The Warriors Are Scarier Than Ever
By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back
The Warriors and their back-to-back titles cast a long shadow over the NBA offseason but the bright shiny lights of a new season had them hidden for the first few days. As new contenders like the Bucks and Nuggets surged to the forefront, and old standbys like the Trail Blazers and Raptors proved they weren’t going anywhere, it was easy to forget about the Warriors for a moment.
Then Stephen Curry went out and dropped 51 points on the Wizards. Two days later, it was Kevin Durant’s turn, pouring in 41 points in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. Three days after that (we’re still in the same week here, in case you don’t have a calendar handy) Klay Thompson hung 52 points on the Chicago Bulls in just 27 minutes, setting an NBA record for 3-pointers in a single game, with 14.
The truth is, the Warriors are as scary as they’ve ever been. In fact, this could conceivably be the best version we’ve seen.
The top of the roster is what makes the Warriors so difficult to beat and, at the apex, Curry is methodically working on raising his own ceiling. In the 2015-16 season, Curry became the NBA’s first unanimous MVP, averaging 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 45.4 percent on 3-pointers and 90.8 percent from the line. Many considered it the greatest offensive season of the modern era and, 11 games in, Curry has been outdoing himself.
Obviously, his numbers are slightly down in assists and steals but his scoring volume is up with shooting percentages that are almost impossible to believe. And Curry’s increased percentages are not a product of him dialing it back on volume. He leads the league in made catch-and-shoot 3s by a healthy margin and trails Kemba Walker by just one made pull-up 3-pointer for the league-lead, on 18 fewer attempts.
To put this in perspective, Curry’s true shooting percentage is currently a cool 70.0 percent. That’s a mark Wilt Chamberlain never hit for a full season. Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, only two players in NBA history have ever finished a full season with a true shooting percentage of 70.0 or better -- Tyson Chandler in 2011-12 and Artis Gilmore in 1981-82. Those are both big men who received the majority of their touches right around the basket.
Across their dominant run, Golden State has always been able to put up a deep bench but this year’s group has had a special start. With individual creators like Curry and Durant leading the offense, Golden State’s mostly asks their supporting cast to hit open jumpers and finish easy opportunities at the rim. Andre Iguodala has struggled shooting the ball but the rest of their key backcourt and wing subs -- Alfonzo McKinnie, Jonas Jerebko and Quinn Cook -- have hit 55.6 percent of their 54 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. In the restricted area, that group, plus Damian Jones, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney, are shooting 68 percent on 115 attempts.
This newer bench group has also more than held its own defensively as well, with Jordan Bell ranking in the top-50 in deflections per 36 minutes, Jonas Jerebko in the top-15 in loose balls recovered per 36 minutes and Bell, Looney and Jones all ranking in the top-eight in shots contested per 36 minutes. Energy, versatility and efficiency -- the Warriors are getting it all, from the top of their roster to the bottom.
Utilizing The G League
The Warriors have also utilized their G League team to further develop their bench players so that they are ready to contribute when called upon. Players like Cook (29 games), Jones (76 games) and Looney (16 games) have spent time in Santa Cruz over the past two seasons, while also serving as rotation players for Golden State.
Jones, who has started all 11 games this season while DeMarcus Cousins continues to rehab, played a total of 174 minutes and scored 44 points with Golden State over the past two seasons and has already played 173 minutes and scored 64 points on 76.5% shooting this season.
The trend continues with Alfonzo McKinnie, who is averaging 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.8 minutes with the Warriors this season after spending much of the past two seasons (85 total games) in the G League.
There is obviously plenty of season left to be played and Curry could certainly regress somewhat, dropping back towards his (albeit already absurd) career averages. But for a player who has already established himself as the greatest shooter in league history, and a team that has already staked a claim as one of the greatest of all time, and one who spent much of the preseason talking about “taking time to enjoy the ride” it’s incredible to see them continuing to break new ground.
Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at FanSided.com