THE Warriors were never going to be bad, but there were plenty of questions about how a team that changed eight players from a historic squad would mesh this season.
How would they gel? How long would it take to find cohesion? Could the Warriors’ chemistry — that critical but ineffable component of any team’s success — be recreated? Would the systems that made the team so successful over the past two seasons under Steve Kerr change? How would that look?
The Warriors have been the most scrutinised team in the NBA, and for good reason, but it took only a month to answer almost all of those questions.
Things are a little bit different in Oakland, sure, but things are also a little bit better. The Warriors have figured it out — they’ve found their groove — and they’re poised to make history again in 2016-17.
The season is early yet — we’re coming up on the quarter mark of the campaign — but the Warriors are on pace to have the best offense in NBA history and tie the NBA record for wins in a season.
Yeah, the Warriors, are on pace for 73 wins. (The Cavs, going into tonight’s game with Milwaukee, are on pace for 70.)
Will Golden State get to 73 or 74 wins? Probably not, and it will be for lack of trying.
The Warriors have made it clear that they won’t try to break their wins record from last year if they’re in position this season — the belief is that the push for 73 took too much out of them before the playoffs and that, compounded with a few other factors (Curry’s injury, Draymond’s groin-seeking kicks, and most of all LeBron James being a cyborg), left them trophy-less.
But the Warriors wouldn’t be sacrificing or jeopardising a thing to post the best offensive season in NBA history.
The Warriors aren’t running too many of the same sets as they did last season — the ornate and engrossing plays that resulted in copious open looks — but with the personnel changes, that’s not surprising.
But it’s still the Warriors — they’re still torchbearers of the NBA’s pace-and-space revolution. So far this season, two-thirds of their two-point looks have been assisted, the highest mark in the league and 71 percent of their total points have come from an assist.
The ball is still moving, just in different ways.
And it’s often finding the open man: Forty-six percent of the Warriors’ shots have come with the defender four or more feet away from the shooter, and two-thirds of the Warriors’ shots come off touches of two seconds or less.
Few teams in the NBA stretch and contract defenses better than the Warriors, and they often have three of the best shooters to ever play the game on the court. It’s easy to see how that might work out well. Their 57.2 effective field goal percentage this season is on pace to be the best mark in NBA history, beating out the record they set last season.
The addition of Durant has been as absurdly fortunate as one could have expected. It really has been as simple as upgrading Harrison Barnes — a fine player — to one of the greatest of all time.
Durant is putting up a shot or two less per game, but he’s shooting 57 percent from the floor on the season, up 7 percent from last year. He’s not seeing more open looks — 31 percent of his shots beyond 10 feet are open-to-wide open, the same mark as last year with the Thunder, but the attention he demands from the defense only makes the Warriors’ offense more dangerous.
How are you supposed to defend a guy who can hit a shot like this when he can also make passes like this?
It’s not fair.
There will be tests down the stretch — games with San Antonio and Cleveland will be the most enlightening. The Warriors’ defense, which has shown flashes of super-switching brilliance despite not having a true rim protector, and depth — which has seen breakouts from Ian Clark and Patrick McCaw — both deserve plenty of scrutiny ahead of the postseason. But for now, every indication is that the Warriors are every bit as good as everyone expected.