Warriors first-month grades: Durant integration, Death lineup, size, bench
Golden State is rolling, but there's still room for improvement
To nobody's surprise, the Golden State Warriors are an exquisite professional basketball team. Aside from an opening-night catastrophe against the San Antonio Spurs and a slip-up against the Los Angeles Lakers, this super squad has been able to learn lessons without losses. After one month and 15 wins, let's take stock of how they have fared.
The big integration: A
Before the Warriors started running circles around everybody, concerned fans fretted over the fact that Kevin Durant would take possessions away from their three other All-Stars. Should Klay Thompson come off the bench? Will Draymond Green accept a reduced role in the offense? Can Golden State find a balance between its pass-happy ways and its new superstar's appetite for isolation basketball?
Those questions have been answered: no, yes, absolutely -- the Warriors have recorded 30-plus assists nine straight times and in 11 of their last 15 games.
On an individual level, Durant has been a delight. His PER (30.5) and true shooting percentage (.682) are higher than his MVP season, and he's never rebounded better, turned the ball over less frequently or seen this many open looks. For all the talk of sacrifice, his 27 points per game puts him seventh in the league in scoring, with teammate Stephen Curry right behind him in eighth.
Essentially, Durant's transition has gone as smoothly as optimists predicted -- Golden State's offense is making the game easier for him, and he has given the offense a dimension it never had before. Were it not for Thompson's early season slump and the overall lack of rhythm seen in a few of the Warriors' closer games, this would be an A+.
Absorbing the loss of the centers: C+
The Durant acquisition wouldn't have been possible without a downgrade at the center position. Coming into the season, the question was just how much that downgrade would matter. Zaza Pachulia was never going to transform into an Andrew Bogut-like shot-blocker in his 14th year, but he brings some of the same stuff as Bogut: passing, screen-setting and toughness. Festus Ezeli's athleticism and physicality is missed, too, but the front office had no choice but to let him go.
So far, there have been good and bad signs here. Early in the season, Damian Lillard said the Warriors' defense was "just not the same" without Bogut intimidating people in the paint. Golden State is no worse when it comes to blocking shots this year, though, and much of its defensive slippage --it is now 15th in the NBA in defensive rating -- can be attributed to poor performance in garbage time, per analytics legend Dean Oliver.
It's probably best to think of this grade as incomplete. Opponents are shooting an ugly (if you're a Warriors fan) 55.3 percent at the rim against Pachulia, per NBA.com's SportVU statistics. This has led coach Steve Kerr to play Green at center more often, though, and that has worked wonderfully. The reality of this situation is that rebounding has become a weakness for the Warriors, and they're relying on their length making up for their relative lack of strength. Let's wait and see if this hurts them against the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
With this roster, Golden State would deserve an F for ranking anywhere but first in the league in offensive efficiency. The good news: The Warriors aren't just first, they're first by a wide margin. At 115.7 points per 100 possessions, the difference between their offensive output and that of the second-place Clippers is about the same as the difference between the Clippers and the seventh-place Chicago Bulls.
The crazy part: there is nothing unsustainable happening here. Golden State has that absurd offensive rating despite the fact that their players are still in the process of jelling. If these guys stay healthy all season, there's reason to believe they'll be more in sync as the season goes on. It hasn't felt like the Warriors have come close to their peak yet, and their 149-point outburst against the Lakers on Wednesday might be a sign of things to come. Why can't they score 160 points in a game?
It's a work in progress, but there's a lot here to be pleased about. You're probably already a fan of guard Patrick McCaw, who is a rookie but does not play like one. Ian Clark has had a couple of offensive explosions. David West is making open mid-range jumpers the same way he did for the Spurs last year. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston remain vital parts of the operation.
In between now and the end of the season, Kerr needs to keep McCaw and Clark confident by giving them minutes in high-pressure situations. He also needs to see if JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney, James Michael McAdoo or Damian Jones can crack the frontcourt rotation. For now, it feels like Golden State could use one more dependable guy -- preferably a big man.
Megadeath Lineup: A+
The Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Durant-Green lineup has played 68 minutes, and it has been devastating. The group has scored 129.7 points per 100 possessions, allowed 98.8 points per 100 possessions and had a pace of 112.76. Translation: With the Megadeath lineup on the court, the Warriors are blazing fast, impossible to stop and stingy defensively.
By the numbers, this group hasn't actually been any more effective than last year's version, which featured Harrison Barnes in Durant's place. That Death Lineup, though, only played 172 minutes during the entire regular season. Kerr is now going to this look as a matter of course, rather than using it mostly when Golden State needed to speed up the pace or close out a game as he did last year.
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