It’s still very early in the season, but it’s safe to say the Warriors have exceeded expectations up to this point. After failing to make it through the play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs last year and not making any particularly flashy signings or trades during the offseason, it was hard to imagine the Warriors returning to the head of the NBA pack, especially while Klay Thompson continues to recover from injury.
Yet here we are — at 5-1 (prior to Wednesday night’s game), the Warriors were one of only four teams in the league with a one-loss record at this point in the season. They currently trail only the 6-1 Jazz in the Western Conference. How are they doing it? Here are a few of the key numbers behind the Warriors’ surprising success:
1 The first thing to know is that the Warriors have been doing it with defense. Golden State has been barely above average offensively this season, and are currently 13th in offensive efficiency. But they’re second in defensive efficiency, with only the Heat playing stingier defense.
The Warriors’ refusal to give up second shots is a big part of why they’re doing so well on the defensive side of the ball. Again, only the Heat give up a lower proportion of offensive rebounds than the Warriors, which is especially impressive when you consider that James Wiseman, who has tremendous potential as a defensive presence, has yet to touch the floor this season.
2 The second thing to know is that while the Warriors aren’t the offensive juggernaut that would bury teams with a barrage of threes like they were at the beginning of their championship runs (eight teams take more threes per game than the Warriors this season), they’ve remained relentless about pushing the pace and moving the ball, which have been pillars of their offense ever since Steve Kerr took over. The Warriors play with the fifth-fastest pace in the league, and no team in the league has a higher proportion of its possessions end in an assist.
3 The third thing to know is a pretty obvious one — Steph Curry has, to the surprise of very few, been an absolute house on fire this season. He currently leads the NBA in points per game at 28.7, and makes a league-high 5.2 threes per game, meaning over half of his points come from beyond the arc. The scary part? Curry, a career 43.8% three-point shooter, is shooting only 38.8% from deep this season, so the law of averages suggests that Steph will get better before he gets worse.
The Warriors aren’t taking the league by storm, like when they unveiled their “death lineup” and started raining in threes in 2014. And they don’t have the kind of overwhelming talent that was present when they added Kevin Durant to a team that had won 73 games the previous year. However, they’re right at the top of the league because they’ve stuck to their principles — play sound defense, keep the other team from getting second shots, move the ball on offense and let Steph cook. If Klay can come back looking anything like his old self, or Wiseman and unproven rookie Jonathan Kuminga can make an impact this season, the Warriors could find themselves competing for a championship again sooner than a whole lot of people would have predicted.
JohnKrolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.