The Golden State Warriors have two losses in 13 games so far in the 2021-22 season, and they’re the kind of losses that, when set against a team’s wins, tend to indicate a team that’s as good as their early-season surge.
That is to say, after losing at Charlotte Sunday to drop to 11-2, the Dubs’ combined margin of defeat in the two losses is just seven, while 10 of their 11 wins were by at least seven points and eight were by double digits.
Before the Hornets game—which, it should be noted, was the second game of a back-to-back after flying cross-country following a Saturday night 26-point win over the 8-4 Chicago Bulls—the Warriors carried a mind-blowing plus-14.3 Net Rating that is better than the plus-11.6 mark they put up in the 2017 season, their best by advanced stats and the first year they had Kevin Durant.
Charlotte was a schedule loss. Only a miracle gives even good teams wins on back-to-backs after a cross-country flight. The schedule-makers did Golden State dirty. They still lost by only four.
But at the same time, the Warriors have the lowest strength of schedule of any team in the entire NBA so far. Sure, they beat the Lakers on opening night when LeBron James played, they beat the Clippers two days later, and they just bumped off Chicago, all teams that, if the season ended today, would be no worse than seventh in their respective conferences—and the West seventh-place Lakers have struggled with injuries and the stink-out-the-joint play of Russell Westbrook without LeBron in the lineup.
And when they have faced lousy teams, they’ve tended to beat them bloody. You play the teams on your schedule, and Golden State beat Charlotte by 22 at home, walloped Minnesota and Houston by 13 each, crushed New Orleans by 41, and beat Oklahoma City on the road by 8 and at home by 21.
That’s what good teams do. They mash bad teams, and when they lose, they lose close. Memphis beat the Warriors by three points and—again, this was a back-to-back after a cross-country flight!—Charlotte won by four.
ED. NOTE: The Bulls game was Friday night, not Saturday. The fact does still remain that the Warriors had a cross-country flight on a travel day.
In that Hornets game, the Warriors simply couldn’t find their shot. They went 9-of-39 from 3-point range, with Stephen Curry going just 3-of-13. Curry was plus-14, so even though he couldn’t find his shot, he was still able to contribute, adding 10 assists to his 24 points on the night.
A team like the Warriors—who struggled in awful fashion in 2020 and 2021 after Durant left and while Klay Thompson recovered from a blown ACL in the 2019 Finals and a busted Achilles that kept him out of the 2021 season—isn’t supposed to be this good this fast, especially considering Thompson’s still on the shelf recovering from that heel injury before he can play again.
The Warriors didn’t even have Andrew Wiggins until he finally decided to get the COVID vaccine so he’d be eligible to play for the team. Wiggins is over .100 WS/48 for the first time in his career—he was at .143 coming into the Hornets game and shot 12-of-19 to presumably satisfy the advanced stat gods for another night. He’s still on exactly zero VORP, in part because he’s still hot garbage defensively, but we’re talking about a guy who was one of the worst players in the league in Minnesota, especially when comparing his stats to his salary.
There are, of course, massive questions for the Warriors. Thompson hasn’t been able to play in two years and he’ll be 32 in February. Will he still have the timing on his shot when he comes back, and will he still be able to play defense at the level he did during the championship years?
Along the same lines, Curry has been injury-prone since at least 2016 and he’s going to be 34 when the playoffs come around.
And you can’t sell me on Wiggins—until he plays even a lick of defense he’ll always be nothing but a one-dimensional player out there, the kind who can only be the second-best player on the kind of team that beats up bad teams.
But at the same time, this is a team that has three wins over good teams and a whole lot of blowout wins over bad ones. If, indeed, the adage holds true that great teams win big and lose close, the Warriors are a great team.
But man, this is one gigantic enigma of a team off to a hot start.