Although it doesn’t come with a trophy, the defending champions have a new title to cherish: best start ever.
The Warriors defeated the Lakers 111–77 at Oracle Arena on Tuesday, improving their record to 16–0, which represents the most consecutive wins to open a season in NBA history. With interim coach Luke Walton subbing in for Steve Kerr, who is recovering from back surgery, Golden State has opened its title defense in spectacular fashion.
Let’s run down the Warriors’ remarkable first month.
1. Best start ever
Tuesday’s victory was the tiebreaker: the 1993–94 Rockets and the ’48–49 Washington Capitols also opened their seasons by going 15–0. Here’s a look at the five best starts (by record) in NBA history.
|1993–94||Rockets||15–0||58–24||Won Finals over Knicks|
|1948–49||Capitols||15–0||38–22||Lost Finals to Minneapolis Lakers|
|2002–03||Mavericks||14–0||60–22||Lost West finals to Spurs|
|1957–58||Celtics||14–0||49–23||Lost Finals to St. Louis Hawks|
Houston and Dallas are excellent case studies for Walton and Kerr as they approach the rest of the season. Despite their dominant start, the Rockets didn’t finish with the NBA’s best record that season. In fact, they finished five wins behind the Seattle SuperSonics (63–19), who were famously upset by the No. 8 seed Nuggets in the West’s first round. That, plus Michael Jordan’s first retirement, opened the door for the Rockets to win their first title in franchise history. As for the Mavericks, they were seeded third in the West’s standings after tying the Spurs for the league’s best record. The motivational takeaway: a scorching hot start strongly suggests a team is ready to contend for the title, but it guarantees nothing, not even home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs.
2.The most dominant start of the post-Michael Jordan era
Golden State isn’t just winning, it’s wining big. The Warriors have been flat out smoking the opposition, compiling a league-best +15.6 point differential that easily tops the No. 2 Spurs (+9.2).
For context, the Warriors’ current point differential is better than any mark posted in league history for an entire season: The 1971–72 Lakers hold the all-time record with a +12.28 point differential, barely edging out the 1970–71 Bucks (+12.26) and the 1995-96 Bulls (+12.24).
When it comes to the start of a season, Golden State has posted the best point differential through 16 games since the 1996–97 Bulls, who followed up a record-setting 72–win season by starting 17–1 en route to 69 wins and a second straight title.
Here’s how the Warriors stack up to the most dominant starts to a season through 16 games.
The Warriors have eclipsed the ’07–08 Celtics, who started 14–2 with a +216 differential, as the most dominant start of the post-Jordan era.
3. Better than last year
Few imagined that the Warriors would be able to match their 21–2 dream start to last year, especially when Kerr announced his leave of absence and starting center Andrew Bogut faced some early injury issues. Yet Golden State has managed to outpace itself so far thanks to largely to an offense that’s hit an even higher gear.
Through 15 games, Golden State’s offensive rating was a whopping 111.8, the best mark in the league. Last year, the Warriors’ offensive rating through 15 games was 106.8, as the players worked to get accustomed to Kerr’s new pass-heavy approach. Golden State wound up finishing second in offensive rating last season at 109.7.
The last team to post a better offensive rating for a season than Golden State’s current mark: the ’09–10 Suns at 112.7.
Open Floor Podcast: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek on facing Stephen Curry
4. Best passing start in 25 years
Two things have stood out about Golden State’s offensive success so far: the ball movement and the three-point shooting.
The Warriors’ free-flowing attack hit a new pinnacle when it recorded 28 assists on 30 baskets in the first half in a Nov. 6 119–104 win over the Nuggets. Entering Tuesday’s action, there were still nine teams that hadn’t registered 28 or more assists in an entire game this season!
But that performance wasn’t a one-hit wonder: Golden State has registered more assists through 16 games than any team in the last 25 years.
After beating the Lakers, the Warriors have accumulated 473 assists, besting the ’03–04 Kings (461 assists) for the most dimes dishes in the first 16 games of a season during the post-Jordan era. You have to go all the way back to the ’90-91 season to find a team that handed out more assists through 16 games than Golden State. Remarkably, the Warriors aren’t that far behind the “Showtime” Lakers on the list of teams with the most assists (through 16 games) during the last 30 years.
