EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Warriors provide Suns elite test: Here’s how Golden State started 18-2

Nov 29, 2021, 5:10 PM | Updated: Nov 30, 2021, 7:35 am
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass the ball away from Jae Crowder #99 of ...
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass the ball away from Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Chase Center on May 11, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The main factor in the Golden State Warriors’ NBA-best start of 18-2 is what the Phoenix Suns hope they are creating their own version of.

Through a culture and team-friendly style of play that has been established since head coach Steve Kerr arrived in 2014, Golden State has the league’s top foundation. Even when Kevin Durant left and even without Klay Thompson, they are still a massive threat because of it.

There was no grand roster acquisition last offseason. The Warriors just clicked at a certain point in April with what they’ve got, added a few supplementary pieces and haven’t looked back.

It’s a high-end outcome when it comes to the benefits of that culture, but those bonuses are what the Suns should receive, thanks to head coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones.

While the Suns were toiling away in irrelevancy, the Warriors were winning championships, so when you think about it, it’s cool that we get to see a great Phoenix team face that core of Golden State still in possession of some of its powers.

It all comes to a head on Tuesday in Phoenix with the biggest game of the NBA’s regular season thus far. The Suns at 17-3 are riding a 16-game winning streak, and can tie the franchise record of 17. It’s fitting they’ll have to do it against, at the moment, their prime competition in the Western Conference.

The Warriors’ numbers with defense and ball movement frighteningly match up with those juggernauts of last decade.

Their 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions is nearly three points higher than any other defensive rating, and Golden State assisting 70.6% of its baskets is over 6% more than the team in second.

Looking at the title without Durant in 2015, their defensive rating was a league-best 100.4 and an assist percentage of 65.9% was first. That 70.6% mark this season would be the highest in the last 15 years, right next to the second-best mark of 70.5% set by … the 2016-17 Warriors.

If we zoom out and analyze the roster, it’s really impressive what Golden State has done to build around Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, who will return at some point this season. And the first two are back in form, with Curry in the discussion for the league’s current No. 1 player and Green making it zero discussion about who is the NBA’s best defender (it’s him).

Their second- and third-leading scorers are Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole. Before becoming a Warrior, Wiggins was an overpaid, inefficient scorer and Poole was a potential heat-check combo guard picked on the first round bubble of the 2019 NBA Draft.

But both do enough Warriors things and have grown in that ecosystem to make it work. Wiggins is shooting a career-best 49.7% from the field on 19.0 points per game while Poole adds 18.1, albeit on a worse percentage of 44.9%.

It’s crucially enough juice on the ball to give Curry some relief, which is where the thinking was with the D’Angelo Russell acquisition a few years back.

A few offensive categories stick out that help fill in the margins just enough to make it a great offense again, even without Thompson.

On the 15.3 shots per game Golden State gets off drives, it’s tied for the league lead in FG% at 58.2%, per NBA.com. That’s thanks to the heavy lifting of Curry (52.0%), Poole (56.8%) and Wiggins (49.1%).

Poole is one of the best in the league right now at it and Wiggins has had those chops since he was selected first overall in 2014.

It does not come without its faults, though, as Golden State ranks 27th in the percentage of its possessions that result in turnovers. Wiggins commits 1.8 a night, giving him a negative assist-to-turnover ratio due to his low 1.6 assists number, while Poole is flirting with that at a 3.4-2.4 ratio.

Curry and Green have always been prone to mistakes, so combine those and you get 17.5 points off turnovers for the opposition per game, 22nd leaguewide. Keep an eye on that number Tuesday.

But how about off the ball?

Looking at NBA.com’s play type data, the Warriors are easily number one in the percentage of their shots that come via cuts and also off-ball screens too.

On cuts, center Kevon Looney, guard Gary Payton II, Green and Wiggins make Golden State the only team with at least three players averaging two points per game off a cut. And yes, you counted correctly. That’s four.

Off-ball screens are obviously where it’s all Curry, as his 5.8 points a night off it is laughably in range of doubling the guy in second (Sacramento’s Buddy Hield at 3.3). But one of the 12 other guys getting at least two points a night through off-ball screens is Poole, where he’s really provided another threat.

That makes them even more dynamic when Thompson comes back. He’s the guy that usually leads the league in that number Curry singlehandedly dominates right now.

Quickly switching to defense, the Warriors give up a league-low 26.0% of their shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass. Logically, that makes them first in the opposition’s points in the paint per game, at 39.6, and the Suns’ 48.5 for their own points in the paint average is sixth. That’s a key tidbit because of a 6-foot-9 Looney being Golden State’s only big man, so Phoenix getting something out of Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee is a key element of the matchup.

To go back to margins, Golden State maximizes them in that terrific defense by being third in their opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage and turnover percentage. They limit extra possessions and create more for themselves.

I could go on with more and more. The Warriors are an excellent basketball team, and I foresee a product on the court that has them and the Suns bringing the best out of one another. They mirror each other in a few different aspects, and taking an opportunity to speak for basketball fans, hopefully this is the kickoff point to a rivalry that develops over the next few years.

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