- After Klay Thompson's brush with history Monday, Ben Golliver examines 10 NBA records and milestones the Warriors should gun for this season.
Thank goodness: The Warriors got bored of being bored.
While Golden State spent much of last fall whining about exhaustion and much of last spring hobbled by Stephen Curry's injury, the back-to-back champs are back with a vengeance. Entering Wednesday’s action, the Warriors rank first in points per game, offensive efficiency, and legendary performances.
The NBA calendar hasn’t even flipped to November yet, and already Curry has dropped 51 points in three quarters, Klay Thompson has scored 52 in three quarters, and Kevin Durant has torched the Knicks for a 25-point quarter en route to 41 on the night. Meanwhile, Golden State has already racked up four wins by 20+ points in its first eight games, highlighted by a 92-point first-half explosion against Chicago on Monday that marked the second-highest halftime scoring total in NBA history. Thompson capped off that humiliating Bulls victory by setting a new NBA record with 14 three-pointers, surpassing Curry’s 13.
The 2019 Warriors are looking an awful lot like the 73-win 2016 Warriors—joyous, overwhelming, in sync—but they have a few distinct advantages. First: Durant has joined the party, adding another dimension to the devastation. Second: The NBA’s pace and style of play, as well as recent rule changes, have created even more opportunities for up-and-down shootouts. Third: Their combination of watchability and sustained greatness has started to warp the collective understanding of sportsmanship.
Consider that Golden State was leading Chicago by 40+ points (!) in the second quarter, and yet most observers were rooting for coach Steve Kerr to keep force-feeding Thompson rather than respectfully emptying his bench. Indeed, the Warriors have even succeeded in raising the bar when it comes to on-court and bench antics since 2016; their nonstop onslaught of shimmies, convulsions and gesticulations is now par for the course, and it has fostered a new viewing environment. How many Bulls fans would have complained if Thompson had played in the fourth quarter and scored 75 points?
With these developments in mind, perhaps it’s time for the 2019 Warriors to push the boundaries even further. Thompson, who was mired in a shooting slump before his record-setting explosion in Chicago, proved that Golden State can make history on any given day. So, here are 10 NBA records and milestones that the Warriors should gun for this season.
No. 1: Most teammates with 50-point games in a season
Already during the season’s first eight games, both Curry and Thompson have notched 50-point games. It’s quite rare for two teammates to produce 50-point games in the same season: Only seven sets of teammates have done it during the three-point era, although Curry and Thompson previously accomplished the feat in 2015 (of course they did).
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last team to have three teammates score 50+ points in the same season was the 1962 Lakers with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Rudy LaRusso. This feels like a perfect opportunity to make history, as Durant, a four-time scoring champion, has 75 more chances to score 50+ points and match the Lakers’ feat.
For what it’s worth, Durant’s scoring has always been defined by his night-to-night consistency rather than his one-off explosions: He could well retire as a top-five all-time scorer, but his career-high is a “modest” 54 points and he has “just” five 50-point games to his name. (By comparison, LeBron James has 11 and James Harden has nine.)
Want to get truly wacky? Imagine if the Warriors did everything in their power to help a fourth player—say, DeMarcus Cousins once he returns—reach the 50-point threshold. Would a lottery team really be able to stop them if they tried? Cousins, by the way, already has two career 50-point games.
No. 2: Most three-pointers in a game by a player
Yes, Thompson just set this record on Monday with 14, surpassing Curry’s previous record of 13, which came against the Pelicans in 2016. Curry served as an enthusiastic cheerleader when Thompson broke his record, displaying selflessness that Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard said “encapsulates the Warriors, Steph and the culture Kerr promotes perfectly.” Of course, Curry coming back to reclaim his record would be a quintessentially Warriors thing to do too.
This record has the potential to go a lot higher, especially if Kerr displayed a looser leash in garbage time or if one of the league’s other offensive juggernauts could keep pace for a four-quarter shootout. After all, Thompson hit 14 threes in just 26 minutes. Curry has hit 13 threes in 36 minutes, 11 threes in 30 minutes and 10 threes in 26 minutes.
