The Golden State Warriors are in first place.
We haven't had the opportunity to truthfully say that very often since the championship run in 1974-75, so please allow me to repeat myself: the Golden State Warriors are in first place. First in the Pacific Division. First in the Western Conference. First in the National Basketball Association.
Joe Lacob, Jerry West, and Bob Myers have assembled a deep, balanced, and talented roster and placed it into the hands of a dynamic, progressive coaching staff. The results so far have been the best start through the halfway mark in Golden State history. Head coach Steve Kerr is the reigning Coach of the Month, shooting guard Klay Thompson has been the NBA Player of the Week three times, and Stephen Curry has both a Player of the Week and Player of the Month under his belt to go along with his league leading 1,513,324 All Star votes.
The offense, which ranked ranked 12th in efficiency and 10th in points per game last season, has improved in both categories. Under associate head coach Alvin Gentry's creative watch, the Warriors are now ranked 4th in efficiency and 1st in points per game (per Basketball-Reference.com) The most noticeable change? The team passed the ball only 245.8 times per game last season. This year, the Warriors are making 313.3 passes per contest (per NBA.com).
Assistant coach and defensive guru Ron Adams has done his part in improving the team's defense. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the team ranked 4th in defensive efficiency last season, but now leads the league in that category. Much of that can be attributed to DPOY candidate Draymond Green taking a lot of David Lee's minutes, but coaching has been a factor too. For example, under Adams' mentoring, Stephen Curry now ranks 1st among point guards in Defensive Win Shares (7th among all players) and Defensive Rating (9th overall), and 3rd among point guards in DRPM (per ESPN.com), along with 2nd in the league in steals per game, and 7th in steal percentage.
That's a lot of improvement for a player that most people had regarded as a defensive liability throughout his career.
With the team running on all cylinders like this, why would GM Bob Myers look to change anything? Well, there's at least one big reason, and by big, I mean big men.
The team has a history of injury concerns in the postseason, especially the big men. Last year, defensive anchor Andrew Bogut and backup center Festus Ezeli missed the playoffs, and both players (especially Ezeli) have missed significant time already this season. David Lee barely played in the postseason two years ago, has had multiple surgeries since then, and has missed about half of this season as well. Coach Kerr has done an admirable job keeping their minutes down to try and preserve them for the playoffs (illustrated by the fact that Draymond Green is the only big man on the roster to average more than 25 minutes per game), but Bogut has already missed 14 games, while Lee and Ezeli have missed 24 and 28 games, respectively.
Also, in the Warriors nine losses, the team was outrebounded six times. Against the Clippers, the Warriors gave up six more rebounds than they pulled down. The Thunder grabbed eleven more than Golden State. The Bulls grabbed thirteen more than the Warriors did, and the Jazz saw that total and raised it to fourteen. Turnovers were a problem for the Dubs early in the season, but since Christmas, the team is averaging a very respectable 13.5 turnovers per game (6th in the league in that span; impressive considering their league leading pace). In the same span, the Warriors have been pulling down a pedestrian 44.7 rebounds per game. That's tied for 10th in the league, well below the team's season ranking of 6th overall. Also, that ranking doesn't account for the Warriors #1 pace, and if you look only at the team's season average, the Warriors are being outrebounded 45 to 45.2.
Last season's champion San Antonio Spurs outrebounded their opponents 43.3 -42.2. The Miami Heat were outrebounded in 2013, but enjoyed a 41.6-39.8 advantage throughout their 2012 title campaign. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks led their opponents 41.4-40.7. The 2010 Champion Lakers held a 44.3-42.2 advantage on the boards, and they beat other teams 43.9-41.5 during their 2009 championship run as well. Before that, the 2008 Boston Celtics also dominated the glass 42-38.9. I could keep going, but I think you catch my drift: NBA champions almost always outrebound their opponents. As a matter of fact, the 2013 Miami Heat were the first team to win a championship despite being outrebounded since the 1995 Houston Rockets. That's right, 18 of the last 20 champions have grabbed more rebounds than their opponents.
Bob Myers knows this. And that's why I believe he's hitting the phone lines this very minute, trying to upgrade the Warriors stable of big men. Between the team's injury history and rebounding deficiency, the need to add another big man is real.
Of course, Golden State is sitting on top of the standings, and could decide to sit tight with the roster as assembled. They might decide that the chemistry between players is just what the doctor ordered. It's hard to argue with first place, the best point differential, and the first team to lead the league in pace, points, and defensive efficiency at the same time.
Last summer, the Warriors in talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves about acquiring Kevin Love. The move seemed like a no-brainer to a lot of analysts; add a premier big man with elite rebounding, a solid outside shot, and an adversity to defense for the cost of David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and possibly Klay Thompson. Somewhere in the conversation, the Warriors decided that Minnesota was asking too much and stalled talks, hoping for the market for Love to dry up and the Wolves to agree to send Love for less assets. Many here felt that the Warriors made a mistake, myself included.
The team responded by coming out of the summer winning games. There's a franchise record 16 game winning streak that started two weeks into the season on November 13th to point to, or the franchise record 19 game home winning streak. Or there's the four separate winning streaks of five or more games that the team already has under their belts this season.
And there's the Coco video to consider, and even the Blessings video, and what seems like a half-dozen other videos showing that the players really seem to genuinely like each other. Which begs the question: does team chemistry trump a slight deficiency on the glass?
That's the question Bob Myers is asking right now, and he only has a week or so to decide what his answer is. Either way, Warriors fans have more to talk about than ever.