Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Robbins Rants: Putting Golden State's Historic Start in Perspective

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The Golden State Warriors are off to a phenomenal start to the season, the type of start that has rarely been seen in NBA history.  In addition to having won their last 16 games in a row, the Warriors own the NBA’s best record at 21-2 (good for a .913 win percentage).

Coming into the season the Warriors were projected to be a fan favorite, with their high-octane offence led by Splash Brothers Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, and a revamped offense and defense under the guidance of new head coach Steve Kerr.  While they were expected to be competitive in an incredibly deep Western Conference that saw the eighth seed win 49 (of 82) games during the regular season last year, nobody expected this start from the Warriors—or any other team for that matter.

So how good are they?  Does their record lie?  Do the stats support what the Warriors are doing?  As we near tip-off for the Warriors’ matchup with the second-best-team-in-the-NBA Memphis Grizzlies (19-4 record), let’s take a deeper look and find out just how good these Warriors actually are 23 games into the regular season…

  • The Warriors are leading the NBA in Field Goal Percentage at a whopping 48.2% from the field.  By comparison, the league average is 45.1% from the field.
  • The Warriors average the second-most points per game in the NBA at 107.6 points per contest.
  • The Warriors are the least-blocked team in the league.  They may miss 51.8% of the shots they take, but it is not because the other team is swatting them away.
  • The Warriors have the seventh-best offensive rating in the NBA.
  • The Warriors are the fifth-most efficient offensive team in the NBA.
  • The Warriors have the second best pace in the NBA, meaning they average the second-most possessions per 48 minutes (the length of a regulation NBA game).  When you have the most possessions and lead the league in field goal percentage, you are going to score a lot of points (see above points per game statistic).
  • Unsurprisingly, and befitting of their “Splash Brothers” nickname, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have combined for the most three-pointers out of any backcourt in the NBA.
  • The Warriors were always thought to be an offensively gifted team under Marc Jackson because of their talent.  However, metrics and statistics show that the offense was often stagnant and not very efficient over the past few years.  The Warriors hit three pointers and were exciting on offense, but they didn’t move the ball well or execute to their potential.  Under Steve Kerr, the Warriors have actually become the offense every casual NBA fan thought they were over the past two seasons.

  • The Warriors have the best defensive rating in the NBA, meaning they allow the fewest points in the NBA per 100 possessions.
  • The Warriors also have the best defensive efficiency ranking in the NBA.  (The Warriors were third in this category last season.  In addition to improving offensively, they have continued to work on and improve the defensive feats they accomplished under Marc Jackson).
  • The Warriors allow the seventh-fewest points per game in the NBA, holding opponents to 96.8 points per game.  The league average is 100.
  • The Warriors have the best opponent field goal percentage in the NBA, holding their opponents to a measly 41.1% shooting per game.  The league average is 45.1%.
  • The Warriors lead the league in blocked shots at just over 6.5 blocks per game.  The league average is 4.75 blocks per game.
  • In 23 games, the Warriors have not allowed an opponent to shoot 50% from the field a single time.  Because it’s worth repeating:  no team has hit half of its shots against the Warriors in a game yet this season.

Overall (Offense + Defense)
  • The Warriors are one of two teams—with the Memphis Grizzlies squad they face in primetime this evening being the other—to rank in the top-25% of the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • The Warriors have a point differential or margin of victory (points per game for the Warriors minus points per game for their opponents) of 10.78.  This means that on average, they win by double-digits.  This is the best point differential in the NBA by far.  The next best belongs to the Toronto Raptors—currently the top-team in the Eastern Conference with a 19-6 record—who post a differential of 8.28 points.

The Streak
Coming into this season, the Warriors’ franchise record winning streak was 11 games in the 1971-1972 season, ultimately snapped by the Chicago Bulls.  The Warriors set a franchise-record by defeating the Bulls in Chicago this season to extend their winning streak to 12 games, on December 6th.  Since then, the Warriors are 4-0, and have extended the win streak to 16 games.

The last three wins came against the Houston Rockets in Oakland, the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, and the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans.  While the Rockets were missing All-Star big man Dwight Howard, the Warriors were also missing star big man and defensive stud Andrew Bogut.  The game was close until late in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors blew it open on the offensive end—and continued their strong defensive play—with a 17-3 run that saw the Warriors score on nine-straight possessions.  The Warriors won 105-93, holding the Rockets well under their season average of 99.6 points per game, while scoring 10 points more than what the Rockets allow on average.

