it without some help from fellow front office decision making, which never fails to disappoint.
Which brings us to those Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs, of repeated free agency failures after their improbable 2011 NBA championship, finally decided to rebuild after a lukewarm 2015-2016 season.
They rightfully sucked in 2016-2017 but were still good enough to pick as low as ninth. The 2017 draft was ripe with point guards, especially if you count beleaguered Markelle Fultz, and the Mavericks definitely wanted one.
Reports had them eyeing French project Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina is booming with potential, but also filled with developmental risk and the usual foreign prospect questions, a la Rubio in 2009 or, say, Dante Exum in 2014.
The decision was actually taken out of the Mavs hands when the New York Knicks took the French prodigy eighth. It was a no-brainer then for Dallas to take Dennis Smith Jr. ninth.
Now, I know that Ntilikina has taken some promising steps in his sophomore season, but at this point Smith Jr. looks like a future All-Star and potential cornerstone for the Mavericks.
However, this all looks like small potaters considering what happened in 2018.
The Mavericks lost a huge game in the 2017-2018 regular season finale to the Phoenix Suns, as well as an equally important “L” to the hapless Orlando Magic six days prior. Tiebreakers looked to be in Dallas’ favor, but the lottery sent them tumbling down to pick number five.
This past draft possessed three projected stars: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley and Luka Dončic.
Beyond that, there were obviously names to like, but getting a top three pick in this draft felt a lot different than anything from four on.
The Mavericks had long been connected to the Slovenian Dončic. With GM Donnie Nelson’s history of international scouting —like that German guy— Dallas is always matched up with international prospects on draft day.
Whether that be Roddy Beaubois in 2010, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dennis Schroder in 2013, the infamous Satnam Singh in 2015, or Ntilikina in 2017, the Mavericks are always eyeing the longest surnames on the draft board. (We miss you, Fran Fraschilla!)
So, when Ayton and Bagley went one and two, the Mavericks traded their fifth pick and an extremely valuable, top five protected pick in 2019 for the prodigious Dončic. A huge risk, but they got one of the “big three” in the draft.
The Atlanta Hawks, all in on a Houston Astros-like tanking, risked the prospects of Dončic for Trae Young, who was this draft’s edition of the “Next Steph.”
Young has been great so far, winning Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference. Dončic won in the West and, so far, has been better than advertised.
While Young has been excellent, and the surprisingly good Mavericks will surrender their still-probable lottery pick in 2019 to Atlanta, Dončic looks like a superstar in the making.
The help from around the league for the Mavericks actually extends beyond the draft. While it was pretty clear the Mavs were done with Chandler Parsons after 2016, the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated any potential return by granting him a max contract.
And Mark Cuban and company thank their lucky (Dallas) stars every day that Nerlens Noel turned down $70 million after the 2017 season.
In those spots stepped Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan.
The Warriors dynasty benefited from fateful draft day passes from the Timberwolves in 2009 and the Kings in 2011. Dallas has reaped the same potential reward in the past two drafts of 2017 and 2018, courtesy of the Knicks and Hawks.
It looks like Dallas is on their way back to NBA relevance and beyond, taking an eerily similar road the current back-to-back-to-future-back champs have taken.