We're Once Again Asking You To Believe In The Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors tipped the season off as mid-rangers.
Behind the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, Steph Curry and the Warriors were one of nine teams that could be talked into as possible championship contenders.
"Steph Curry and Draymond Green will keep the Warriors above water until Klay Thompson returns. That may not be until early 2022, and it's not until then that we will know the ceiling of this team. Steph, though..." - NBA 2021/22 Projections
Curry and Green are doing more than keeping the Warriors above water. At 15-2 through 17 games, the Warriors are playing with the best record in the NBA as reports emerge of Thompson's possible return before Christmas. While it still remains to be seen what the ceiling of this team might be, it's safe to say that it's already risen above even the most optimistic preseason expectations. There is even talk of a 2015-16 feeling to this Warriors team, and that's all down to Curry and his ridiculous start to the 2021-22 NBA season.
Sift through the usual "washed" and "he's lost it" comments that occasionally shadow this man and you'll see a guy still playing like the greatest shooter of all time.
Curry is the only player to win the Most Valuable Player award unanimously by averaging 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 45.5% shooting from three and an outrageous 62.9% effective field goal percentage in 2015-16. Effective field goal percentages are typically reserved for big men with the next point or combo guard that year - Steph's brother, Seth - way down at 56%.
Curry's numbers don't quite stack up to his unanimous MVP year, but they provide context to just how well he has started this season. The 33-year-old is averaging 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 41.1% from three with a 58.9% effective field goal percentage which puts him in the 98th percentile per Cleaning The Glass.
He started the season shooting 5 from 21 from the field and the knives were out. Now he's pointing daggers at the crowd before the ball even touches the net.
Curry is leading the way in early-season MVP rankings as he eyes up a third Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
His offensive box plus-minus (8.3) ranks 2nd in the NBA. He's 4th in offensive win shares (2.2) and 3rd in defensive win shares (1.1) to be 2nd in the league in overall win shares (3.3). Meanwhile, only Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo rank higher in value over replacement.
The Warriors play with the 2nd-ranked offence scoring 116.5 points per 100 possessions while their defence ranks 1st allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions. Of all players that average 25+ minutes per game, Curry's 116.3 offensive rating is good for 6th in the league, his 96.9 defensive rating is 4th, and his +19.4 net rating is the best in the NBA by a distance.
The counting numbers are there for everybody to see in the box score and he features heavily towards the top of the advanced stats.
Curry is a deserving favourite for the MVP and the reason behind Golden State's impressive start to the season. However, it's their depth and their work on the defensive side of the ball that lends itself to putting them higher in the championship conversation.
There is no question that Curry is the prominent feature of the offence. Whether he is putting the ball in the basket himself, accumulating one of his 6.6 assists per game, or working off the ball and using his gravitational pull to create opportunities for others, Curry is the key cog.
From there, the Warriors offence is by committee.
One of Andrew Wiggins (19.1ppg) or Jordan Poole (18.4ppg) tend to take the role as the second scorer on any given night.
Draymond Green has recaptured his love for basketball and is spreading it through 7.6 assists per game. He actions a lot of the offence despite what his 13.4% usage rate suggests.
Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are all shooting over 40% from the field on a combined 7.3 attempts per game while Damion Lee has shown glimpses of being an effective bench performer. He averaged 11.8 points per game off the bench before missing back-to-back games with a shoulder injury and has only scored 10+ once in the five games since his return.
With Andre Iguodala's veteran presence negating the inexperience of Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the Warriors have an ideal blend of scoring, defence, youth and experience.
Most notably, compared to last season, is how the Warriors are coping without Curry.
They played with a +4.2 net rating throughout the 2,152 minutes Curry spent on the floor last season but that dropped down to -4.69 in the 1,309 minutes without him per PBP Stats. Curry being available for 63 games kept the Warriors relevant and extended their season into the play-in tournament before losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime.