Against the Mavericks, the Warriors used a 39-18 first quarter to blow the game open.  While the Mavericks fought hard in the second half and closed the gap to seven within the waning minutes of the game, the Warriors—still without Bogut—held on to win 105-98, again holding their opponent under the century mark while topping it themselves.

On Sunday the Warriors had a “trap game” (a game that seems easy on paper and is easy to overlook, but easily could have caught them by surprise and ended the streak).  They faced a .500 New Orleans squad playing without its star player—and the only person leading Steph Curry in the early MVP race—Anthony Davis.  It was also the second day of the road back-to-back that began in Dallas against the tough Mavericks team that fought until the end.  The Warriors easily could have acted tired and overlooked the Pelicans en route to a New Orleans win.  However, they came from six down in the final minutes to force overtime and blitz the Pelicans in overtime en route to a 128-122 win.  While it was not an offensively efficient game with the Warriors committing 19 turnovers, or a good defensive win with the Warriors giving up 122 points, they fought hard and willed themselves to victory to keep the streak alive.

Historically Good
It is not often in the NBA that a 16-game winning streak is overlooked.  After all, the Warriors are now tied for the 20th-longest winning streak in NBA history.  If you take out the teams that played fewer than 82 games in a season, only 21 teams in league history have won as many games in a row as the Warriors, and only 14 teams have longer winning streaks.  And yet, the streak is an afterthought because the Warriors have been that good, overall.

Al Cervi of the Syracuse Nationals had the record for the best start to a coaching career in NBA history with an 18-2 record in the 1949-1950 season.  Steve Kerr tied the record against the Timberwolves, broke it against the Rockets, and has extended it against Dallas and New Orleans since then.  The Warriors record now stands at 21-2.  The Warriors are the twelfth team in NBA History to start 20-2 or better.  Only seven teams in NBA History (including the Warriors) have started a season 21-2.  Win tonight and the numbers become even gaudier.

But How Good is This Team Really?
Six out of the 11 teams to start a season 20-2 in the past won NBA Titles.  Additionally, the Warriors have the 17th best point differential through 23 games in NBA History.  Seven of the previous 16 teams to do it won the NBA Title that season.

Does this mean the Warriors are going to win the NBA Title?  Definitely not.  While it is obviously the hope of all Warriors fans, they play in the toughest conference and one of the tougher divisions in basketball.  Will they continue this pace and break the Bulls’ all-time great record of 72-10?  It is possible, but again, most-likely not.  However, they have definitely positioned themselves to contend in the West this year.

The Warriors won 51 games last season.  They only need to go 30-29 the rest of the way (a paltry .508 win percentage) to equal last season’s total.  Additionally, they only need to go 39-20 (a .661 win percentage) the rest of the way to finish with an all-time franchise-high 60 wins, while a 41-18 finish to the season (a .694 win percentage) will give them the same record as the reigning NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs had when they finished with the best record in the NBA last year.

There is no question that the Warriors’ schedule will get tougher from here.  After Memphis tonight they face the streaking-now-that-they-are-healthy Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by a game at the Clippers next week.  The Warriors opponents through the first 23 games of the season had a combined win percentage of .496 (14th in the NBA).  This will increase as they play the aforementioned tougher competition and continue to play teams from the Western Conference.  They also need to stay healthy, and injuries have begun to pile up.  Having said all of that, the Warriors have played the third-most road games in the NBA thus far this season, meaning they can look forward to a bevy of games at Oracle Arena in the future.

Bottom Line
The Warriors were projected to be exciting, with a superstar in Steph Curry, a fiery rookie head coach, and a supporting cast including star Klay Thompson.  Curry has grown to new heights, Thompson is playing like a superstar and justifying the big payday he received before the beginning of the season, Draymond Green has emerged as a star—and they’ve done all of this without All-Star David Lee who is nursing a hamstring injury.  While it is close to a given that the Warriors will not stay on this pace and win over 91% of their games this season, they have emerged as true contenders who can size up—and defeat—any team in the NBA.  While historical and modern perspective shows that the Warriors record may be bloated, they are by far the best team in the NBA at this point, and there is no reason why that cannot continue for the rest of the season.

The first step:  beating the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis tonight to have the best win of the young NBA season, and extend the franchise-best, historical win streak and start to 17 games and a 22-2 record, respectively.  Hey, “It Could Happen.

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