Golden State Warriors: 5 Early Season Takeaways

About a month into the 2016-17 NBA season, what have we learned about the Golden State Warriors? Here are the five biggest takeaways.

Golden State Warriors

November 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates with guard Stephen Curry (30) against the Phoenix Suns during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With or without Kevin Durant, another championship trophy would’ve been the expectation for the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. Coming off the most disappointing and unlikely collapse in NBA Finals history, the Dubs were suddenly the team with something to prove.

In spite of that “us against the world” billing, however, the Warriors couldn’t have been further from the “underdog” label, not only because they were coming off a historic 73-win season, but also because they went out and added Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 NBA MVP, in free agency.

The targets were repainted on Golden State’s backs overnight, and like LeBron James‘ super-teams in Miami and Cleveland, anything less than a title in 2016-17 will feel like a bust.

Only a month into the new season, it’s too early to make any definitive rulings on whether the Warriors will accomplish their goal. But at 12-2, it’s fairly obvious this team’s early hiccups haven’t cost them their shot at the league’s best record and another potential run to the Finals.

The question is, what exactly have we learned about the most powerful super-team one month into their first season together? Here’s a look at the five biggest takeaways for the Golden State Warriors so far.

Golden State Warriors

Oct 30, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns bench players react as Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots the ball during the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Warriors won 106-100. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

5. Klay Thompson Is Just Fine

Remember when people were worried about Klay Thompson‘s shooting slump like two weeks into the season? Remember when those ridiculous Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder trade rumors popped up? That was a fun time.

True enough, Thompson struggled in his first seven games of the 2016-17 campaign. He averaged just 17.0 points per game, making only 41.5 percent of his shots and a dismal 20.8 percent of his three-point attempts. After talking about not having to “sacrifice s**t,” it seemed as though Klay was going to have the hardest time adjusting to the new Kevin Durant dynamic.

How do you feel about those concerns, Klay?

As everyone should’ve predicted, it didn’t take long for Thompson to put those concerns to bed. Over his last seven games, he’s averaged 23.7 points per game on white-hot .526/.482/.944 shooting splits.

Both are small sample sizes, but it’s encouraging that after a rough patch to start the season, Thompson appears to be shrugging off his early shooting woes.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, really. Last season, Thompson got off to a similarly slow start, averaging a meager 15.5 points per game on .441/.364/.929 shooting splits through Golden State’s first 12 games. He went on to average a career-high 22.1 points per game on .470/.425/.873 shooting.

So far this season, Thompson is now averaging 20.4 points per game on .470/.349/.931 shooting splits, slowly but surely dragging his percentages back into the green. It’s no coincidence the Warriors are back up to sixth in three-point efficiency (36.9 percent) after ranking in the bottom-10 early on.

The Dubs still have a ways to go before they climb all the way back to the league-leading 41.6 percent they posted last year, but games like Thompson’s 30-point, five-three-pointer barrage against the Suns, his 28-point outing in 31 minutes against Boston and his 29-point, five-three-pointer onslaught against Milwaukee suggest concerns about this Splash Brother will be short-lived.

Golden State Warriors

Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35), Golden State Warriors forward David West (3) and Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) congratulate each other during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

4. The Bench Is A Work In Progress

Heading into a season with championship expectations, the Warriors’ biggest potential obstacles — aside from learning to play together and sacrifice appropriately for Kevin Durant — were rim protection and bench depth.

Golden State’s second unit has been a bit uneven in the early going, but like almost every other component of this team, it’s started to come together during the team’s eight-game win streak.

The key? Steve Kerr‘s decision to sub out Durant and Thompson early and reinsert them for Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in bench-heavy lineups, often with KD manning the 4.

The Warriors’ reserves are hardly potent in the scoring column, averaging 28.4 points per game to rank 26th in the league among all bench units. But Golden State doesn’t need its bench to put up huge scoring numbers; its starting unit is more than capable of that, averaging a league-leading 88.7 points per game.

What the Warriors really need from their bench is lead protection, or at least to minimize the damage when the starters rest. So far, Golden State’s second unit has shown encouraging signs, boasting a +1.5 point differential that ranks sixth in the NBA among all benches.

Playing guys like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West alongside KD and Klay has certainly boosted that figure, but is that really some sort of unsustainable problem?

The Dubs haven’t played the toughest of opponents yet. They lost to the Spurs on opening night, whipped Thunder and Blazers teams that have recently fallen off, steamrolled a Celtics team playing without two starters, and their best win is probably against a Raptors team that’s currently floundering.

But if the Warriors’ bench can continue to protect — or even build on — leads against superior competition, Golden State’s title hopes will remain firmly intact.

