In honor of a record-tying 72 wins on Sunday night, and to appease the insatiable desire to revel in anything Warriors-related, this article sets out to take veritable snapshots of how the Warriors' current nucleus grew and developed through the use of data and graphs. The goal is to distill the improvements in several critical areas to the Warriors' current success.
Each graph follows the same color scheme: blue for Don Nelson's tenure; orange for Keith Smart's; red for Mark Jackson's; and gold for Steve Kerr's ongoing helmsmanship because, let's face it, if ever there were a golden era, this is surely it. For any counting statistics used (e.g. total assists), prorated totals for an 82-game season were used for the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign.
The Winning Environment
Jumping right into the biggest category, because it bears repeating: the Warriors have won 72 games this season (with one game remaining). They have set the franchise record for wins in consecutive years, now, and have become the second most winningest team over a two-season span, ever (postseason games not factored in).
That's 139 wins. That's seven more wins than the franchise earned from 1999 through 2004, all coming in the past nineteen months. Few Bay Area sports fans would have bet on a new coach coming into a Bay Area franchise and catalyzing a larger positive change than Jim Harbaugh did back in 2010, but head coach Steve Kerr has done exactly that.
It's been a perfect storm ascension aided by the non-trivial leaps from good to great and from great to unstoppable for guard Stephen Curry.
The Scoring and Defending
The offensive efficiency explosion is illustrated nicely by this chart. The chart looks almost like the biodiversity levels before and after the Cambrian Explosion. The birth of this monster coincides perfectly with the arrival of Steve Kerr's pace-and-space philosophy, with the nuts-and-bolts operations spearheaded by Alvin Gentry and continued with Luke Walton. Stephen Curry's ascendence into basketball nirvana also lines up with the offensive efficiency quantum leap, which is far from a happy coincidence.
Also note the continuously falling defensive rating, a pattern uninterrupted for half a decade. These five years saw many pivotal incomers help bolster the enemic defense of decades past. Most notably, Andrew Bogut assisted in the huge leap from 2012, a year he sat out, to 2013. Draymond Green's prominence slowly rose from 2013 until 2015, when he took over the lion's share of minutes at the four for defensive sieve David Lee. This change resulted in the best defensive year in the Warriors' franchise history.
On the bench, defensive assistant coach Michael Malone came in 2012 as part of the Mark Jackson administration. Ron Adams joined Steve Kerr's cabinet in the same role in the 2015 season.
The Ball Movement
The end-over-end improvement in assists is dramatically evident, and matches up perfectly through the coaching changes. The 1,800 assist baseline was chosen due to its being the approximate average for an NBA team in a recent season chosen arbitrarily (the '14 season, for inquiring minds).
Thus this graph more or less describes how each year's Warriors squad performed above average. The Warriors' perennial above-average pace makes it no wonder that each team has tallied more assists than average. However, Steve Kerr re-igniting the pace into stratospheric levels, after Jackson slowed them down somewhat, coupled with the implementation of Kerr's system that saw the team leap from the bottom in the league in terms of passes per possession to the top created an assist-generating monster the past two years that downright dwarfs past teams.
The Outward Exodus
The game is evolving, and I don't suppose I can act surprised that pastor Mark Jackson resisted acknowledging evolution, even in the basketball sense.
Regardless, the Warriors have seen a 65.4% increase from their 2010 total of makes to this season's total; and a 60.8% increase from the start of the Mark Jackson era (a prorated number) to this season. As of the writing of this article, with one game remaining, Curry and running mate Klay Thompson have combined to make as many threes (658) as the '14 team's total. The baseline of 600 was chosen from the '14 season's average of 635 makes.
Don Nelson hardly had the same tools to work with that Steve Kerr does now. He had Curry, who was always skewing usage/efficiency graphs; but Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and even Draymond Green and Brandon Rush were but distant mirages in the desert in the far-off lands of 2010.
All those pieces matriculated into the fold in the coming years, but by then the veritable Dark Ages of Golden State offense had ensued, as the tyrannical rule of incompetent coaching hung over an offense wrought with potential like a dark specter. It's wholly unsurprising to see the shooting percentages dip after the ousting of Nelson and before Steve Kerr's arrival, even though the greatest shooting backcourt of all time was employed by the 2012 season.
Onward and Upward
Results in this league are driven, in an admittedly simplified equation, by talent and system. The former supersedes the latter to a certain degree, but a harmonious, mutually beneficial existence between the two is required to seriously vie for a title. The building blocks had been falling into place since 2009. 2011 was when the puzzle became less opaque with the arrival of Klay Thompson, the obvious successor to Monta Ellis' long-held position. Yet the right coach, and the correct system he or she would implement, was not in place until last year.
The evidence is translucent in every graph: Steve Kerr, and his system, was the final piece of the Golden State Warriors' nucleus to fall into place. It is not said often enough -- hardly recognized, in fact -- that Kerr is truly a member of the Curry - Draymond - Thompson - Kerr nucleus that has seemingly spontaneously created a basketball behemoth. It is no coincidence that Curry's transcendence was ignited at age 27 -- far later than most NBA superstars' preeminence is established. At 27, he finally found himself in the correct system, Kerr's system.
Kerr, Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and the rest of the supporting cast are the end result of a process that Warriors owner Joe Lacob takes great pride in -- and ample credit for. The results are clear: a wins co-record, a four-decade title drought quenched. The growth tells the tale of coaching trial-and-error as well as personnel improvement through the years. The trials and the errors have informed and improved the team, as it now knocks on the door of history.
As has so been the case through the 2010 decade, the Warriors will continue through this season and future ones to come, onwards and upwards.