When Tim Hardaway Sr left the Golden State Warriors in 1996, the Oakland team were two years into their wretched 12-year run of not having an NBA postseason appearance. That year, NBA champions Chicago Bulls set the record for the most wins in regular season and postseason with 87 wins while the Warriors ended the season with a losing record for the second year in a row. With Michael Jordan at his peak, the Bulls completed their second three-peat after winning the NBA Championship from 1996 to 1998.
In contrast, the Warriors endured a torrid start to the 21st century and made only one postseason appearance in the 2000s. While never a championship winning team, the Warriors had always been a decent mid-table team capable of springing a few surprises now and then. Little did Hardaway Sr know that the arrival of one Stephen Curry would change not only the fortunes of the franchise but also the dynamic of the game itself.
With Curry, the Warriors have won three titles in four years and in the 2015-16 season, broke the Bulls' 20-year record for most wins in a season with 88 wins. The Steve Kerr-coached franchise have built a strong team around Curry recruiting the likes of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins and are bidding to be only the fifth NBA side to complete a three-peat if they win the Championship in the 2018-19 season.
"I think if the Warriors complete the three-peat, they'll be up there with the Celtics, the Bulls and the Lakers," Hardaway said on the sidelines of an NBA India event held in Mumbai.
The fortunes of the Warriors is not the only thing that has changed since Hardaway's retirement in 2006, according to the five-time NBA All-Star player.
"The sport is different defence-wise. When I was playing, we could push up, beat you down and hand check you. But now the sport is wide open. When I was playing, the scoring was generally 85-90, but now teams scores average between 110 and 120.
"The game has a lot more movement. When I was playing, sometimes we just played on one side of the court and we rarely had to defend threes! The players now have more freedom in running around the court and their movement is good. They are playing great passes and are looking for more layups. It's difficult to defend now," Hardaway said.
"Till last year you could impede a player's progress but now you can't because of the new rules. As soon as you stop somebody, foul!"
What Hardaway is referring to is the simplification of the clear path foul rule. Ahead of the 2018-19 season, the NBA introduced a new rule to simplify the clear path foul "while also narrowing required referee judgment and reducing the number of variables impacting the rule's application."
The NBA Board of Governors today unanimously approved rules changes in advance of the 2018-19 season. This includes a simplification of the clear path foul rule. To view examples of the clear path foul rule simplification, see the video below. pic.twitter.com/HQjJCqK5rv
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) September 21, 2018
The implementation of the tweaked clear path foul rule has resulted in a rise in the number of high-scoring matches with teams breaching the 110-point mark. However, Hardaway feels that by the 25-game mark, teams would have figured out how to set up defensively in accordance with the new rules which would lead to a reduction in the number of high-scoring matches.
"People will adapt. They will understand how to defend on the ball and off the ball. Whatever new rule you implement, it takes a minute for players to adapt to it. By the 25th game, everybody would have adapted to it. By that time, I think the scoring will be back to 105-110 like normal," Hardaway said.
What, however, has not changed about basketball since Hardaway's times is the way teams prepare for games. "That aspect of the game has not changed. You still prepare the same. You rely on watching videos, tactical walkthroughs, understanding the tendencies of different players and knowing what they like to do and not to do. The only thing that has changed is the flow of the game."
Instrumental in the Golden State Warriors current era are three-point shooting pair of Curry and Thompson. The Splash Brothers, as the duo have been nicknamed, have changed the way the game is played with teams now focusing on netting three-pointers over mid-range shots. However, Hardaway believes that despite the rising prominence of three-point shooters, the game won't undergo a radical change in the style of play.
"If you look at Kevin Durant, the way he beats you is by his mid-range shots. He makes more mid-range shots than three-pointers. In the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Rockets banked on making more three-pointers than Durant made mid-range shots and they lost," Hardaway said.
Given Durant's importance in the all-conquering Warriors' side, speculation has been rife over his future in Oakland. Durant enters free-agency next year with New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers being touted as possible destinations for the 2014 NBA MVP. However, Hardaway believes that Durant will be better off with the Warriors.
"If I was in Durant's shoes, I would stay. They have a dynasty. Why would I go anywhere else than a (team which has established a) dynasty? I do understand the financial aspects of the game, but if I was him, I'd rather be part of the Warriors dynasty. If Durant stays and they keep their core, they could last for at least five-six years," Hardaway said.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Nov 18, 2018 18:14:24 IST