5. The most prolific three-point shooting start ever (team)
Golden State’s true calling card on offense, though, is its three-point shooting. In fact, the Warriors have hit more three-pointers through 16 games than any team in NBA history.
At this point last year, the Warriors had hit “only” 155 three-pointers, which tied them with the Clippers behind the Rockets (192) and Blazers (158).
6. The most prolific three-point shooting start ever (player)
Through 14 games, Curry personally had more three-pointers (71) than the Nets (70) and Timberwolves (66). Curry is on pace to hit 400 three-pointers this season, assuming he plays all 82 games, which would obliterate his own record of 286 three-pointers, set last season.
7. The most prolific scoring start in a decade
All those three-pointers have really added up. Curry has totaled 514 points, tying Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for the highest mark through 16 games since Allen Iverson in 2005-06 (544). Here's a look at the top scoring marks through 16 games of the three-point era.
Here’s how Iverson, Bryant and Curry, the top volume scorers on the list from the post-Jordan era, stack up.
- Iverson: 544 points on 405 shots, 45.2 FG%, 30.4 3P%
- Bryant: 514 points on 459 shots, 41.6 FG%, 25 3P%
- Curry: 514 points on 339 shots, 51.2 FG%, 43.1 3P%
From an efficiency standpoint, there isn’t much of a comparison.
Through 16 games, Curry is averaging 32.1 points per game. The last players to average more over a full season were Bryant (35.4 PPG) and Iverson (33 PPG) during that ’05–06 season.
8. The most lethal scoring start this season (easily)
Curry is in his own galaxy this season when it comes to shooting efficiency. The following chart shows the True Shooting % of the 20 players who have launched the most field goal attempts entering Tuesday. Note: True Shooting % takes a player’s three-point shooting and free throw shooting into account. Lights. Out. (Numbers through Monday's games.)
9. One of the most lethal scorers ever?
Curry’s True Shooting % theoretically has to come back to Earth at some point. Right?
Check out this chart, which shows all 13 players who have averaged at least 32 points per game during the three-point era and how they compared from a True Shooting perspective. (Numbers through Monday's games.)
This chart might best illustrate Curry’s transcendent power. While he can’t match peak–Jordan or peak–Bryant when it comes to pure scoring volume, his efficiency to date has been unlike anything ever produced by the league’s A-list scorers during the three-point era. Thunder forward Kevin Durant set a new high-water mark with a 63.5 TS% among high-volume scorers during his 2014 MVP campaign, in which he nearly shot 50/40/90, but Curry’s 68.2 TS% to date is shredding that mark.
10. The season’s best compliment
This never-before-seen potency from Curry, validated by last year’s title and reaching new heights so far this season, led Kevin Garnett, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, to drop the best compliment of the season so far.
“Like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing,” said Garnett, per ESPN.com. “It’s beautiful for basketball.”
11. The shot of the year?
Remarkably, Curry was not only the league’s leading scorer, entering Tuesday, but also its top-ranked player in terms of Player Efficiency Rating (33.6), Real Plus-Minus (+8.85) and Win Shares (3.8). He’s the early favorite to win 2016 MVP and there’s really no debate.
In addition to claiming a clean sweep of the advanced metrics, Curry might also have produced the best shot of the season to date with this leaning three-pointer against the Grizzlies.
Much like his weaving step-back three-pointer against the Clippers last season, this was vintage Curry in that it was spontaneous and skillful. Who needs a careful plan? Why shouldn’t he make it up as he goes along?
12. The league’s most devastating lineup
One prime reason for Curry’s success: the pieces around him have barely changed. Every Warriors player who has logged at least 100 minutes so far this season was on last year’s title team, and Bogut has been the only major rotation player to deal with injury issues to date.
This continuity has helped fuel Golden State’s consistency, and it has also spawned the league’s top lineup. The 2015 NBA Finals turned when Andre Iguodala replaced Bogut in the starting lineup, setting up the Warriors with a smaller, more versatile five-man group. That lineup—Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green—is back and better than ever.
