2015-16 Golden State Warriors: the most dangerous NBA team in history?
The ball wobbled wildly between his two hands. At midcourt and surrounded by Memphis defenders, Stephen Curry lost control, gained it, lost it again, and then, believing he was fouled, threw up a one-handed prayer about 40 feet away from the basket. Two surprising things immediately followed:
- Incredibly, Curry made the shot, shocking the entire basketball-loving world.
- Considering the magic Curry has been performing all season, no one was truly surprised.
Somehow, we now live in a basketball world where it is both magical and completely normal that Curry and the Warriors are making every near-impossible shot they throw up. It’s both surprising and expected to see them win almost every game by a blowout and rain hellfire on the rest of the league.
It’s staggering to think that they could win over 70 games this season, and yet, seeing the way they have performed so far, it’s also, wholly unsurprising.
There are a lot of championship contenders in the league, but when one truly breaks it down, there are two types of NBA teams: the champions, and everybody else. The reigning champions – the Warriors – are the kings of the league, have conquered all their challengers, wear the crown and sit firmly on the throne.
They have a target on their back and every night, they have to face the best shot from 29 other teams desperate to prove themselves and throw rocks at that throne.
By winning a title, the champions essentially become the ‘complete’ team for any given season.
While the champions reign and collect their rings on opening night, those 29 other teams watch with motivation and hunger to become complete, too. The winners have answered their doubters and celebrated their success; everyone else plays with a point to prove that they, too, can belong at the top.
It is this difference in motivation between the kings and the rest that makes winning repeat titles such a hurdle in the NBA. Several of the greatest players of all time have said that it has been harder to defend a title than to win it: once one reaches at the top of the mountain, they have to fight against complacency, rest, the ‘disease of more’, and every other contender to reach the top once again.
In the last 16 years, only the 2000-02 Lakers, the 2009-10 Lakers, and the 2012-13 Heat have managed to win consecutive titles, and each of those teams had one or more All Time great players. Most ‘Kings’ suffer a slight championship hangover, playing without the ambition that drove them the year before, and succombing to hungrier contenders who have charted out the perfect game-plan to stop them.
This is where the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors differ. A season ago, the Warriors finished with the best record in the league in historic fashion, winning 67 games with one of the all-time best point differentials.
Stephen Curry was named MVP, Bob Myers the Executive of the Year, and Steve Kerr finished second in Coach of the Year voting. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut made it to the all-defensive first and second teams respectively, and Klay Thompson joined Curry in the All Star game.
In the playoffs, The Warriors won four series en route to the title; Curry defeated every other member of the All NBA First Team, and Andre Iguodala – their sixth man for most of the season – was Finals MVP.
From their own persective, it was a perfect season: after 40 years away from the throne, the Golden State Warriors were ‘complete’.
But not everyone in the league thought so. The Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said that the Warriors were ‘lucky’ to avoid them and the Spurs in the postseason. Kyrie Irving claimed that the Cavaliers would have defeated the Warriors in the finals if he and the rest of the team had been fully healthy. Miami’s Hassan Whiteside underplayed the effect of small-ball centers, which led to a mini twitter beef between him and Warriors’ small-ball big-man, Draymond Green.
While the Warriors remained mostly unchanged in the offseason, attention shifted to other teams returning fully healthy (like the Cavaliers or the Thunder) or those who had reloaded to come stronger for the coming year (Spurs, Clippers, Rockets). Even the NBA GM survey showed that general managers around the league only considered the Warriors the third-best choice to win the 2016 title (just 17.9 percent) and Curry has only the fifth-best option for another MVP award (a meager 7.1 percent). Despite bringing back the same, young core who had made history a season earlier, the Warriors were getting no respect around the league for having the ability to do it all over again.
This lack of respect, despite their incredible accomplishments, seems to have lit an unexpected fire in the belly of the defending champs. Many of the top players in the Warriors’ rotation – including Curry, Thompson, Bogut, and Green – reacted with annoyance or sarcasm to the jabs from the rest of the league. All of a sudden, we were heading into a new NBA season where the reigning champions felt motivated to prove a point to the rest of the league, all over again.
And so, the Warriors began the new season with a franchise-best start, still undefeated at time of writing at an amazing 10-0. Each win has come with an NBA-best point differential of over 17 points per game.
They are leading the league in points, assists, three-point percentage, offensive rating, net rating, player impact estimate, assist percentage, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage, while ranking in the top five in steals, field goal percentage, and defensive rating.
Curry is far and away the league’s leading scorer currently on pace for a historically high PER, while continuing his shooting sprees to be already considered the greatest shooter of all time.
Green is one of the league’s most versatile defenders, Thompson one of the top shooting guards, Bogut has returned from injury to defend the post, Harrison Barnes is averaging career-highs across the board, Iguodala is still too talented to be a bench player, while the likes of Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa add more beef to their bench.
The best team in the league seems to have gotten better, and the otherworldly predictions of 70+ wins don’t sound as impossible anymore. Only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 games, have ever crossed the 70-win barrier in the 82 game season.
The 2015-16 Warriors, meanwhile, are looking head and shoulders better than every other contender early in the season, and if anyone can challenge the legendary Bulls’ record, it is them.
Their success is a dangerous combination of talent and anger. They’re a team that had already destroyed all others in the NBA, and yet, they have been motivated to destroy all of them all over again. They play with the ease and experience of NBA Kings, but with the hunger of an upstart, motivated squad.
Let all that digest, and you’ll realize why nothing that the current Warriors team does should be surprising anymore. It shouldn’t be shocking when Curry eases into 20-point quarters, scores 40 in three quarters, or becomes one of the league’s leader in assists.
It shouldn’t surprise when Thompson has 30-point quarters, or when Green challenges for the Defensive Player of the Year award, or Barnes breaks out to become one of the top forwards in the league.
It shouldn’t suprise if they do this with Coach Kerr on the sidelines or watching from home, or when they beat top contenders in blowout fashion and yet have the late-game clutch factor to win close games against top teams, too.
The ‘Hungry Kings’ could be one of the most dangerous teams in NBA history, and they look primed to do it while becoming the most electrifiying show in the league, too.
Now, can Curry help the team carry this early-season momentum to yet another championship?