When the Golden State Warriors weren’t planet-eating this summer (re: signing Kevin Durant), they were doing some low-level whining about the narratives surrounding their team. Like “planet-eating.”
You know, that “you guys have a job to do” lefthanded compliment/commentary that lets us all know that their real nature would never be revealed by the bombardment of stories about how they had changed themselves, the nature of their business, the culture of American sport and Draymond Green’s wayward legs.
[POOLE: Warriors first-quarter report card: Only two solid A's]
But now we’re a quarter into their season, and that seems as good a time to pander to the brand . . . err, examine who they really are in the one place where there is least debate. The floor.
So with the other two uber-Warrior teams as a comparison point, let us wallow in the shallow end.
THIS IS THE WORST TEAM: Their 21-game record is 18-3, which is three games worse than last year, and a game worse than 2014-2015. Math all you want, but 18 is less than 19 or 21. Plus, they didn’t even have the best record in the league for the first month of the season. Lesson? They changed too much.
THIS IS THE MOST DOMINANT TEAM: The current margin of victory per game is 14.04, down from 14.90 a year ago but up from the 11.19 of the title year. In another way, though, they are crushing teams with greater facility, with nine of their 18 wins coming by 20 or more points – as many as they have had in the last three years combined. Lesson: After the anticipated adjustment period, they’re figuring it out.
THIS IS THE MOST DETESTABLE TEAM: Winning the Durant sweepstakes was supposed to make them nationally loathed, the league’s new villain du jour, and maybe winning by 23, 26, 21, 24, 37, 43, 24, 29 and 36 sucks the joy out of an athletic contest, thereby making them even more hateable. Lesson? People will be weary of this.
THIS IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE TEAM: More of a qualitative argument, but every game promises more difficult-to-conceive moments than the one before. Monday night, Klay Thompson, whose shooting has been occasionally worrisome and who said in the offseason that he wouldn’t defer to any new pecking order, went for 60 in three quarters, and didn’t touch the ball on the most amazing play of the season so far – Zaza Pachulia wins a jump ball, tips to Draymond Green, who throws a home run ball to Stephen Curry who flips it high into the air for Kevin Durant to follow and slam. Eighty-five feet, no dribbles, and a GIF to keep your children quiet when you just want to enjoy a beer.
THIS IS THE MOST COHESIVE TEAM: After the expected fitful start, in which they managed to lose by 29 on Opening Night to San Antonio and 20 in Los Angeles (to the Lakers, no less) 11 days later, their assist-to-turnover ratio is an absurd 2.15 (32.4 assists, 14.9 turnovers), well up from 2015 (1.67) and 2016 (1.84). They are taking better care of the basketball, and are more active at sharing it.
THIS IS THE WORST DEFENSIVE TEAM: A lot happens to one’s defensive concentration when the opponent has been consumed by your offense, so this is a bit deceptive, but the raw numbers indicate that this team is living on points rather than points allowed. The defense rating has risen from 101.4 (first in 2015) to 104.7 (ninth now), for a team Steve Kerr has always touted for its devotion to the other end of the court, but the offense has gone from 110 (first) to 114.9 (first) to 118.2 (first).
THIS IS A HAPPY TEAM: They seem genuinely happy when one of theirs has a game (say, Thompson’s Monday night), and have either no agendas or have kept what agendas exist on the very downest of lows. In sum, lots of smiles, but if you can’t smile when you win games by an average of five threes per game, then you’re just a drag to be around. Unhappy happens with unhappy results. Plus, who can’t smile with Zaza Pachulia around? To quote a greater man about a greater man, “a certain magic still lingers in the very name.”
THIS IS A TEAM WITH INSUFFICIENT DRAMA PER COLUMN INCH/MINUTE OF VIDEO: Other than Green’s daily dance on the razor wire with the officials and Joe Lacob popping up from time to time as the FTD delivery man, what’s the problem? Do they run up scores? Do they dance a lot in victory? Are they overloved by the media? Underloved by the nation? Too girly basketball? Not girly basketball enough? Just the right amount of girly basketball? Frankly, most of the coverage strategy about this team falls under, “They exist, therefore we must record their existence.” The bulk of their drama comes with people saying things about them, and them contriving those things into a slight worthy of a motivational response. That’s not really drama in the classic, or even tabloid sense.
This differs from 2014-5, when they were the freshest item on the menu, and 2015-6, when . . . well, when they were a lot like they are now, only without Durant.
In short, 21 games in, the Warriors are better and worse and more dominant on offense and less consistently devoted on defense and more generous and less careless with the ball and about as likable or dislikable as we speculated they would be in October – because we’ve speculated about every possibility, and we’ll keep doping it because the beast is endlessly hungry and must be fed.