After missing the playoffs for the past two seasons, the Golden State Warriors have reemerged as the championship contenders they were during their five consecutive finals appearances from 2015 to 2019.
Many people thought that the Warriors time at the top of the league was over after Steph Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the 2019-20 season. The injury was coming after Kevin Durant had left the Warriors in free agency and Klay Thompson tore his ACL in game 6 of the NBA finals in 2019.
Although Golden State finished the season with the worst record in the league, they were ready to bounce back, with Curry and Thompson expected to return for the start of the 2020-21 season. That was until Thompson tore his Achilles tendon just hours before the 2020 draft while preparing to return to basketball. This setback took the Warriors from expected contenders to a solid playoff team in the eyes of many, including myself.
The Warriors were a solid playoff team in the 63 games that Steph Curry played in, with a record of 37-26. This record would have been good for the fifth seed in the western conference based on win percentage; however, the Warriors went 2-7 in the nine games that Curry missed. The Warriors performance without Curry left them as the eighth seed in the western conference and placed them in the play-in tournament, where they lost to the Lakers and Grizzlies, meaning that they missed the playoffs.
This disappointing season came down to the Warriors management’s inability to surround Curry with a good enough roster. The lack of support was evident as Curry had a historic regular season campaign which led to him being a finalist for MVP regardless of his teams lack of success.
Following this lacklustre season, the Warriors front office made more off-season moves that favoured winning now rather than building to the future. This decision came after using three lottery picks over the last two years rather than trading them for established stars to surround their current core of Curry, Thompson, and Green. They selected James Wiseman with the second overall pick in the 2020 draft and chose Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody with the seventh and fourteenth picks in the 2021 draft.
After the 2021 draft, the Warriors went on to have a very underrated off-season where they let Kelly Oubre Jr. and Kent Bazemore leave during free agency. Letting them leave was a good decision as both men had underperformed the season prior and arguably even hurt the Warriors at times. Golden State replaced Oubre and Bazemore by signing Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, and Gary Payton II.
With their relatively under-the-radar off-season moves, the Warriors were not expected to be title contenders to open the season. Bleacher Report and ESPN ranked the Warriors 9th and 10th respectively in their pre-season power rankings. Thompsons injury status was a factor in these placements as he is still out for an undetermined amount of time to start the season.
After just 11 games, the Warriors have outplayed the expectations set on them and have started the season with a 10-1 record, which is the best record in the league. They have thrived in nearly every aspect of the game due to numerous reasons.
The biggest reason for their overall success has been their incredible defence as a unit. The Warriors are currently posting a defensive rating of 99.2, the lowest in the NBA since the 2016 San Antonio Spurs. Draymond Green leads this defensive effort with significant efforts from most of the roster. Standouts, aside from Green, have been Wiggins, Iguodala, Curry, Payton II, Porter, and Toscano-Anderson.
Although they are the best defensive team in the NBA, they still have the best offensive threat in the league in Steph Curry, who has played a massive factor in the Warriors having the third-best offensive rating in the league. They also rank first in both points and true shooting percentage. They are doing all of this offensively while Curry is playing below his standards, and their second-best offensive player in Klay Thompson hasn’t played yet.
Overall the Warriors are sitting atop the league with a 13.1 net rating which is 3.4 points higher than second place. Regardless of their early success, they are bound to improve as the season moves forward. Curry can improve on his play and return to his standard form in terms of scoring numbers, and Thompson will eventually rejoin the team. Although he may need time to get back into his normal shape, he should be fully prepared for the postseason.
In just two short years, Golden State has completely revamped their roster around their core of Curry, Green, and Thompson and have gone from the worst team in the league to the best team in the league.