If NBA is having a big-man renaissance, where does that leave Warriors?

Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis posed a problem for Warriors forward Draymond Green and his teammates during the playoffs. 
Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis posed a problem for Warriors forward Draymond Green and his teammates during the playoffs.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The past five NBA MVP awards have been won by players who stand 6-foot-11 or taller.

Nikola Jokić, who just led Denver to its first championship in franchise history, won the award in 2021 and 2022. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was also a back-to-back winner in 2019 and 2020. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid won it this past season, to the dismay of Jokić fans everywhere.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry became the league’s first unanimous MVP in 2015, starting a run of four seasons where a high-scoring guard would win the award (Curry again in 2016; Russell Westbrook in 2017; James Harden in 2018).

The NBA is changing, and the arrival of players such as San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren and Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, indicates that it could be a big-man’s league again before long. Perhaps it already is.

Some argue that the golden era for big men in the NBA was in the 1990s, when players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning were dominating on the hardwood.

If modern bigs continue to evolve in tandem with the fast-paced, long-range shooting demands of today’s game, then Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. believes another big-man renaissance could be around the corner.

When it happens, where does that leave Golden State?

“If you have big guys who are uniquely skilled, who have a great feel for the game, who can play both ways like wings and guards, then there will be a renaissance,” Dunleavy told The Chronicle. “But right now our game is so predicated on skill that if you don’t have the appropriate skill, it’s hard to dominate the game. Jokić is a great example of that.”

Size was not too much of an issue for the Warriors in their first three championships under head coach Steve Kerr. The 2014-15, 2016-17 and 2017-18 rosters all featured at least three players 6-10 or taller. And for what they lacked in traditional rim protection and lob threats, they made up for with tempo and incredible scoring among Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. On defense, guys such as Draymond Green (6-6), Andre Iguodala (6-6) and Kevon Looney (6-9), played bigger than their size suggests, which helped mask some issues.

Nemanja Bjelica was the only player who was 6-10 or taller on Golden State’s 2021-22 championship team. As long as the dynastic trio of Curry, Thompson and Green has a host of capable role players around them — such as Looney, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. in 2021-22 — who fit the style of play and can impact the game in ways other than scoring, perceived roster flaws can be mitigated.

In the 2021-22 playoffs, the Warriors ranked sixth in defensive rating (111.1), third in rebounding (34.5) and seventh in blocks (4.5). It supports Dunleavy’s stance that even within this evolving NBA landscape, the Warriors’ system still can work.

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