Each week during the 2021-22 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
The argument against a throwback to the Warriors of old was convincing. They failed to make the playoffs last season. Klay Thompson remains out following two straight season-ending injuries, and even when he does come back, they cannot realistically expect him to be the same player. Draymond Green has looked a step slower for prolonged stretches the past few years. And their depth was still a question mark.
Only, the argument for their resurrection should have been obvious: Stephen Curry is a golden god. He makes everyone around him better, so long as his teammates are willing and capable of operating in a system that depends equally on maximizing Curry’s mesmerizing talent and the opportunities he affords.
There is an electricity to the Warriors when everyone plugs into Curry’s energy, and the power was out much of last season. Starting rookie center James Wiseman was lost, having only played three college games and none of the 2020 preseason. Veteran wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore might as well have been lost, because neither kept the flow going quite like coach Steve Kerr’s motion offense requires.
It took months and season-ending injuries to Wiseman and Oubre for the Warriors to stumble into their best lineup: Curry, Green, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson. For whatever reason — a mix of playmaking, versatility, IQ, spacing and skill — that group flipped the switch. They played 21 glorious minutes together in the regular season, all down the stretch, and more than that in the play-in tournament.
In total, that group outscored opponents by 31 points in 44 minutes, and in that minuscule sample size was the solution. The offseason signing of Otto Porter Jr. pushed Toscano-Anderson behind a bigger, better and more experienced version of himself. Nemanja Bjelica offers a different small-ball center look behind Green. Poole is just superior in this third season, and Gary Payton II has taken a step forward in stride behind him.
The result through the first fifth of the season is a 13-2 record that is no fluke, despite a soft schedule. Tuesday’s convincing road win over the Brooklyn Nets was confirmation. The Warriors own the NBA’s top-rated defense and second-rated offense, good for a league-best +13.4 net rating, better than any of their five straight Finals teams. They are easily the NBA’s best shooting and passing team, and on the other end of the floor, the Warriors hold opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage and force the most turnovers.
Within that construct, Curry is averaging a league-best 29.5 points per game on 46/42/96 shooting splits, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 combined steals and blocks in just 33.7 minutes per game. It is as close an amalgam to his 2015-16 unanimous MVP campaign as he has achieved since. He is on pace to convert 465 3-pointers this season, which would shatter the record of 402 he set six years ago. It is just ludicrous.
You can sense the growing confidence where there was little last year. “I hope people keep doubting us,” Thompson told Sports Illustrated this week. Green added, “What I do know is we have a damn good team.” The last two seasons have been humbling for a once-great dynasty, and they are coming out of hibernation.
(If you want to argue the Warriors were not a dynasty, don’t be that person. They reached five straight Finals, won three of them and had a realistic shot to win all five. No other team but the greatest dynasty to ever exist — Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics — has done that. Even Michael Jordan took two years off.)
Kerr can now roll out versions of his best lineup in waves, and Golden State is only going to get deeper. The return of Andre Iguodala has helped Curry, Green and Kerr restore order to a Warriors culture that was once the best in the league. Wiseman and incoming lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will grow in that environment, whether they eventually take the torch or facilitate a trade for more firepower.
No other contender has as many assets on the roster to acquire a star player, should one become available. The Warriors will have the choice to cash in their chips or ride with their current roster, and the decision will not be as easy as it once seemed. Tinkering with the wiring of this team now runs the risk of its power going out.
We have not mentioned Thompson’s impending return. The flame-throwing five-time All-Star has the luxury of easing into a complementary three-and-D role. That may be the only midseason upgrade the Warriors need. More from Thompson and the development of young players could just be gravy on a championship boat.
Do we worry how the four remaining players from the 2015 title-winning Warriors will hold up over an 82-game regular season and four playoff rounds, seven years on? Absolutely. But strength in numbers is back, and this 13-2 start affords them the luxury of easing the burden on their aging stars. The Warriors’ primary goal now is to keep the power on for the playoffs, where the lights have been out at the Chase Center.
Golden State is absolutely a title contender, if not a burgeoning favorite. I would take them right now over the Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, the two teams with better odds at BetMGM. LeBron James and Anthony Davis form a dynamite pairing, as do Kevin Durant and James Harden, but give me Curry and that electricity.
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