Nobody paid attention to the Golden State Warriors until last year's playoffs.
Before then, people only knew about the Warriors because of Jason Richardson's flashy dunks at All-Star Weekend. That was it.
When Baron Davis was traded from the Hornets to Warriors, nobody really cared. Baron's prime was over, or so they thought.
Plagued by injuries, Davis never had much of a chance to lead the Hornets. He wasn't expected to do much better in Oakland.
Then came Stephen Jackson, a guy best known for his role in the Auburn Hills nightmare when he was still with the Pacers. Also traded to the Warriors was Al Harrington, well known for wanting the ball in his hands, regardless of whether he's successful with it.
So how did the Warriors catch fire last season—and how are they amongst the top teams in the NBA this year, after beating the San Antonio Spurs on Monday?
The reason is simple: Nellie Ball.
Coach Don Nelson realizes that with a team of players who are known to be selfish with the ball, it's more efficient to let them run. No rules, no plays—just play like you're back on the streets.
The Warriors' up-tempo game is even quicker than that of the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix plays an "organized" run-and-gun game. Golden State plays a "ruthless" run-and-gun game.
Like Allen Iverson said after the Nuggets beat the Warriors, "You think it's easy playing their game? It's tough."
But it works.
Last season, Golden State clinched a playoff berth in their final game, then shocked the Mavericks in the playoffs. What beat Dallas was Nellie's style. Dallas was used to slow, set play. That's not how the Warriors operate.
What really got Golden State over the hump was the crowd at Oracle Arena. Imagine yourself as Baron Davis, and you score a layup. Just a layup...and all 20,000 people in the building, in their yellow "We Believe!" t-shirts, stand up and applaud.
Imagine how much energy that would give you!
The buzz propelled the Warriors over Dallas, and gave them the confidence they needed going into the 2007-2008 season.
But things didn't start well.
Jason Richardson was traded to Charlotte, and Captain Jack was suspended to start the year. Down went the Warriors to the bottom of the league.
But the moment Jackson came back, the good times started rolling again—and now the Warriors are in the top eight of the Western Conference.
People get tired enough with Phoenix running nonstop. Then you have the Warriors. They have no fear. Jackson will shoot the three in transition, Baron will finish wildly ridiculous and-one plays, and Monta Ellis will sprint pass you just as quick as Leandro Barbosa.
Simply put: You cannot stop the Warriors in transition. It's impossible.
Now let's take a look deeper into the roster...
The most important factor in his game is probably his hustle. He'll dive after every loose ball and offensive rebound.
And of course, there's his scoring ability. He can post on smaller guards, and he can knock down three's, open or not.
On top of everything else, he can finish. You saw him dunk on Andrei Kirilenko last year in the playoffs. Make no mistake: It's Baron's house in Golden State.
Quick as lightning.
He's called a "one-man fast break" because he's going the other way when a shot is taken. By the time you realize he's gone, there's no way you can catch up.
And now that he has the midrange jump shot to boot, you don't know whether to back down or be aggressive.
His strength is probably the biggest key for the Warriors: defense.
Jackson can match up against anyone. He and Biedrins provide the defensive aggressiveness for the Warriors.
And of course, his three-pointers can kill you.
He's a mini-version of Dirk. He can score three's (he's the team's most accurate three-point shooter), he can score baby hooks inside, and he can, and will, dunk on you.
Other than those funny-looking screens he sets, he's a monster.
His presence was enough to give Dirk second thoughts about driving to the hoop during the playoffs. And his pick-and-roll with Stephen Jackson is underrated.
Another great hustle player. He can dunk on you, and shoot the three.
A great name—and he can do pretty much everything. Called up from the D-League last season, he already has plenty of highlights on NBA.com.
And yes, he dunks on people.
The Frenchman isn't very effective in Nellie Ball, and has been the subject of a lot of trade rumors. However, when he plays, he will knock down three's.
The rest of the Warriors don't play much. But when they do, they all hustle, and play the game as if it were their last.
This, perhaps, is why the Warriors win: It's their hustle.
With Nellie Ball in full effect, the Warriors are in the thick of the playoff race. If they continue their current pace, the could do some damage in the postseason.
As it stands, the Warriors have already beaten Phoenix and Dallas. Now they've beaten the Spurs twice—once without Tony Parker, once with a full roster.
Who says the Warriors can't win the Western Conference Championship? They sure look like they're on a good run.
As long as they play Nellie Ball, you've got to figure they have a chance.