Golden State Warriors

November 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the basketball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 122-96. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

3. Kevin Durant Is Comfortable

The Golden State Warriors were a well-oiled machine last year. Though that machine broke down in the Finals due to Green’s suspension, Andrew Bogut‘s injury, Stephen Curry’s inconsistency after his knee injury, and the indomitable will of LeBron James, it was still a machine that was more than capable of destroying opponents en route to another championship.

By adding Kevin Durant to that mix, there were questions about fit and role. Would the 2014 MVP make the Warriors his own? Would his Iso-heavy style clash with an offense that relied on smart passing and movement to put up huge numbers? Or would he simply be reduced to a Harrison Barnes-type role, albeit as a more efficient version of the team’s former small-ball 4?

There has been a learning curve for everyone, but so far, the player who’s looked the most comfortable is the new arrival, Kevin Durant.

Through 14 games, KD is averaging a team-leading 26.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting an insanely efficient 56.2 percent from the field, 42 percent from long range and 84.2 percent from the foul line.

In fact, during Golden State’s rocky 4-2 start, his immediate level of comfort was one of the few silver linings. He didn’t look timid. He wasn’t worrying about stepping on other people’s toes. He was an absolute nightmare on both ends of the floor.

He dropped a 30-17-6-2-2 in the team’s first win of the season. He led the Dubs to a come-from-behind win against the Suns with a 37-4-4-4 stat line. He scored a season-high 39 against his former team in OKC’s visit to the Bay, posted a 30-9-6 in Golden State’s biggest win of the season in Toronto, and has topped the 30-point threshold five times already.

That may not seem like much for the four-time scoring champ, but on a team that has top-15 talents like Curry, Klay and Draymond, Durant’s assertiveness and instant ability to perform at such a high level speaks to how dangerous the Warriors will be when they truly jell and find their peak.

Golden State Warriors

Nov 21, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) blocks the shot of Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (2) in the first half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Golden State beat Indiana 120-83. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Defense Has Room For Improvement

It’s pretty terrifying that the Warriors have posted a Net Rating of +10.3, the second-best mark in the NBA, despite having such a mediocre defense. Their league-leading offensive rating (113.8) has been getting the job done, but that 16th ranked defense still needs improvement.

On the bright side, defense has been a consistent boon during the Warriors’ ongoing eight-game win streak. During that span, the Dubs have held opponents to 102.9 points per 100 possessions, good for the 12th best mark in the NBA.

Considering the Warriors are giving up 103.6 points per 100 possessions on the season, and had surrendered 104.5 points per 100 possessions through their first six games, it’s encouraging to see signs of improvement on the defensive end.

The Dubs still have a long way to go in this regard. Zaza Pachulia is a solid positional defender, but he’s not a rim protector, which means the Warriors will need to rely more heavily on Durant, Draymond and perhaps even JaVale McGee in this regard as the competition heats up.

They also need to seriously work on the rebounding department, since their defensive rebounding percentage (73.5 percent) ranks 29th in the NBA.

However, Golden State is also leading the league in steals (9.8 per game) and limiting opponents to 43.7 percent shooting (eighth in the NBA).

The makings of a stifling defense are there, especially when Kerr goes small with his new Apocalypse Lineup, but this isn’t a championship-caliber defense just yet.

Golden State Warriors

Nov 19, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts with forward Draymond Green (23) after a foul call in the final seconds. The Golden State Warriors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-121at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Warriors Are Going To Be Scary Good

Did we mention that only 14 games into a new season with so many new pieces to incorporate, the Golden State Warriors boast a league-leading offensive rating of 113.8 points per 100 possessions, that they’re leading the league in scoring at 117.1 points per game and that they’re already 12-2?

During this eight-game win streak, the Dubs have recorded 30+ assists in every game, tying a franchise-record that will be broken Wednesday night if they can do it again in a revenge game against the visiting Lakers.

KD has taken zero time to get himself acclimated in his new digs, Stephen Curry is looking more like an MVP candidate again (26.1 PPG, 6.0 APG, .482/.409/.920 shooting), Klay Thompson has busted out of his slump and Draymond Green is basically the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse with his 10.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

The Warriors are leading the league in fast break points and assists, their offense is already finding its footing and once the defense catches up, the rest of the league will have cause for despair. As they’ve already shown so many times this season, on any given night, the Dubs have four different players who can — and probably will — rise up and take over a game.

It’s a terrifying prospect, and after watching LeBron James and Kyrie Irving do the same thing to them in the Finals last year, the Warriors now have a roster tailor-made to return the favor. Star players win playoff series, especially when rotations are cut short.

With that four-man group of Curry, Klay, Draymond and KD, the rest of the league should be very, very worried about this team’s early signs of chemistry and what might happen when everything truly starts to click.

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