Let’s start with a disclaimer that nobody needs: The Golden State Warriors, as presently constructed, are bad.
Shocking, I know.
You can point to the 13 games Draymond Green has missed, or the 18 games D’Angelo Russell has missed, or the 35 games Kevon Looney has missed. Those are valid things to point to, if you’re the pointing type.
They’re not the reason the Warriors are bad.
Golden State has the fewest wins in the league, with 10. I’m not sure if there’s any correlation here, but they also have the most losses in the league, with 35. They’re 28th in the league in net rating, being outscored by 8.9 points per 100 possessions.
You can’t pin that on a few absences from otherwise healthy players. On Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s absences? Sure. On Russell’s and Green’s? Absolutely not.
If you’re hell bent on allocating blame for a lost season, you can point in whatever direction you’d like. God knows there’s plenty of blame to go around for the team occupying the basement of the standings.
But the reality is, the Warriors are operating at a talent deficit every single night. And as much as we all love to espouse the benefits of hustle and teamwork, you simply can’t win many games in the NBA when you’re starting behind the talent eight ball.
What you can do, however, is impress in defeat. The Warriors did that on Monday, forcing the Portland Trail Blazers to overtime despite a Herculean performance from Damian Lillard. And they did it on Thursday, pushing the Denver Nuggets to an extra period as well. And those two overtime losses bookmarked an eye-opening victory over the Orlando Magic.
Nevermind that Saturday’s win ended a 10-game losing streak. This isn’t about the team winning, or even playing well. It’s about Golden State finding ways to still impress, and not just in terms of rosy individual performances, of which there have been a few.
One thing that’s caught my eye this year is how often the Warriors seem to play their game. Mind you, they don’t generally play their game well, but hey, that’s a discussion for a different day. Something something theory and execution.
Now, peruse the Twitterverse for a few minutes and you’ll more than likely find a Warriors fan or five calling for the head of Steve Kerr, delivered to their League Pass doorstep Game of Thrones style. And while I’m certainly not here to suggest that Kerr become the first suited sideline roamer to win Coach of the Year while sporting the league’s worst record, it’s a testament to him - and his strong coaching staff - that the Warriors seem to be following the gameplan on a near-nightly basis.
Consider: The Warriors lead the league in passes per game, with 333.8. That’s 20 more passes per game than the next closest team. Now, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between passing a lot and winning a lot. The teams that round out the top five are the New Orleans Pelicans (17-27), Memphis Grizzlies (20-23), Washington Wizards (14-28), and Charlotte Hornets (15-30).
But that’s not the point. Passing a lot may not be something that good teams always do, but it is something that good Warriors teams always do. Since Kerr took over in 2014-15, the Warriors have ranked ninth, seventh, fourth, fourth, and second in the league, respectively, in passes per game.
On the other end of the court, deflections have been a hallmark of a Kerr (and Ron Adams and Jarron Collins) defense. Golden State is currently fifth in the league, averaging 16.8 deflections per game. The same team-results caveat as with passes applies (though there’s a stronger correlation between deflections and defensive performance), but again, it’s how the Warriors operate. Since 2016-17 (when the league began tracking this data), the Warriors have been first, seventh, and eleventh in deflections per game.
It’s not showing up on the scoreboard, obviously: Golden State may lead the league in passes per game, but they sport the NBA’s worst offense; and they may be a top-five team in deflections, but they’re a bottom-six team in overall defense.
But there’s something to be said for playing the way you intend to, even if the results aren’t yet there.
An architecturally-sound house built with carrots and newspaper might not stand strong for long, but it’s in good shape when those materials are a placeholder for lumber and concrete.
We know the Warriors talent deficit is only temporary. Take comfort in the fact that when that deficit evaporates, the blueprint for a vintage Warriors team will be waiting underneath.