The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors have navigated the first 10 games of their schedule flawlessly to set a franchise record — going back to the Philadelphia days — for wins to start a season without a blemish. There are already stories being written about whether they can challenge the single-season wins record of 72, set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They heard all the talk about how last season’s scoring differential of 10.1 points, one of the most dominant marks in NBA history, couldn’t possibly be approached again, and in turn are now outscoring people by a mere 17.1 points per game.
What’s been particularly impressive about the Warriors is that they’ve already negotiated some obstacles. Their coach, Steve Kerr, remains out for the foreseeable future while he recovers from complications of two offseason back surgeries. The interim skipper, Luke Walton, comes into this with no previous head coaching experience. They’ve already dealt with one injury, with center Andrew Bogut suffering a concussion in the season-opener and missing the next six games, almost all of them against opponents with noteworthy bigs.
They also seem to be dealing just fine with their first minor controversy, the potential of erstwhile backup big man Festus Ezeli “Wally Pipp-ing” Bogut by playing well in his absence and continuing to start even when he returned to action. Bogut diffused a potential distraction before it could even start, explaining in his latest column for NBA Australia that it doesn’t matter to him whether he starts or comes off the bench, that winning is his only focus and that he’s happy to leave playing time decisions to a coaching staff he trusts implicitly. It was a gracious gesture by Bogut, fully in keeping with his popularity within that locker room and a marked contrast to how he got along with the previous coaching administration.
Also worth noting is the fact that the Warriors haven’t exactly played a cream-puff schedule so far. They’ve already faced six Western Conference playoff teams from the previous season, easily dispatching both the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans home and away, while also winning comfortably at Houston. The Dubs also passed their first crunch-time test of the year against their blood rival Los Angeles Clippers, coming back from a nine-point deficit with less than 7:20 remaining to win, in a game that left Chris Paul too despondent to even shake his head on the bench by the end. There was the sense that the Clips gave it their best shot that night, and still they fell short.
So what can we gleam from these first 10 games, really?
The team has been so thoroughly and systematically dominant, that the numbers boggle the mind. Their Basketball-Reference page offers a smorgasbord of testimony to their greatness. To suggest that all of it is due to Stephen Curry’s ridiculous start is to miss the point entirely. As a team the Dubs lead the league in both three-point makes (12.2) and three-point percentage (40.8).
That’s well and good, but as sharp and prolific as they’ve been with the ball, they’ve been just that stifling without it. Only four teams are allowing fewer bombs than their 5.6, and no one is holding foes to a worse percentage (28.9). Before the games even start the opposition is facing a 20-point uphill climb.
Golden State ranks third in the league in overall shooting percentage (48.0), while holding foes to the fourth-lowest mark (41.9). They’re leading the league in assists per game (29.3) and holding the teams to just 20.7, the third-fewest in the NBA. They’re killing people on the glass and still making plays on defense, ranking second in both blocks (6.0) and steals (9.5) per game while allowing the second-fewest steals, at 7.9. The Warriors have been terrific at holding onto the ball, with just 15.2 giveaways, the second-best figure in the league, and superb at taking it away, where their 17.2 forced miscues is also second-best.
Basically, they’ve been amazing at everything.
Interestingly, while both Ezeli and Bogut have outstanding individual metrics so far, with PERs over 20 and double-double averages per-36 minutes, and as pleasantly surprising as Ezeli has been in Bogut’s absence, there’s no question that the starting unit has been more effective — albeit in a microscopic sample size — with the Australian as the hub. The starting lineup has barely tread water with Ezeli in there, with a net rating of plus-3.5 over 107 minutes per NBA.com’s stat index, whereas it’s at plus-33.4 in 19 minutes with Bogut. Obviously 19 minutes doesn’t sound like much — and it’s not — but even though he’s only played in four games, it’s still been the fifth-most commonly used lineup for the team and fully benefiting from the continuity and chemistry they developed last season.
Make no mistake though, it’s the micro-ball lineup with Draymond Green at center, Harrison Barnes at the stretch 4 and Andre Iguodala at the 3 where the Warriors continue to blow people away. They’ve produced a simply asinine net rating of plus-49.1 over 40 minutes. No NBA lineup that’s logged more time together has come anywhere close to touching that, and it’s fair to wonder if anybody will find the kryptonite for it. The Warriors have also been terrific simply replacing Barnes with Iguodala, which we saw last year to a smaller degree as well.
It’s not surprising at all that pretty much all of their best lineups involve some combination of the micro-ball guys and the two centers, because no one on the bench outside of Iguodala has given the team much of anything. Barnes has produced about as expected, Klay Thompson has been somewhat disappointing so far (more on him next week) and Green has been sensational, leading the Warriors in both rebounding and assists while providing the usual lockdown defense. That he’s also shooting 44.4 percent from downtown seems unsporting.
In the end though who are we kidding? The story has been Curry, who continues to rain fiery death from above. He’s leading the world in every relevant shooting stat, just about every advanced metric and several other categories we could just make up and you’d be none the wiser. In British soccer parlance he’s “scoring for fun” and leaving opponents all sixes and sevens while adding to the scoreboard with pop-a-shot regularity. What he’s doing is basically taking a ratio of his field goals from behind the three-point line that we typically associate with specialists (like his ailing coach, to name one), but still taking an overall volume of shots that we associate with superstars.
To put it simpler, he’s shooting more threes than anyone ever has and hitting them at close to league-leading accuracy, while also compiling all the free throw attempts, assists and steals of a front-line point guard. He’s cheating, and no one can figure out how.
As long as Curry plays at this level, the rest is ancillary. That guys like Green, Bogut, Ezeli, Iguodala and the rest can supplement his unprecedented performances leaves no doubt to outcomes, usually well before half. They’re toying with the league and it’s both breathtaking and absurd.