Can the NBA's most fun team also be its best team?
NEW YORK -- It's a label fans and TV executives love and one coaches can't stand: Fun. Fun teams are exciting. Fun teams score a lot of points. In Mike D'Antoni's day, the Phoenix Suns were fun. From 2004-08, Phoenix produced some of the NBA's most prolific offenses. Behind two MVP seasons from Steve Nash, the Suns run-and-gunned their way into fans' hearts.
But -- and with a pause to acknowledge the Robert Horry hip check of Nash in Game 4 of the 2007 Western Conference semifinals that ended up getting Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspended for Game 5 of a series the Suns would lose to San Antonio -- Phoenix never won a championship.
Which brings us to the other accepted axiom: Fun teams don't win.
Balanced teams win. Complete teams win. Take the Spurs. San Antonio's four championship squads were about as entertaining as a math test, but they ranked in the top half of the league in offensive and defensive efficiency each season. Boston's 2008 title-winning team had top-10 rankings on both ends of the floor. Same for Miami the last two seasons.
By any account, the Warriors are a fun team. They shoot a lot of three-pointers (24.3 per game) and make a lot of them (9.4). They have the NBA's best shooting backcourt in snipers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, maybe the best of all time. They have a 20-point scorer at power forward in David Lee. This group of chuckers ended a five-year playoff drought last season, defeating Denver in the first round and giving San Antonio all it could handle in the second.
The Warriors are a fun team. Just don't tell them that.
"People who don't watch us, who watch highlights, they think [three-point shooting] is what we are all about," coach Mark Jackson said. "We are a top-notch defensive team. That's how we win ball games. We're defending at a high level."
It's true. Lost in the Curry-Thompson Pop-A-Shot competitions is the startling fact that Golden State has become a stingy defensive team. The Dubs rank fourth in defensive efficiency, up from 13th last season, according to NBA.com. They are surrendering 98.4 points per game after giving up 100.3 a year ago. And they have held 15 opponents to less than 40 percent shooting this season, with only Indiana (16) accomplishing the feat more often.
How did this happen? How did the NBA's razzle-dazzle bunch suddenly become one of its best? Wednesday's 102-98 loss to Brooklyn snapped Golden State's 10-game winning streak, which included notable victories over the Heat, Clippers, Nuggets and Suns.
A healthy Andrew Bogut has helped. The perpetually injured Bogut has missed one game this season. He has fortified the middle by giving the Warriors a steady rebounder (10.7 per game) and shot blocker (1.7) to rely on each night.
The addition of Andre Iguodala, though, may have helped even more. Some numbers: In 13 of the 26 games Iguodala has played, Golden State has held opponents to under 40 percent shooting. In the 12 games Iguodala missed with a hamstring injury, the Warriors defended that well twice.
Round peg, round hole. That's Iguodala and Golden State. The four-year, $48 million contract Iguodala signed in the offseason was pricey, but the Warriors will tell you Iggy has been worth every penny. In the Western Conference, where guys named Durant, Paul, Harden and Ginobili play, a rock-solid perimeter defender is a necessity.. Iguodala can defend three positions. Against Miami, Iguodala forced many of LeBron James' eight turnovers. He regularly takes on the toughest perimeter player and few opponents get the best of him.
Walk through the Warriors' locker room with questions about Iguodala and you hear a lot of the same stuff: Glue guy. Great teammate. Makes all the right plays.
"I wouldn't say Andre filled a need, because he could go on any of the 30 teams and make an impact," second-year forward Draymond Green said. "Every team needs an Andre Iguodala. He does so much stuff you don't see on the stat sheet. He does everything. He is such a smart player."
Said Lee: "He makes a lot of smart basketball plays. He does a lot of the little things for us."
It's taken some time to get here, but nearly midway through the season the Warriors are looking like the conference contender many expected. There are lingering questions, of course. The offseason departure of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry weakened the bench, and watching Brooklyn erase a 16-point first-half deficit by hammering Golden State's second unit is proof that could be a problem. Without Jack, teams will continue to attack Curry defensively, as the Nets did, in hopes of sending the star guard to the bench with foul trouble.
But with the team's slew of shooters, there is no one Golden State can't outscore. And with that defense, there aren't many it can't stop. Don't look now, but a fun team has a real shot at being the NBA's best.