We don’t often associate passing with the sport of basketball. Yes, it’s an integral part of the game, often providing flashy highlights and can be the focal point of offensive success, but it’s not as discussed as, let’s say, three-point shooting or rebounding.
Passing is an attribute often overlooked for even the greatest of players. LeBron James, for example, has incredible court vision and can make seemingly any pass, yet most fans of the game tend to overlook these abilities (which he can execute at an elite level). The Gasol brothers, Joakim Noah and Greg Monroe are some of the best passing big men in the game today — but points, rebounds and blocks are the figures that dominate headlines.
Coaching, pace, matchups and roster makeup all affect a team’s ability to successfully and consistently pass during a game. The Warriors, already having one of the better passing rosters in the league, acquired veteran Andre Iguodala to not only solidify their defense but to ask as their backup point guard when needed.
The addition of Iguodala this offseason almost felt like an afterthought after the Warriors tried and failed to sign their main target, center Dwight Howard. While there were rumblings that Howard was intrigued by the Warriors — even more so after the Iguodala pickup– the rumors never transferred to anything concrete. If Howard was in fact excited by the addition of Iguodala, Warriors fans are now seeing why.
The abilities of the tenth-year swingman from Arizona are that of a point guard, yet the physical gifts are that of an NFL tight end. I’m hesitant to compare anyone to LeBron James, but the combination of both basketball instincts and body type are similar to those of the four-time MVP. Iguodala has already proven himself to be much more than a mere consolation prize.
Since the days of Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis, the Warriors have carried the reputation of being a team with highly entertaining talent but without real goals. They were a team that warranted attention on television but not in the standings. Now, and for years to come, the Warriors deserve both.
Five games into the season, the Warriors — with the help of their aforementioned unselfishness and balanced offense — have become the most efficient offensive team in basketball.
The Warriors are no strangers to a fast-paced, high output, entertaining style of play. That’s what made them the darlings of the NBA back in 2007 and it’s why they’re generally considered the most entertaining team in the league now. While those exciting teams of the Warriors past often led to nothing beyond the month of April, today’s team has aspirations for playoff success.
Statistics have never been the Warriors’ friend. Their style of play never constituted the need for statistics because they were never considered important for previous Warriors teams. The motto seemingly was always “Have fun and score more points than the opponent.” As Charles Barkley so eloquently put it back in 2010:
“I don’t like the way that Golden State plays. They play like a playground basketball (team). They play like the Phoenix Suns used to, just trying to outscore you. Their numbers are always going to be better than they should be. They just try to outscore you, they don’t try to win and that’s what Phoenix did a couple of years ago.”
While this was true, it’s far from the truth now. The Warriors are winning games not just by outscoring opponents, but by beating them to a pulp on both ends. In their four victories this season, the Warriors have won by an average of 12.8 points per game – a margin which leads the NBA. During this early stretch of games, the Warriors are second in the league in defensive efficiency (90.6) and second in true shooting percentage (60.8%) — trailing only the Miami Heat in the latter.
In fact, the Warriors are the only team in the league in the Top-6 in both offensive and defensive rating.
The national moniker is always slow to adapt, and it will take the Warriors many more games to garner the attention they deserve for their defensive efforts. Their offensive output is still elite — 104.7 PPG is good for eighth in the league — but while in previous seasons this was very much a product of scoring talent(s) and selfish basketball, this season’s output is much more based on their efforts on the defensive side, pace and fantastic ball movement.
The maturation of point guard Stephen Curry has paved the way for a much more balanced offense. Entering the league, Curry carried the talents of a point guard and the instincts of a shooting guard. While the Warriors don’t mind him shooting, the Davidson guard had to learn how to properly run an offense before being truly considered their franchise centerpiece.
Safe to say he’s earned that title now.
Curry trails only Chris Paul and John Wall in assists per game, averaging a career high 9.2 assists per game. While Curry is still shooting 50% from the field and 46% from three, it’s his ability to find teammates that has been the most impressive. Iguodala gives him one of the best slashers in basketball and David Lee gives him a pick and roll machine. Combine that with the shooting of Klay Thompson, improved spacing and tremendous passing skills and Golden State has a dramatically improved Curry and historically efficient Warriors offense.
The best teams are the most unselfish ones, and the Warriors have one of the most unselfish cores in the league. Making one pass too many is much better than one pass too few, and this team is filled with willing and capable passers both in the backcourt and frontcourt. Whether it’s Curry off a high pick and roll or Bogut from the low block, this team can dish the basketball from any position. The days of the shot clock killing, isolation possessions are over.
As the Warriors embark on a tough doubleheader this weekend and face the Oklahoma City Thunder next Thursday at Oracle, truer tests will be at hand. But for now, the Warriors look elite on both ends, and not too many teams can say that.