The Golden State Warriors 97-80 win over the Miami Heat on Monday capped a strange beginning to the season for the Dubs. A loss on opening night was unexpected, but also not shocking (remember when the Warriors became only the second team in NBA history, and the first since 1957, last season to lose their opening game by 20+ points and win a championship).
They now sit at a comfortable 8-3, which unbelievably feels foreign to Warriors fans after their team started 24-0 two seasons ago, and 16-2 last season. The Dubs are tied atop the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets, and a half game in front of their next opponent, the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves.
Led by Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls Timberwolves are playing competitive basketball that has them in position in the early part of the season to get a statement win atop the West.
For the Warriors, this will be another early-in-the-season Wednesday night encounter with an up and coming team that will give the Warriors their best shot. Five patterns/trends have emerged early in the season as they get ready to do battle with the T-Wolves.
Stephen Curry is the Most Valuable Player in the NBA
Steph Curry is an exception to the fundamental rules of basketball. On a fastbreak, defenses should stop the ball and play inside-out. Therefore, it is mindboggling to see a play once a game where a defense would rather give up an easy dunk than allow Curry to shoot an open three.
It happened again on Monday, when the Dubs had a 3-2 fastbreak and poor James Johnson had to choose between stopping Kevin Freaking Durant with the ball, or Steph Curry on the wing. He chose Curry, Durant drove, dropped off a pass, and the Dubs got a dunk.
Curry has had that type of impact for the Warriors ever since Steve Kerr took over the helm and implemented a ball movement and player movement offense. That impact only shows up in one place in the box score for Curry, the +/- category.
It is not an advanced stat by any measure, but it is a simple of way of telling who is on the court when good or bad things are happening for that player’s team. So when Curry shoots 5-19 (2-9 from 3) like he did against the Heat and his counting stats look bad, it is even more impressive that he led the game in +/- with a +25.
Look no further than one game prior, when Curry was +44 against the Denver Nuggets. That is an insane number by itself. Now, remind yourself that the Warriors won by 19. Simple math tells us that the Nuggets beat the Warriors by 25 points in Curry’s 18 minutes on the bench.
Even in losses, it is apparent. In their last loss, against the Detroit Pistons 115-107, Curry was a +12 in his 35 minutes on the court. In his 13 minutes off the court, the Warriors were -20.
That makes seven straight games that Curry has led the Warriors starters in the +/- category. Which tells us that when the starters play with Curry, they are unstoppable, and when they play with the bench, they are less so.
Russell Westbrook now has superstar teammates, James Harden has Chris Paul and guys that will actually play defense. Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played yet this season, and the San Antonio Spurs still look like a playoff team.
With Curry on the court, the Warriors play like a championship team. With him off the court, they play like a team that would barely make the playoffs. Curry is the most irreplaceable player on the NBA’s best team. That makes him the early season MVP.
Golden State has the best offense in NBA history
What is more impressive? Scoring 380 points on a three game road trip, while shooting 58 percent, 52 percent, and 55 percent, or scoring 97 points in a single game when your three best offensive players combine to shoot 15-47?
It’s obviously the first one, but that is my way of saying that the Warriors are so talented that Curry, Durant, and Klay Thompson can shoot poorly and they can still put up nearly a century.
Ball movement, player movement, and joy. Three principles of an offense that is averaging 118 points a game on 51 percent shooting in the early part of the season. Curry’s gravity is unmatched in the history of the NBA. Thompson is arguably the only player in the NBA better at catching and shooting than Curry. Durant may be the most gifted iso scorer since Kareem, except he shoots threes and distributes at a high level.
Then there’s Draymond Green, who is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. When people start talking about him, it starts with defense, and rightly so. But he might have the highest IQ every time he steps on the court, except for possibly LeBron and when Andre Iguodala steps on the court with him.
His playmaking is elite, and when he starts stroking his three pointer with confidence, the Warriors become unbeatable. They don’t need it, but it’s just an added bonus when he does so, because it opens up his drives to the basket. That opens up endless possibilities to distribute the ball to wide open teammates.
Bring in ball-handling playmakers in Iguodala, Patrick McCaw, and Shaun Livingston off the bench, and you get crisp ball movement coming off the bench. Add David West’s automatic elbow jumper, and his sneaky good passing, along with some high flying acts from JaVale McGee and you get vertical spacing.
