Klay Thompson is not back. James Wiseman is yet to make his season debut. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody haven’t done anything notable. The Warriors are still on a 70-win streak, Draymond Green leads the NBA’s top-ranked defense and Steph Curry is the betting favorite to win the MVP. The Warriors are back, folks.
This fact became clear after Golden State traveled to Brooklyn and stomped on the Nets as the crowd flooded Steph with MVP chants. And Thompson’s return and the development of young people could make them even more dangerous. But the Warriors are 12-2 and are able to play in a championship because Curry is even better than he was the last time the Warriors were in the lead.
Now 33, Curry still does what he’s always done on offense. He just does more. In Curry’s last 18 regular season games, with a playoff berth on the line, Steve Kerr stepped up the use of Steph to get him 15.6 to 3 attempts per game, up from 11.6 earlier this season and 10.7 in its previous five seasons. This season, Curry is throwing 13.4 of 3 shots per game, surpassing the all-time high of 13.2 set by James Harden in 2018-19. And he’s doing them at a 40.6% clip, far better than Harden’s 36.8% in his record season.
Steph has evolved. The whole team too. For a while, it seemed like the Warriors were losing their grip. They went from innovators with their pace and 3 point shots to dropping in the middle of the field as other teams started playing faster and shooting more. Kerr was not adjusting his system. The players were leaving or retiring. Bob Myers couldn’t find good young players. The rest of the NBA has caught up, frankly. But things started to change last season and now everything is falling into place because the Warriors have drastically changed their ways.
This season, Golden State is picking up the pace with the league’s fastest average possession time, fastest break points per game and second-highest 3-point rate, at 47.6% of its total shots. . The list is littered with shooters like Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Damion Lee and Jordan Poole. They aren’t big names, but they fit. Shooting is everywhere on the pitch, and Steph looks like a more seasoned playmaker, delivering faster passes, with a more precise touch. Maybe that’s an illusion and he’s just taking advantage of the superior talent around him. Either way, Curry and his new teammates have a connection. Especially the guy who starts in Thompson’s place.
Poole does a lot of dribbling goals, but he also scores an assist from Steph about once per game, which is the team’s second behind Draymond’s 1.3 per game. Curry gets so much defensive attention when he’s got the ball, it usually means someone is open. But it is up to the player without the ball to create a passageway for the ball carrier. Curry and Poole were in sync at these times, and Poole regularly moves to positions where Curry can find him.
Poole can deliver, averaging 17.1 points per game and a more seasoned style with a selection of shots and mature assists. Poole hasn’t even shot well yet, at 28.9% on 8.1 of 3 tries per game. But he’s got plenty of time to catch fire like he did towards the end of last season and this preseason. Although Thompson’s return will deepen his shots, Poole is currently a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.
Poole isn’t the only player to thrive. All of the Warriors’ shooters can cut and level up, making them perfect for a movement attack that revolves around Curry. The Warriors have telepathic ball movement again, helping 69.9% of their passes. It’s the league’s highest this season and the highest since the 2016-17 Dubs posted a 70.5 assist percentage.
In recent seasons, Kerr has used a similar system, but new players recruited after the 2019 final have not been able to adapt. The loss along the way, however, paid off: In addition to rebuilding their supporting cast, the Warriors added three lottery picks to Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody.
One or more of these youngsters could be bait for a veteran who might become available. But keeping them might help in the short term, not just the long term. Moody hasn’t shown anything yet, but the Warriors drafted him in hopes he would become their own Mikal Bridges. Kuminga is the guy they need to help out right now. At 6ft 8in and 210lb with long arms, Kuminga has the size, strength and athleticism to be a versatile stopper on the ball. Kuminga has already had great moments in defense with opposing stars. On offense, the 19-year-old is essentially an inside player who finishes inside and makes the right pass if necessary. He looks solid.
Wiseman remains sidelined after offseason surgery on a torn meniscus. But his presence is important. The Big Man adds a new element to the title plan as a running threat that can also seek out Curry. The Warriors don’t pick-and-roll much, but they started doing more when Wiseman and Curry shared the floor at the end of last season. This is another potential layer for the offense.
Between the Warriors and another trophy are some dominant interior players. During their dynastic run, the Warriors did not need to stop big at the level of Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Wiseman was far from ready for the task last season, but there is still hope for him.
