Of all the NBA teams that could use one more mini-leap from their two best players to launch themselves squarely into the championship conversation, the Golden State Warriors—with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—fit the bill best.
Luckily for them, the two will have three full weeks of FIBA Basketball World Cup experience at their backs heading into training camp.
Entering the tournament ranked No. 1 in the world, Team USA will look to capture its fourth consecutive gold medal in international competition.
Despite a loaded backcourt, Curry and Thompson both stand to figure heavily into the rotation—particularly after head coach Mike Krzyzewski eschewed the likes of John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyle Korver in lieu of more frontcourt depth.
Thompson, meanwhile, has regularly been one of the first players off the Team USA bench—he presents a combination of perimeter defense and shooting tailor-made for the FIBA game.
Based on some recent examples of international competition helping to propel players to career years, that’s good news indeed for Warriors fans.
Or how about Tim Duncan? After a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Athens Games, he went on to average 23.6 points and 12.2 rebounds over 23 playoff games en route to capturing the San Antonio Spurs’ third NBA title the following summer.
Even Derrick Rose, whose return has commanded the lion’s share of attention in the days and weeks leading up to Team USA’s gold-medal gambit, authored an MVP season in 2010 following his first FIBA run—the same year that Lamar Odom, Rose’s teammate that summer, captured the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
|A World of Improvement|
|Player (Season)||Points prior (Points after)||Rebounds||Assists||TS%||PER|
|Carmelo Anthony (2012-13)||22.6 (28.7)||6.3 (6.9)||3.6 (2.6)||.525 (.560)||21.1 (24.8)|
|LeBron James (2012-13)||27.1 (26.8)||7.9 (8.0)||6.2 (7.3)||.605 (.640)||30.7 (31.6)|
|Derrick Rose (2010-11)||20.8 (25.0)||3.8 (4.1)||6.0 (7.7)||.532 (.550)||18.6 (23.5)|
|Lamar Odom (2010-11)||10.8 (14.4)||9.8 (8.7)||3.3 (3.0)||.533 (.589)||15.9 (19.4)|
|Chris Paul (2008-09)||21.1 (22.8)||4.7 (5.5)||11.6 (11.0)||.576 (.599)||28.3 (30.0)|
Such increased production isn’t necessarily true across the board, of course.
Still, there’s enough evidence to suggest at least a connection between players suiting up for international competition and better preparedness and production during the subsequent NBA season.
That Curry and Thompson stand to parlay plenty of time in tandem over the next three weeks into the regular season should only heighten the excitement of Warriors fans.
In an interview with LetsGoWarriors' Ryan Brown, Curry underscored the almost osmotic quality of practicing with players who, just a few weeks from now, will go back to being bitter rivals:
Really it’s nothing specific, when you are around great talent great minds you are going to get better just by surrounding yourself with those kinds of people. There are so many great minds and basketball IQ’s that you are going to become a better player and a better presence by being here…Everyone is going to get better in some shape or form and they can tell you better once we get back what it exactly was.
Thompson, too, has been quick to tout the tremendous wealth of knowledge offered by Team USA.
"I tried to pick up a lot of stuff from Kyle [Korver], who I shot with a lot recently when he was on Team USA,” Thompson told Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. “He's great at moving without the ball.”
Facing a season in which the Warriors will be marshaled by first-year head coach Steve Kerr, Curry and Thompson’s Team USA experience—which will doubtless include plenty of time manning the backcourt in tandem—is all the more important from a chemistry standpoint.
A noted disciple of the legendary Phil Jackson, Kerr has been hard at work installing what he referred to, in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami, as a kind of hybrid triangle—an offense predicated on precise spacing and constant ball movement.
As Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes detailed in a recent column, that’s great news for Golden State’s shooters:
The beauty of Kerr's proposed system is that it draws as much from the Triangle as it does the San Antonio Spurs' "motion weak" offense—which features nonstop movement, attacks and counters—all designed to get defenders on their heels in space. That means a play stymied on the strong side won't kill a Warriors possession this year. Instead, the ball will swing back to the weak side, where actions start afresh.
The ball won't stick, isolations will disappear and aimless dribbling will be vastly reduced.
Even if Krzyzewski’s system isn’t exactly steeped in triangle principles, added reps for Thompson and Curry—to say nothing of their forthcoming acquaintance with a wide variety of international systems and styles—are almost certain to pay immediate and lasting dividends for Kerr and the Warriors.
With elite defenders in Thompson, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala in the fray, the Warriors should, in theory, remain top-tier talents in that department.
Taking the next step on offense, however, could mean the difference between yet another second-round exit and a legitimate shot at Western Conference supremacy.
In the wake of Paul George’s gruesome injury, there’s been no shortage of criticism suggesting the NBA take a good, hard look at what is, financially speaking, a one-sided relationship with the FIBA powers that be. Some of it is fair and warranted.
At the same time, Team USA competition has, for many, served as an indispensible piece to their development as players—not only on the international stage, but in the NBA as well.
Vying for international glory won’t guarantee Curry and Thompson an NBA championship. But if history is any harbinger, Warriors fans can look forward to FIBA gold paying off handsomely in the campaign to come.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.