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Revisiting Warriors key questions after 20 games

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A few factors behind their strong 11-9 start

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors are 20 games into the NBA season, which is nearly one-third of this year’s schedule. It’s still early, but with every day that goes by we get a slightly clearer picture of what we’re watching in this 2021 squad.

We’ve seen them beat a couple top contenders, and also get blown out by a couple others. We’ve seen them utterly dominate bad teams, but also struggle against similarly .500ish clubs. Overall they’re 11-9 against one of the toughest early slates in the league.

Before the season opener we posed five key questions that were facing the Dubs in 2020-21, and we checked in for a progress report after 10 games. Time for another look!

Can Curry still be an MVP?

Thru 10 games? Yes!
Thru 20 games? Yes!

In 10 games since our last check-in, here’s what Curry has averaged: 26.8 points on 64.8% true shooting, 5.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 45.2% on more than 10 three-pointers per game. The eyeball test is satisfied with his adequate defense, as well. So, yes, he’s still playing like an MVP.

If you give Steph a mulligan for the first two games of the season, when he was shaking off 18 months of rust and didn’t yet have Draymond Green on the court, then his numbers are still exactly what you’d expect from him:

Curry, last 18 gms: 28.6 pts, 5.8 ast, 5.6 reb, 64.2% TS, 47.6% fg, 42.9% 3pt (on 11 shots)

He’s not immune from an off-night, especially with other teams plotting their entire defensive schemes around him. But he’s still one of the best and most reliable scorers in the league, and the team’s offensive rating drops nearly eight points when he’s off the floor.

Is there enough deep shooting?

Thru 10 games? Yes, probably
Thru 20 games? Yes, usually

The Warriors still rank middling-to-low as a team in three-point shooting. They’re in 17th place, with a 35.9% rate that falls below the 36.7% league average.

However, that mark is being dragged down by the horrendous shooting slump of Kelly Oubre, plus a particularly rough showing from not-sharpshooter Draymond. If you remove those two from the equation, then the rest of the club is shooting 38.9% from deep, which would rank Top 5 in the NBA.

Oubre’s and Draymond’s stats count too, but they aren’t representative of a Golden State roster that does have quite a bit of range. And it’s not just Curry skewing things either, as he’s only fifth on the team in percentage.

  • Mychal Mulder, 43.6% on 2.1 shots
  • Kent Bazemore, 43.3% on 1.7 shots per game
  • Damion Lee, 42.9% on 3.5 shots
  • James Wiseman, 40.9% on 1.1 shots
  • Steph Curry, 40.8% on 10.9 shots
  • Andrew Wiggins, 40.6% on 5.1 shots

You could theoretically put together a whole lineup of 40% deep shooters and still have a decent defense.

That’s not to say this group is slump-proof, as there have been occasional nights when they can’t buy a bucket — such as against the Blazers, Clippers, and Knicks. But more often, if the offense breaks down, it’s because of turnovers on bad passes and ill-advised drives, or leaving a shocking number of layups on the rim, not because of a lack of threes. In 20 games, they’ve shot better than league-average half the time, and at least 34% a dozen times.

Will rookie Wiseman contribute right away?

Thru 10 games? Yes!
Thru 20 games? Yes, but with the inconsistency of a rookie

The 19-year-old burst onto the scene in the opening games of the season, showing off the blend of athleticism and talent you’d expect from a No. 2 overall draft pick. He joined the starting lineup right away, and made an impact on some games.

Some more time on the court has shown his rawness, but also his ability to quickly learn from mistakes to adapt and improve his game. Since our last check-in, he’s turned in a few standout performances and also a few duds, including some battles with foul trouble. He’s also moved out of the starting lineup, though his minutes have gone up.

But he hasn’t stopped showing immense promise, and he’s a good bet for some kind of highlight play on any given night. He flashed his ability in the paint by flushing seven dunks against the Spurs, and posted a career-high 25 points against the Wolves including 3-of-3 from deep and a pair of blocks on defense.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a minute to see the next steps in Wiseman’s progress. He took a fall on Saturday against the Pistons, and will miss at least a week with a sprained wrist.

Will some role players pan out?

Thru 10 games: Yes!
Thru 20 games: Yes!

There’s not much to update here. The bench crew came out of the gate strong, and they’ve continued to be a major factor in the team’s early success.

Instead, let’s focus on one player who has quietly made a difference lately. Kent Bazemore is only playing 15 minutes per night, but every time he hits the floor he seems to help stabilize whatever is going on. Whether they need some energy, a couple defensive stops, or a few points to get them rolling, more often than not he gives it to them.

One recent example came Wednesday against the Wolves. Oubre picked up two quick fouls just 78 seconds into the game, and Bazemore got the emergency call to join the starters for the rest of the first quarter. He scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and a pair of free throws, grabbed three rebounds, and chipped in a steal and a block. The Dubs went +7 during those 10 minutes.

Can they stay healthy?

Thru 10 games: Not exactly
Thru 20 games: Not exactly

The good news is the Warriors haven’t lost anybody else for the season since our last check-in. The bad news is they did suffer one new injury with Wiseman’s wrist. Hopefully it’s not too serious! But he will miss more than zero time, so, no the Dubs haven’t stayed healthy.

Making it worse is that the injuries are heavily concentrated among Golden State’s big men. Marquese Chriss was already out for the year, and Alen Smailagic is still rehabbing his knee. Now they’re without Wiseman too, leaving just Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, and Eric Paschall to contend with the opponent’s largest bodies.

***

The 2021 Warriors are definitely not bad. That we can say for sure. They have a winning record through 20 games and have beaten some good teams. We don’t know yet whether they’re great, good, competitive, or just decent, but that’s still progress for the club who finished with the worst record in the NBA last year — and who can look forward to getting back another injured superstar next season.