The Warriors should have some confidence in their ability to turn the tide for their young players given their recent success in the roster. It’s not just Poole who has improved. Andrew Wiggins is fine now. Seriously! On offense, he shoots smarter than ever while looking proficient at dribbling. He’s also a great defender, especially on the ball, and versatile enough to rock a high number of screens into Kerr’s heavy switching scheme. Wiggins is the new Harrison Barnes of the Warriors.
If Golden State can help Wiggins become a consistent defender, why can’t it be the same with Kuminga? If Poole can read the ground better, why can’t Wiseman? The Warriors have stuttered a bit, but they are on a winning streak with their recent acquisitions via draft and free agency.
But their old tricks still work too. Andre Iguodala is back, helping to grease the offensive wheels in the half court with his passing, scouting and intelligence. And the always stable Kevon Looney stays in the middle, placing picks and keeping the ball moving.
Shaun Livingston is gone, leaving them without a good defender who could dribble alongside Curry and Green. But Gary Payton II put his own spin on the role. He’s 6-3, but plays like a big offensive player as a coach and inside finisher. Instead of shooting halfway like Livingston, he scores on the edge. He also passes, often finding open shooters on cups and rolls. In defense, he lives up to his namesake. Payton records 3.8 interceptions every 36 minutes, who occupies the first row in the NBA of players to log at least 100 minutes. It is in front of elite defenders like Matisse Thybulle (3.4) and Alex Caruso (3.1). GP2 is an absolute threat.
The Warriors found Payton II in the G League. This is the second year in a row they’ve invested a few minutes in an NBA minor-league find, after Juan Toscano-Anderson became a fan favorite last season as a productive and energetic two-way wing.
Playing with altruistic stars like Steph and Draymond breeds victory. Green does not call for shots. He sets the tone for defense every night, locking down players in every position and helping the Warriors get the best defensive rating in the league. At this point, he’s the favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Curry is also having the best defensive season of his career. Against the Nets, he put the pincers on Harden and made Warriors fans scream his name as the All-Defensive squad candidate.
Curry has a lot of competition for one of the four guard posts on the ballots, but he’s made some impressive saves this season, and he just looks noticeably more active and engaged. Determined is the vibe of this Warriors squad as a whole.
It shows in the numbers for the curry. According to Second Spectrum, he’s one of 135 players this season to have recorded at least 100 possessions while defending an opposing ball handler performing a pick-and-roll. On these games, the Warriors are allowing just 0.77 points per pick-and-roll, which ranks ninth out of 135 players. Curry and his teammates play locked defense. There is no major weak link in this team.
It is fair to wonder if Thompson can return to his former form on defense after such catastrophic injuries. But he has support around him to take on the main missions. Thompson has long been a great defenseman in his role, so he will likely always be positive for this unit.
The Warriors currently have 11 players in regular rotation, not counting Thompson, Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. This team is deep. Maybe deeper than ever. They can play big. They can play small. They can play fast. They can slow him down in the half court and make the defense dizzy with their pass. Warriors can compete against any team, but not all teams can compete against them.
Some teams have also been forced to adapt to new rules designed to limit non-basketball maneuvers. But Steph and the Warriors have never fouled like Harden or Trae Young. From 2014-15 to 2020-21, the Warriors attempted 21.4 free throws per game, ranking 26th in the NBA. This season, they are posting 21.2 free throws per game, which now ranks Fourth. They gained 22 places in the standings despite a decimal difference. Golden State didn’t have to go through the same process of adapting to the new rules, and it could continue to benefit from the change if the draws remain declining throughout the season.
Despite the best start in the NBA, the Warriors still have plenty of room to improve. Young players could develop or be traded for someone who can help them immediately. (On that note: if Payton can excel next to Draymond, imagine what Ben Simmons could do in that role.) But even without making a single move, the Warriors feel almost complete.
Thompson’s return to the ground is approaching. Reports say he has just started playing five-on-five again. And once he’s dressed, the style of play and expectations will be familiar to him. More teams are being built and conditioned to play against fast and happy teams like Golden State. But the Warriors have also evolved beyond the model they created long ago. After two years to rebuild, the Warriors are once again the favorites of the prohibitive championship.