Imperfect Perfection: The Golden State Warriors Have Broken the NBA


You may have heard that the Golden State Warriors are undefeated. As of Monday, their 15-0 record has tied them for a spot in the proverbial record books (sadly, the book is going extinct, as is the record). The immortal Washington Capitols (1948) and the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets (1993) both started 15-0. Golden State’s point differential (+14.4) is eye-popping. They average 12.5 three-point makes per game (accounting for 37 ppg). They are not only shooting 41.6% from deep (by far the best in the Association), but they are holding opponents to 29.7%, a differential of +11.9 (Indiana is 2nd at +7.6).

In an era which has fully converted to the three-pointer, all three-point records stand to be broken. While 6’11” draft prospects are now expected to hit an open 20-footer, the Warriors do not have a 6’11” stretch-four. Instead, they have 6’7″ (with a 7’1″ wingspan) Draymond Green. His longgg arms and incredibly strong lower body/core allow Draymond to defend the post better than any other 6’7″ or shorter NBA player. Draymond is the perfectly imperfect NBA player. The outlier than lays you out.

If the Warriors beat the hapless Kobe-fueled Lakers (2-11), they will break the NBA record for best start to a season. Taking a look at their schedule, if the Dubs can keep it going in Phoenix on Friday, and then at home the following night against a sure-to-be-fired up DeMarcus Cousins-led Kings team, they wouldn’t face an above-average team until a road match-up with the Raptors on December 5. If the perfection were to continue until then, the Warriors would be angling for a 21-0 start. It’s safe to say that they have broken the NBA.

The best shooter ever to play the game happens to be playing in an era in which the game is allowed to be played (no hand-check) as creatively and fluidly as it has ever been played. Steph Curry’s determination to test his own limits propels this team. Behind Curry, many tend to point to Klay Thompson and the spacing that he and Curry provide for everyone else on the court. This year, the team’s second and third most important players have clearly been Draymond Green and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.

Green’s second-round-rags-to-NBA-title-riches story has been well-documented, but his facilitating role has taken on new heights this season. In an eight game stretch between 11/6 and 11/19, Green averaged 8.3 assists, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals. The 12.8 points per game are an added bonus.

A stat that indicates just how valuable Draymond (and teammate Andre Iguodala) have become to the Warriors unparalleled offense is assist ratio. This measures the number of a player’s possessions that end in an assist. As you might expect, point guards dominate this stat. Only Joakim Noah (8th) and Boris Diaw (10th) are ahead of Draymond (13th) among non-PGs. One spot behind Green is teammate Andre Iguodala, who has also been playing spectacular basketball. Of course, assists come easy when you are passing to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Of those four non-PGs, Draymond’s ability to knock down the three-pointer stands out. Over these fifteen undefeated games, Draymond is shooting a blistering 44% from deep. Noah has lost all confidence in any semblance of scoring (32% True Shooting). Diaw is a good comparison for Green because of the way Diaw is used in the Spurs fluid offensive system, facilitating from the power forward position at the top of the key. However, Diaw plays only 19 minutes per game. Iguodala, who has shot 35% from deep each of the last two years in Oakland, is currently draining that wide-open corner three (nearly all of his attempts come from the corner) at a 46.5% clip.

The Warriors have a 5-man, small-ball, unit in which Green plays center and the Warriors simply annihilate certain teams (via Tom Ziller). One of those teams is the Clippers. I’ll go into depth on the Warriors Thursday night comeback over the Clips in a separate post. In two games against the Clippers, over only 14 minutes of court-action, the Warriors small-ball unit has outscored the Clippers 50-21. Against the Bulls on Friday night, the Warriors went on a 22-8 run with Green at center.

Green’s ability to defend power forwards and centers on the block, and switch onto point guards on pick-and-rolls gives the Warriors a weapon few teams have. As teams try to mimic the Warriors success by adding small-ball units, they often get killed in the post and on the boards. Players like Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes add the defensive physicality that minimizes those weaknesses. Another factor is perimeter defense. When passing lanes are shut off by the rangy trio of Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes, opponents have few options but to try and overpower Draymond on the block. When they can’t, those deflections and steals lead to a transition three-pointer or dunk. The Warriors have broken the game. At 15-0, they have shattered any mistaken and outdated illusions about their dominance.

***

Jonah Hall writes about the NBA and many other non-sporting things. His writing can be found here and elsewhere.

 

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