Like last year, Walton has started big, using Bogut or Festus Ezeli as a traditional center. He has also used the smaller group judiciously: entering Tuesday, the group had played a total of just 56 minutes, making it Golden State’s fourth-most used lineup. But when Walton has needed big results late in games—during two comeback wins over the Clippers, for instance—the lineup has delivered massive results.
Indeed, the group is a league-best +81 in its 56 minutes together, blowing away all other groups to date (Detroit’s starters are second at +55). All told, the group has outscored its opponents 200–119, posting an offensive rating of 160.9 and a defensive rating of 90.
The level of dominance might diminish as the sample size increases, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a good way to stop this group. Offensively, Golden State lines up five capable outside shooters in formations that play to each player’s strengths (Iguodala and Barnes get to hang out in the corner for example). That spread look allows Curry to jaunt down the lane for layups and it allows Green to playmake and read the defense from the top of the key when teams try to pick up Curry early. Defensively, the group can switch all screens, it can pressure sideline to sideline, it can rebound effectively despite its smaller size thanks to its athleticism and energy, and it can protect the paint well enough thanks to Green. Perhaps most importantly, the lineup has the benefit of playing 111 minutes together during the 2015 playoffs, where it forged excellent chemistry on both ends.
13. The best moment
Golden State’s 119–69 demolition of Memphis on Nov. 2 set the tone for this record start. With that 50–point victory, just the sixth time in the past decade a team has won by 50 or more points, the Warriors announced their plans to defend their title with maximum ruthlessness.
But great teams always have their best moments when they are pushed hard. The Clippers twice mounted quality challenges, building significant leads over the Warriors at Oracle on Nov. 4 and at Staples Center on Nov. 19. Both times Golden State dug out of significant holes in the fourth quarter.
In that second showdown, the Warriors’ closing lineup went on a 20–3 run late in the fourth to erase a 23-point deficit and send some of the Clippers’ fans home early. It’s hard to top that.
14. The closest call
The drama might have been higher against the Clippers, but only one team has succeeded in taking the Warriors to overtime this season: the 3–11 Nets. Although Brooklyn entered Tuesday with the league’s second-worst point differential at -7.64, it had a shot to knock off the champs in regulation.
Unfortunately, Brook Lopez’s last-second, point-blank look off of an inbounds play rimmed off and Golden State handled its business in overtime. “Getting lucky” is a touchy subject in the Bay Area, but the Warriors were certainly fortunate on that one.
15. The secret weapon
If there’s been one under-discussed aspect of Golden State’s start, it has been the favorable nature of its schedule. Although the Warriors have had to deal with four sets of back-to-backs, they’ve enjoyed more home games than road games (9 to 7), no long road trips (the longest stretch away from Oracle has been two games), and, most importantly, a fairly weak set of opponents. Entering Tuesday, only two of the Warriors’ 16 opponents (Toronto and Chicago) were above .500, and both of those games were played in Oakland. Meanwhile, the Warriors have tallied seven wins against the West’s four biggest early-season disappointments (New Orleans, Houston, Memphis and the Clippers) and have yet to play a single game against the Cavaliers, Spurs or Thunder.
TeamRankings.com pegged the Warriors’ schedule as the seventh-weakest entering Tuesday. The rest of the league won’t need to wait long for things to even out. Golden State will head on Nov. 30 for a season-long seven-game road trip, and January will bring seven road games (including a visit to Cleveland) during a nine-game stretch.
16. The road ahead
It would be unfair to the Warriors to claim that 70 wins, or even an NBA-record 73 wins, is out of the question. As documented above, Golden State has earned the right to be in these conversations. Kerr’s approach this year is noteworthy. Last December, Kerr brushed off comparisons to the Jordan-led Bulls teams that he played on. This year, he’s willing to imagine, in an ESPN.com interview, the ’16 Warriors taking the ’96 Bulls down to the final shot. That says a lot.
Restraint is always a good idea, though, and this is no exception. To get to 73 wins, the Warriors would need to go 57–9 the rest of the way. Remarkably, that pencils out to a 70.8-win pace over an 82-game season.
In other words, despite their 16-0 start, the Warriors still need to play better than any team—besides the ’96 Bulls—from now until mid-April if they want to trump Jordan and company. That should be daunting, even to an unbeaten team that now owns the best start in NBA history.