As Aaron Barzilai of Basketball Value noted, the Splash Brothers, at their peak levels, have displayed the ability to hit a three-pointer every two to three game minutes. If Curry had continued to hit threes at his peak threes/minute ratio over 40 minutes of gameplay, he would have hit 15 threes. If Thompson had kept up his record-setting pace and played 40 minutes against the Bulls, he would have hit 21 three-pointers!
Clearly, there are limiting factors at work here, including fatigue, Kerr’s desire not to embarrass an opponent, and the opposition’s defensive adjustments. But there has been a substantial uptick in the number of high-volume three-point games in recent years, and it really doesn’t feel like the Warriors have pushed this as far as they could yet.
No. 3: Most three-pointers in a game by a team
The NBA record for three-pointers in a game was set in 2017. Had to be the Warriors, right? Wrong. LeBron James and the Cavaliers hit 25 threes against the Hawks.
It might seem petty to suggest that Golden State should actively seek to bump its longtime rival from the record books, but Warriors/Cavaliers was always at its best when the pettiness was cranked up to 11. As it turns out, Golden State set its regular-season team record with 24 threes against Chicago on Monday. Considering that Kerr didn’t play a single player more than 28 minutes, the Warriors’ ceiling on this one could be close to 30 threes, couldn’t it?
Remarkably, Cleveland also holds the postseason record after hitting 25 threes against Atlanta in the 2016 Eastern Conference finals. Golden State’s postseason record is 21. Let’s call this fair warning for the Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Bucks or whomever winds up taking the Cavaliers’ place in the Finals.
No. 4: Most points in a game in franchise history
When Golden State dumped 92 first-half points on Chicago, it was flirting with serious history. The most points scored in any NBA game is 186 (Detroit needed three overtimes) and the most points scored in a regulation game was 173 (1959 Boston and 1990 Phoenix). At least for 24 minutes, the Warriors seemed poised to make a serious run at those seemingly untouchable standards.
Now, there’s still a considerable gap between 149 points, the most Golden State has scored under Kerr, and those numbers. But Golden State was on pace for 166 points through three quarters, a scoring total that would have ranked fifth all-time for a regulation game. And reaching the 160s shouldn’t be viewed as an impossibility, given that the Nuggets dropped 168 points on Durant’s SuperSonics in regulation during his rookie year.
Golden State should focus on two obvious mileposts: 162 points and 169 points. The first is the franchise’s record since moving to California in 1962, set by the Run TMC Warriors in 1990. The second is the Warriors’ all-time franchise record, set on the 1962 night that Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. If the Warriors buckle down and chase their franchise scoring record, they would unseat the most legendary scoring performance in NBA history. What more motivation do they need?
No. 5: Most three-pointers by a player for a season
This might be the most obvious item on the list, but it’s also going to be one of the major indicators that shapes Curry’s legacy. Right now, here’s how the leaderboard looks for most threes in a season.
1. 2016 Stephen Curry: 402
2. 2017 Stephen Curry: 324
3. 2015 Stephen Curry: 286
4. 2016 Klay Thompson: 276
5. 2013 Stephen Curry: 272
(Clarifying note: The top-five listed above covers all players in NBA history, not just Warriors and not just Splash Brothers.)
Entering Wednesday’s action, Curry is blowing away his own record-setting 2016 pace. Here’s how the all-time leaderboard looks for most threes in a season through eight games.
1. 2019 Stephen Curry: 48
2. 2016 Stephen Curry: 41
3. 2017 Stephen Curry: 36
If Curry maintains his current rate and enjoys perfect health, he would finish the year with 492 three-pointers. That gives him plenty of cushion to come back to earth and still surpass his 2016 standard.
No. 6: 82 points by a single player in a game
This is the trickiest one ethically, as it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Curry, Thompson or Durant could score 82 points in a game without needing to take tons of garbage–time shots. Counterpoint: Topping Kobe Bryant’s 81 points is the closest thing to an NBA Holy Grail, and one could argue that claiming a legend-for-life reputation would be worth embarrassing a less-talented opponent for 12-24 minutes.
