Warriors Analysis

Commit or quit: Why Heat succeeded in area Warriors struggled

The Heat are riding several undrafted players to the NBA Finals

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As the Miami Heat bobbed and weaved through the NBA playoffs, a plucky play-in squad subduing more talented rosters, ripples of grumbling commenced within living rooms of Dub Nation.

With the Heat reaching The Finals, facing the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 on Thursday, the volume has increased.

The noise among Warriors fans can be distilled to a single question: “How can the Heat do so much with undrafted players, while the Warriors can’t get nearly as much from all their young talent?”

The short answer is that “Heat Culture, with a credo of “commit or quit,” is real. It’s an attitude that flows from NBA godfather Pat Riley, who has been the team president since 1995. Erik Spoelstra, one of the NBA’s top three coaches, had memorized the script by the time he was promoted to head coach in 2008. Miami’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, follows the same ethos, serving as sort of a “boot camp” for those longing for the NBA.

The more elaborate answer behind the current success of the Heat, relative to the Warriors, requires a deeper look at assemblage of both rosters – particularly the approach to the draft.

The Warriors in recent years have gone heavy on potential, aka “upside.” Their 2022 draft brought two 19-year-olds, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins, along with Gui Santos, who grew up in Brazil and turned 20 one day before being drafted. Golden State also selected two teenagers, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, in 2021. The year before that, the Warriors went for James Wiseman, another 19-year-old.

The combined collegiate careers of Baldwin, Rollins, Santos, Kuminga, Moody and Wiseman amount to 110 games, an average of 18.3 games per player. Their average age on opening night was 20.4 years old.

All six were draft picks, three in the lottery.

Each of the three members of the Heat making waves this postseason – Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent – played more games at the college level than Golden State’s entire group. They entered pro basketball with a combined 382 games of experience at five different schools.

None was drafted by an NBA team. Each endured G League stints. Each entered the Heat franchise by signing a two-way contract. Martin came to Miami two weeks before his 26th birthday, Strus was 24 and Vincent was 23.

While the Warriors were drafting heralded projects requiring several years to adjust to the pace and rhythm of the NBA, the Heat were scouring the edges of basketball for those familiar with being released multiple times and desperate to prove they belong in the league.

While the Warriors are trying to cultivate tyros for tomorrow’s NBA, the Heat were devoted to refining relatively mature players to fit their immediate needs.

The result is Miami having a collection of thirsty players, all in their mid-to-late 20s, whose tenacious dispositions are a seamless fit for Heat Culture. Martin, Strus and Vincent play as if each possession might be their last in the league. All commit, no quit.

Here’s the rub: That description fit many of those on Golden State’s last championship roster.

While Kuminga and Moody each had a few impressive moments during their rookie season, most of those supporting the core members of the Warriors in 2021-22 were, well, in their mid-to-late 20s or older with tenacious dispositions.

Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica were intent, after several empty seasons, on proving they still could produce in the NBA. Gary Payton II, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson were determined to prove they were worthy of being in the league.

Did you notice how the players coming off Golden State’s bench played each possession as if it might be their last? That formula, aligned with the team’s established core – Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – constructed a successful fusion.

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There is something to be said for teenage lottery picks and the raw gifts they possess. But they’ve been gassed up for years, which can lead to a degree of entitlement – which can collide with pleas for growth. Their mentality lacks the perseverance of those who have been undervalued and overlooked.

It worked for the Warriors one year ago, resulting in a championship. Whether it does the same for the Heat will be answered in the coming days.

What’s inarguable is that it’s easier to thrive when a team’s roster includes skilled grunts who know the sting of rejection. Curry, Green and Thompson are familiar with it. They wore it when entering the NBA.

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