The Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks are dominating their conferences. Here’s how.
Raise your hand if you thought the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks would be kings of the NBA midway through this season.
Both teams were in the postseason last year and were expected to take a step forward in 2014-15, but I don’t think many could have predicted just how good they would be this season. The Warriors currently sit at 32-6 under rookie head coach Steve Kerr, the best mark in the league and 3.5 games clear of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference. Golden State has an average point differential of 10.9, which is by far the best in the league.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have won 12 straight games and just beat the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls on a road back-to-back. Atlanta is 33-8 and a full five games ahead of the second-place Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference.
The Warriors and Hawks are dominating teams thanks to superb balance on both sides of the ball. When people think of Golden State, they often think of “The Splash Brothers” and a fast-paced offense. And while the Warriors are fourth in offensive efficiency, the reason they’re so good is because they boast the best defensive rating in the league, per NBA.com.
Golden State is just one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and Atlanta is one of the other two teams. The Hawks are fifth in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating.
The Warriors’ dominance can really be illustrated when looking at the lineup data (stats via NBA.com):
|Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut||294||119.0||92.5||26.5|
|Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Speights||170||119.6||96.6||23.0|
|Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, Speights||99||127.6||95.3||32.3|
These are Golden State’s three most-used lineups, and all three of them have killed it. The three constants are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and all three have had crazy-good seasons.
Curry is one of the front-runners for MVP, and he’s having the most efficient season of his career despite a three-point percentage a tick under 40 percent, which would be the worst mark of his career. However, the point guard is making up for that by shooting nearly 59 percent on twos, which would be by far the best number of his career. He has a PER of 27.73, which is fourth in the NBA.
Thompson was rewarded with a near-max contract extension before the season after not being traded for Kevin Love, and he has rewarded the Warriors’ faith in him. The fourth-year shooting guard has made huge advances in his game and is putting up career-best marks essentially all across the board. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 47.1 percent overall and 44.4 percent from three.
Then there’s Green, who took over the starting power forward spot when David Lee got hurt. Green has been a revelation for Golden State with his versatility and ability to guard multiple positions on defense. The third-year forward has the second-best DRPM in the league (just ahead of Andrew Bogut), according to ESPN, and he could be in line for Defensive Player of the Year and a huge raise.
The Hawks’ most-used lineups haven’t been as dominant as the Warriors’ lineups, but they have been very good nonetheless. Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer has done a great job implementing a Spurs-like system, and Atlanta has enjoyed a ton of success without having a bona fide “star” player.
Point guard Jeff Teague is having a career year and leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Paul Millsap and Al Horford (who missed most of last year with a torn pectoral muscle) make for a formidable frontcourt that can stretch the floor, and they are second and third on the team in scoring. Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll round out the starting lineup, and both are averaging double-digit points.
Korver has enjoyed a historically good shooting season. After nailing 7-of-9 from three against the Bulls, Korver is shooting 53.6 percent from deep on the year. He’s also shooting 51.5 percent overall and 92.0 percent on free throws. If those percentages hold, the 33-year-old would join Steve Kerr as the only other player in NBA history to post a 50/50/90 shooting line while playing over 215 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
It remains to be seen whether the Warriors and Hawks can navigate through the postseason and face each other in the NBA Finals. There will be strong competition along the way, and neither franchise has enjoyed a great amount of postseason success in recent history. Golden State lost in the first round last season and the West Semifinals the year before that, which was preceded by five consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs. Atlanta has lost in the first round three straight years.
But the current iterations of these two teams look like they could have what it takes to buck those trends. There’s no doubt that a Warriors/Hawks Finals would provide immense entertainment, so fans of the NBA should be rooting for them.