Kerr has so far held a tight line when it comes to fourth-quarter massacres, but this is absolutely a case where he would be treated differently if he let one of his players chase 82 now compared to even three years ago. First, people would argue that such an outburst was “inevitable” given Golden State’s stacked roster. Second, Thompson (60 in three quarters) and Curry (51 in three quarters) have both been “denied” shots at it before. Third, Phoenix’s Devin Booker shamelessly chased 70 points in a 2017 loss, and received very little blowback. Fourth, millions of people really, really like Curry, Thompson and Durant, and they would love to see them do something that seemed impossible even as Bryant was doing it in 2006.
Given all those factors—and a history of guys chasing huge scoring nights in late-season games that dates to the 1970s—it’s a minor miracle that Kerr hasn’t cracked yet. Could this be the year?
No. 7: Thirteen players in double figures in the same game
If Kerr’s skin was crawling at the idea of a Kobe-style individual onslaught, let’s explore a “Strength in Numbers” alternative that should appeal to his egalitarian sensibilities. Multiple NBA teams have managed to get 10 different players into double-figure scoring in the same game, but what if the Warriors tried to get every player on their 13-man active roster to do it? Instead of force-feeding Curry or Thompson, they could adopt a family-style approach, making sure big men like Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell get to eat too.
For comparison’s sake, six Warriors scored 10+ points and 10 scored at least two points against the Bulls on Monday. On Sunday, though, the Clippers managed to get nine players into double figures and all 13 players to score at least two points in a blowout over the Wizards. L.A. did all that without a single perennial All-Star.
Let’s just stop for a moment and imagine how proud Kerr would be if the Warriors’ superstars methodically set up their role-playing teammates, one by one, until each of them had scored 10 points. Kerr would be beaming atop his high horse, and Golden State should really pursue this as the ultimate tribute to their coach.
No. 8: Establishing the 55/45/90 shooting club
On a recent The Ringer podcast, Bill Simmons imagined an MVP case for Curry that involved him shooting 55% from the field, 50% on threes and 90% from the free-throw line, thereby raising the bar from the traditional 50/40/90 shooting club. Needless to say, Curry would win the MVP unanimously for the second time if he managed to do that, given that he posted 50/45/90 shooting splits in 2016.
Curry’s shooting splits at present are a preposterous 54/51/92. But given his high volume of threes and the fact that his career-high three-point percentage is 45%, it’s difficult to envision him hitting the second portion of Simmons’s hypothetical 55/50/90 club.
However, a 55/45/90 shooting season would not only top Curry’s best work in 2016, it would be the only 55/45/90 shooting season in league history. Steve Nash never did that. Larry Bird never did that. Durant never did that. Dirk Nowitzki never did that. Reggie Miller never did that. What better way for Curry to flex his shooting superiority than to create a club of one that puts the longstanding 50/40/90 club to shame?
Curry could make a serious run at this one, as he’s playing peak-level basketball and benefiting from the league’s crackdown on holding and grabbing. He’s even more difficult to guard one-on-one than in previous seasons, and he’s finishing a career-best 69% of his attempts from within three feet so far this season.
No. 9: Best team offensive rating for a season
Here’s one for the dorks. Despite all the (justified) hand-wringing over Durant’s acclimation into a Curry-led offense, the 2017 Warriors posted a higher offensive efficiency rating (115.6) than the 2016 Warriors (114.5). While the 73-win team is often remembered as peak Warriors, the Durant/Curry partnership sustained a more devastating campaign—start to finish—in their first year together.
But there’s a catch: the 2017 Warriors “only” tied the 1987 Lakers for the best offensive rating since the ABA/NBA merger. Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” express wasn’t about to go quietly into the night. That could change this year, though, as Golden State’s offensive rating through eight games is a preposterous 121.7. Good health for their superstars should be enough to break this annoying tie and carry the Warriors to the undisputed “Greatest Offense Ever” title.
No. 10: Most wins in a season
Well, it was pretty awesome the last time they did it.