It feels like the Warriors are treading uncharted waters this season. They’ve already lost three games, which didn’t happen until Dec. 1 of the 2016-17 season and Jan. 13 of the 2015-16 season.
For every other team in the league, three losses to this point in the season isn’t many. But for the Warriors? That’s surprising. The dominance we’ve seen from them over the last few years just didn’t seem to be there anymore — or so we thought.
Through seven games, the Warriors seemed a bit more human than usual. At the end of October they weren’t playing defense, were getting into petty squabbles, and couldn’t seem to keep good teams down.
But fast-forward to today and the Warriors are still the well-oiled albatross we all thought they were in the first place. It just took a little time to get there.
The Warriors have won seven straight games. What has changed?
In a sense, nothing at all. There haven’t been any major lineup shifts or any major rotational changes, yet everything for this team has still improved. They’ve always been the offensive juggernaut we thought them to be, but they were lagging defensively to start the season.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Warriors allowed 108.3 points per 100 possessions, the 25th-worst mark in the league according to NBA.com’s stats tool. Since then?
They’ve become the league’s best defense, surrendering just 95.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s a full point better than the Boston Celtics.
Why is their defense suddenly so good?
There are a few factors.
For one, the Warriors weren’t mentally prepared enough to start the season. Head coach Steve Kerr admitted that himself early on.
Kerr: "We've been unprepared, frankly, which is my fault. A lack of poise has been a problem for three games."— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) October 23, 2017
They rested a ton in the preseason and didn’t seem to play themselves into shape until about a week into the season.
If we look at more tangible factors, Draymond Green was awful to start this year. Green is the Warriors’ defensive linchpin, but in the early part of the season he didn’t play like it. The Warriors allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court and were actually a better team with him off the court.
That, obviously, has changed.
We can’t overlook the emergence of Kevin Durant as a rim protector. Durant is averaging 2.2 blocks per game this season — good for fourth-most in the league and up from the 1.6 he averaged last season.
These aren’t just chase-down blocks, either. These are plays only big men normally make.
Blocks aren’t always an indication of great defense, but Durant is also changing opponents’ shots as well. Opposing players are shooting 51 percent from six feet or less when Durant is defending their shot. That ranks 12th of players with at least 4.5 of those shots defensed per game.
Their offense is better than usual
If you didn’t think the Warriors’ explosive offense could get any better, think again.
The Warriors are scoring 116.2 points per 100 possessions this year, which is a full three points per 100 possessions higher than what they posted last season. This would easily mark them down as one of the two or three greatest offensive teams in league history.
They’re assisting on nearly 72 percent of their shots. The ball never stops moving with this team, which makes everyone a threat. They’re historically great at passing the ball.
Green is hitting a career-high 38 percent from deep this season and a career-high 52 percent overall. If there was ever a weakness in the Warriors offense, it was Green’s scoring. But now that’s turned into a strength. He’s feasting on open opportunities.
Green doesn’t take many shots — only 7.3 per game. But when he’s hitting half of them and a majority of them are threes, things become so much easier for the Warriors.
OK, just how dominant have they been?
We know the Warriors have won seven straight games, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In the run that they’ve been on over the last seven games, they’re outscoring their opponents by more than the Celtics have in their 13-game streak.
Just realized the Warriors have outscored their opponents more in their seven-game win streak (+139) than the Celtics have in their 13-game streak (+133).— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) November 15, 2017
Need more? The Warriors also have a +21.5(!) net rating over that span. The next-closest team is the Rockets, at +11. That’s more than 10 points of separation between the Warriors and the next-closest team.
The Warriors are as great as you thought they were going to be coming into the season. They got off to a rocky start, but they’ve flipped the switch and are as well-oiled as they’ve ever been.