This season, however, the Warriors are finding ways to cope without Curry.
Their +18.54 with Curry on the floor is outrageous and surely not sustainable. He's good, but that number was at +17.84 across 2,700 minutes of his unanimous MVP season. Still, it's the +1.32 net rating with Curry off the court that is most encouraging. Unlike previous seasons, the Warriors aren't falling to pieces when their superstar sits. Wiggins, in particular, is using those minutes to assert himself for the Warriors to play with a +10.14 net rating in the minutes Wiggins plays while Curry sits.
Again, it's unlikely that number sticks through to the end of the season, but it's encouraging.
The Warriors have reasserted themselves as an offensive force. Curry is the most destructive scorer in the NBA and his shooting ability improves those around him with or without the ball.
Time spent without the ball is where the Warriors are most looking like a championship contender.
Love him or hate him, Draymond Green is very good at what he does.
Arguments for him being overpaid and not worth the $22+ million he took home last season were somewhat valid when he's being asked to do so much with the ball. He can act as a facilitator and creator in a cohesive offence, but stick him into the dismantled mess that has been the Warriors in recent years, and he struggles to be effective on that side of the ball.
However, with things back to normal around him and with a re-found focus on defence, Green is back to his best.
What Curry is to the offence, Green is to the Warriors defence. He's the conductor, the quarterback, the leader.
Green is 4th in the league in defensive win shares and 2nd in defensive box plus-minus. His influence on the defensive side of the ball is unquestionable, yet, surprisingly, the Warriors play with a better defensive rating when Green is off the floor (95.85) than they do when he's on it (103.08). A lot of that might be situational. It's also worth noting that the 103.08 defensive rating the Warriors play with when Green is on the floor is still good for third in the league.
Overall, the Warriors are a defensive powerhouse. Their 101.3 defensive rating is the best in the league and in conjunction with their 2nd-ranked offence, has produced an NBA-best +13.3 net rating - two points better than the Utah Jazz at 2nd.
Draymond Green wants to win another Defensive Player of the Year award and we know that defence wins championships. If Green earns his individual accolade throughout the regular season, there is a good chance the Warriors lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
The Warriors started the season as a probable playoff team capable of making some noise in the playoffs. They wouldn't win it, but they'd go a long way to causing an upset or two through to June.
But with the best record in the NBA, Klay Thompson soon to return and James Wiseman still yet to see the floor this season, an upset before the NBA Finals now would be at the expense of the Warriors.
It feels a little bit harsh to circle the 2021-22 NBA season as championship or bust for the Warriors, but what else can it be?
They look good enough to win it right now. While they have some young and exciting pieces, Curry will be 34 next season. Green will be 32 and his game, while it's his smarts that make him great, relies on his physical tools in defence. Plenty have tipped an end to the Warriors dynasty before, but Father Time catches up to everybody eventually.
Contextually, things are breaking right for the Warriors at the moment.
The Brooklyn Nets haven't looked like the team many thought they might be already. Whether or not Kyrie Irving ever returns adds more uncertainty.
Injuries have hurt the Milwaukee Bucks but their 9-8 start to the season is disappointing nonetheless.
The Los Angeles Lakers are a mess. Russell Westbrook doesn't fit, LeBron James hasn't been fit enough to take the court every night, and this group of misfits doesn't look of a championship-contending quality.
With the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers all floating towards the top of the Stats Insider Futures list, the question needs to be asked: Who are you picking in a seven-game series if any of those four are to play the Warriors?
Right now, the answer is Warriors each and every time.
A lot can happen over the next six months. An injury to Curry ends all hopes of a championship. Thompson's return could stall their momentum before helping it get started again. While their 15-2 record is impressive, the Warriors have played the third-easiest schedule in the NBA so far this season. We're yet to see them consistently tested and put in difficult situations.
But as it stands, and with Curry an MVP favourite, anything short of a championship this season will be a bitter pill to swallow.
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