At Today’s Fastbreak, we’re going through all 30 teams in the NBA and naming their all-time starting fives. The Golden State Warriors span the annals of NBA history as much as any team. In fact, their quintet has at least one player who stepped on the court in every decade of the league’s existence.
As such, it should be an intriguing team with a variety of skills. And the group would fit surprisingly well together in spite of that. Because of the uniqueness of the squad’s timeline, though, rather than list the team in conventional position order, they’re listed chronologically.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain, 1959-1973
How much can you say about Wilt Chamberlain that hasn’t already been said? He was simply the most dominant statistical player in the history of the league, and his best statistical years came while he was with the Warriors, be that in Philadelphia or San Francisco.
In his 429 games, he averaged 41.5 points and 25.1 rebounds with the team that drafted him. He scored 18,837 total points in his first six years, over 4,000 more than anyone, ever, per Basketball-Reference. He also had 11,548 boards. Also the most of any player, ever. And he played 21,789 minutes, which is more than anyone, ever.
He was so dominant that they had to change the rules by widening the lanes. And to be fair, his numbers are inflated because no one since has had the benefit of playing with 12-foot lanes since. And you can certainly envision someone like Shaquille O’Neal putting up similar numbers given the chance.
Still, the notion that he was “just” putting up big numbers because of that is overstated. He was a tremendous athlete. After retiring from basketball, he got into volleyball where he became a member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame.
From ESPN Page 2, Jeff Merron points out this tidbit:
If you couldn’t tell Chamberlain was strong, fast and agile from his basketball playing, you could look to his track and field performances. As a prep, he set Pennsylvania state records in the shot put and the 110-meter hurdles, and his scholarship to Kansas was for both basketball and track. He earned the track portion by winning three straight Big Eight high jump titles.
He was athletic enough that he violated the spirit of the rules by dunking from the charity stripe instead of shooting from there. Ergo, another change in the rules were in order, outlawing that.
And when he was with the Harlem Globetrotters, he lined up at shooting guard.
So yeah, he had the athleticism to compete in today’s league.
Power Forward: Nate Thurmond, 1962-1977
Nate Thurmond has worn the Warriors uniform for 30,735 minutes; that’s more than anyone in history. And it makes it all the more ironic that his most historic achievement came in his first game in another uniform.
Per his Wikipedia entry:
He was traded to the Chicago Bulls for Clifford Ray prior to the 1974-75 season. On October 18, 1974 against the Atlanta Hawks, in his debut as a Bull, he recorded 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocked shots, becoming the first player in NBA history to officially record a quadruple-double (blocked shots were not counted before 1973–74).
One game is close enough. At age 34, he posted the first quadruple double in the history of the league. He should never be known as anything but a Warrior. His best season came in 1966-67, just two years after Chamberlain was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
He averaged 18.7 points, 21.3 boards and finished second in MVP voting….to Chamberlain.
Small Forward: Rick Barry, 1965-1980
Rick Barry’s rookie season came the year after Chamberlain was traded, which kind of makes for one of the best “could have beens” you can muster. If San Francisco hadn’t dealt Wilt, they could have had the three best players in franchise history (for now) playing together at the same time.
As it was, in Barry’s second season in 1966-67, the Warriors got to the Finals. They fell to Chamberlain’s 76ers. In that series, Barry recorded one 55 point game, which remains the second-highest total in a Finals game (tied with Jordan in ’93 and trailing Elgin Baylor’s 61 in ’62).
After leaving the NBA for four years, Barry returned to the Warriors a better all-around player. His passing had become a major asset in addition to his scoring. While he wasn’t “called” a point forward because that vernacular didn’t yet exist, he functioned as one. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com quotes Del Harris on the subject:
“Rick was one of the great passers of all time as a forward,” said Del Harris, an assistant on Tom Nissalke’s staff then. “We worked him with [Calvin] Murphy and Mike Newlin, neither of whom was true point guards — they were scorers. A lot of the stuff we ran, the guards would get it up the floor and then Rick would break into the middle, above the circle, get the ball, and then the main movement would begin.
“He would sort it out. He would make the plays. He was really the first guy to be utilized in that role very heavily. But there was no name attached to it.”
He had a truly spectacular his third season back in Golden State. He averaged over 30 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Other players who have done that before or since include Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Dwyane Wade and Jerry West.
Of those players, only Barry and Jordan won the Finals MVP in the same season. On the highest stage, he averaged 29.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.5 steals as the Warriors swept the Washington Bullets.
Shooting Guard: Chris Mullen, 1985-2001
After “mullin’” this one over, I chose to take Chris Mullen over Klay Thompson. While the kid has a nice future, he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet and doesn’t have his jersey retired.
Mullen was the “C” in “Run TMC” which consisted of Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. It was an offense ahead of its time—one that would be far more comfortable in today’s league than it was then. Hardaway described it for the Fran Blinebury of NBA.com:
“Big guys playing outside, small guys going inside, point forwards starting the offense,” said Hardaway. “Around the league it was: ‘What are you all doing? What is this about?’ They didn’t know how to even play against us. They didn’t know how to discuss it. They didn’t know how to plan for it. It was mind-boggling to the other team.”
Starting from the 1988-89 season, Mullin had a five-year span where he averaged 25.8 points on 52.3 percent shooting, including 35.4 percent from three and 87.3 percent from the stripe. Over that span, only Charles Barkley and Karl Malone scored more points with more efficiency.
In all, he played 13 seasons with the Warriors. His 807 games in a Warriors uni are more than anyone. He’s second in minutes and fourth in points. In all, of the 51 categories tracked at Basketball-Reference, Mullin is in the top 10 of franchise history in 29 of them.
That’s more than anyone in franchise history. He might not be the most celebrated name on this list, but you can’t put together an all-time Warriors list without him.
Point Guard: Stephen Curry, 2009-Present
One of my personal criteria in ranking players all-time is how much they change the league. And Stephen Curry is on track to do that. His shooting doesn’t just shine; it’s positively effervescent.
He’s made 62 more threes than any player in history through seven seasons—and he’s only played six. Well, when you consider he only played 26 games in 2011-12, he’s actually played slightly over five.
Of players with 1,000 threes made, he has more per 36 minutes than anyone in history and has made them at the highest rate: 44.0 percent.
In 2008, the year before Curry entered the league, the average team attempted 1,485 threes. The Warriors led the NBA with 2,185. Last year, the average was 1,838, and the league high was 2,680. The typical game features 23.7 more three-point attempts than it did just seven years ago.
And that trend is just getting started.
There is more than just Curry at play here. A series of rule changes and defensive adaptations to those rule changes, as well as a trend towards analytics, have precipitated that change as well. But it’s all just theory if there isn’t someone doing it and winning doing it.
And that may very well make Curry one of those league-changers when all is said and done. His ability to shoot contested, pull-up jumpers is surreal. It’s a big part of why he won the MVP. It has more than a little to do with the Warriors winning the title.
And it’s why he’s a member of the Warriors all-time starting five.
Previous all-time starting fives: Bulls, Pistons, Thunder-Sonics, Magic, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers, Wizards, Pacers, Raptors, Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans-Hornets-Jazz, Clippers, Jazz, Spurs, Suns, Kings, Cavaliers, Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Timberwolves