Winning championships in the National Basketball Association is not completely contingent on talent, though a certain level of physical ability is necessary. The aptitude of a team is predetermined by the management’s ability to find certain, specific traits in players individually and in their team as a whole. Often, the general managers overlook the smaller subtleties of creating a balanced, cohesive unit while trying to put together a talented team, like the Atlanta Hawks. Or, they put together a team that plays well together, but cannot compete because they are athletically inferior. Putting together a winner depends on finding the right parts and putting them in a position to be successful.
1. Have an identity – The 1980’s Showtime Lakers blew by their opposition with most explosive fast break in NBA history. The 1988-90 Detroit Pistons played hard-nosed defense and did not allow anyone into the paint without some physical contact or a hard foul. The 1991-93 and 1994-96 Chicago Bulls used Tex Winters’ patented, triangle offense to post and slash their way to NBA championships. Great champions are determined by style. They impose their style and their will onto games and force their opponents into playing outside of their comfort zone. Each one of those historically great teams had a signature style of play predicated by a unique head coach. When building a franchise, the coach that manages the inflated egos of superstars and the game-time decisions must be decisive, motivational, and insightful. All of the aforementioned styles of play were taught by Hall of Fame coaches, Pat Riley, Bill Fitch, and Phil Jackson, respectively.
2. Get a franchise player with a go-to move – What is the difference between Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard? What is the difference between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James? They are all considered to be franchise players, but there are are quite a few differences that separate these players. First, there are 8 championships separating Timmy, Dwight, Kobe and LeBron, Tim with 3, Kobe with 5, Dwight and LeBron with none.* Howard and James have infinitely more physical ability than their more successful counterparts. Numerous NBA champions, like Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwayne Wade, have won with the amount of talent that LeBron and Dwight have had around them, so why have they not won it all? A go-to move is the real difference between these players. When you think of great NBA champions, images of timeless plays are revisited. Hakeem Olajuwon with his “Dream Shake” and flawless footwork in the post, Michael Jordan shooting his unstoppable, fade away jump shot, and Magic Johnson throwing a no-look pass to his Lakers teammates play regularly on NBA films. NBA champions have players that can score every time that they touch the basketball, because of a polished move that they have refined over years of practice.
3. Draft well – Your franchise player needs some help. No NBA champion over the last 30 years has had less than three stars. The best teams have 4-5 players that can score twenty+ points on any given night. The teams that do this draft well. The best general managers find the most talented players that fit their teams’ needs and systems. The best teams in the league, like the Lakers and the Spurs, have general managers that do this particularly well. The general rule of drafting is to always take the best talent available, no matter what if the player is an elite athlete who makes the type of shots that the average NBA player cannot make. People that fell under this rule were players like Brandon Roy and Dwayne Wade from the NCAA tournament, and LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant straight from high school. If an elite talent is unavailable, then you draft by team need. Two things that always translate from lower levels of basketball to the NBA are shooting and rebounding. So, GM’s should draft for whichever of the two skills in which their team is deficient.
4. Rebounding – Rebounds equal possessions.The better your big men are at rebounding, the better your team will do. General managers generally get the most gifted big men in an attempt to get more rebounding. This aspect of the game is the only situation where finding the most athletic guy, seldom works out admirably. Rebounding is completely about, technique, positioning, and desire. How high you can jump, has very little to do with who gets a rebound. Ideally, you procure the big man that wants the ball and is a superior athlete, but the two things are often separate. Rebounding is a lot like shooting the basketball, in that, some people will have a greater proclivity for it than others through sheer physical makeup, but the person that works harder than the others will be better, regardless of talent.
5. Defense - People say that defense wins championships. However, unless a basketball team is historically dominant on the defensive end, defense itself does not win championships. The sports pundits who believe that one end of the basketball court decides games are deluded, but defense is definitely necessary. A stout defense can carry a team to a title.The ability to make stops on the defensive end results in more possessions for the offense and thus more opportunities to score. Plus, it limits the scoring opportunities for the other team. Good defensive possessions bring momentum changes, especially when a block or steal leads directly to a score on a fast break .
Every National Basketball Champion in the history of the league has been among the league leaders in three categories, field goal percentage, defense, and rebounding. To build a winning team, you need a coach to make and teach the strategy, a franchise player with an unstoppable move, a team concept and personnel that are built in rebounding, and sound defensive philosophy. There is no other formula to NBA immortality.
*Editor’s Note: LeBron has since won three championship rings, and is always a favorite to win another ring because of his dominance on the court. But, LeBron has also worked on his back to the basket moves and his team goes to him in the post when they need a score. His post game has become his signature go-to move.