Shooting from Omri Casspi and Nick Young round out the bench. There is offense everywhere. There is also unselfishness everywhere. This offense can only be stopped by itself.
Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell are going to be in the playoff rotation
You know the coach/player speak, when a player comes in to training camp and the coach boldly proclaims that the athlete has never been in better shape?
Or the one where draft analysts proclaim that a team got a steal in the second round?
Enter Anthony Bennett and Landry Fields.
One set of those players are no longer in the NBA, the other are currently contributing for the defending champions.
It is always somewhat of a guessing game being able to make a proclamation like that, and sometimes the coach looks like a genius, or the analyst looks like they should be looking for a new profession.
It is still early in the season, so temper most of your expectations, but Steve Kerr looks like he was telling the truth when he said that Looney came in to camp in the best shape of his life. He also doesn’t look as crazy for saying that Looney was the best player throughout camp.
Looney is by no means a fluid athlete, but he is long and quick, he can guard all five positions on the court, and he has the confidence of his teammates to switch onto any player. Looney is also a brilliant rebounder, and he will continue to get minutes as long as he continues to defend and sprint the floor like he has done to start the season.
Bell has already shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end. He is a very good passer, is solid around the rim, and has proven to be quickly developing chemistry and knowledge of the Warriors system. On the defensive end, he is still going through the growing pains of being a rookie, but he is smart, and an incredible athlete, and he will continue to get more minutes as the season progresses.
The guess here is that Bell supplants McGee in most situations, and that Looney plays a similar role to what Matt Barnes did last year when Kerr used him as a defensive substitute to close quarters.
The Spurs are still the Warriors main threat in the West
All of the new flashy adds in the Western Conference have attracted eyes away from San Antonio, which is perfectly fine with them. However, they still remain the biggest threat for the Dubs. Miami played great defense, the same way that the Spurs will.
However, between Leonard and Gregg Popovich, the Spurs will be more creative than Miami offensively and will be able to score enough to keep up with the Warriors in a defensive struggle.
Golden State and San Antonio both have familiarity and comradery on their side, and when the playoffs roll around that will be crucial for both teams. Leonard is the only player in the West that will truly give the Warriors fits to guard, and defensively, the Spurs have a smaller lineup that can limit the potency of the Warriors small lineup.
Houston will try to outscore the Warriors, that won’t work. Oklahoma City will try to Russell Westbrook their way through the Warriors, that won’t work. The T-Wolves are probably a year away from being a serious threat. Until something drastic happens, the team that gives the Warriors the most trouble will be the team that plays the most like it, in a completely different way.
Ball movement and player movement, in a rigid system, with a great defense. That will be the Spurs, the Warriors are not advancing out of the West without first taking care of the Spurs.
Draymond Green will not win defensive player of the year this season
Call this more of a bold prediction, but I don’t think Draymond will win the individual award he covets the most. Last year, Green was selfish, in the best possible way, in striving to get his DPOY award. He got it. He deserved it.
He would deserve it again this year too, and probably every year for the foreseeable future. He is the best defender in the world, and the only player in the NBA that could reasonably guard every single player. I repeat, he is the only player.
Leonard would struggle with behemoths like DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Rudy Gobert cannot guard Curry. Green can guard literally every player, from Dennis Schroder to Anthony Davis, and every player in between.
That type of versatility fuels Golden State on the defensive end the same way those challenges Green faces fuel him on a nightly basis. But on a team with standout defenders across the roster, and with the continued improvement from first team all-defense nominee Kevin Durant, Green might lose just a little of his shine from last year.
The DPOY generally comes from a team with a top-three defense, and between the Utah Jazz (Gobert), Heat (Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson), Spurs (Leonard), and Thunder (Andre Roberson), there will be some stiff competition for the Warriors to reach that echelon. It would require them to really play their hardest every game, and in year four of this streak, that will be difficult.
Should they not reach that mark, and say just be somewhere in the top ten, it will be difficult for Green to capture this award again. That doesn’t matter, because night in and night out, he will be the best defensive player on the court.
Every night they have a game, the Warriors will also be the most talented team on the court. Another championship this year officially cements the dynasty status. These early storylines will be something to watch for as they continue on the path to completing that ultimate goal, NBA immortality.
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