Hot Take: The 2021-22 Warriors Are The Best Warriors Team of All Time
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Originally written on November 30th, prior to the Warriors' loss vs. the Phoenix Suns. Content, including statistics has not been adjusted since.
At the season’s quarter mark, the Golden State Warriors find themselves at the top of the NBA again, sitting at 18-2. Before the season started, nobody expected the Warriors to even touch the top of the western conference, especially considering their fall out of the playoffs last year with play-in losses to the Lakers and the Grizzlies.
Before the season, the media was heavily focused on the new Lakers “super team” with their addition of Russell Westbrook. On opening night, the Warriors shocked the nation and took them down behind a triple-double from Stephen Curry. If the Lakers were not to top the conference, many would look to their cross-town rivals, the Clippers, who the Warriors have already beaten twice in the young season. Alternatively, many fans consider the Nets as the best team in the NBA. The Warriors defense was able to limit Kevin Durant, an early season favorite for MVP, to only 19 points -- his lowest of the season in their 117-99 victory. Steph Curry scored 37 points, shooting 9 for 14 from the three-point line and Draymond Green looked like the Defensive Player of the Year guarding Durant.
In the last ten years, the Warriors have been the NBA’s most dominant franchise. They’ve won three NBA championships, went to the NBA Finals five straight times, set the record for most consecutive wins to start a season (24-0), became the first team to start the playoffs 15-0 (coming only one game from completing a perfect postseason), and also broke the record for the most wins in a regular season (73-9), a record that may not get broken for a long time.
This year’s Warriors team might not compare on paper to previous star-studded rosters with the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and DeMarcus Cousins. Those five players, who at one point all played on the court simultaneously, combine for three MVP awards, 30 All Star Game appearances, 22 All-NBA selections, and one DPOY award.
Let’s compare the stats between this year’s Warriors team and the record-breaking team from 2015-16. Keep in mind, this year’s Warriors team is coming off of a two year playoff drought while the 2015-16 team was coming off of a championship.
This year’s team has an average margin of victory of 13.7 points, while the record-breakers had a margin of victory of 10.8 points. This year’s team has a net offensive-defensive rating of +13.6, compared to +10.7 in 2016. This year’s team is stronger defensively, forcing 16.4 turnovers a game compared to 14.5. This year’s team plays at a faster pace, averaging nearly 100 possessions a game. The only upper-hand that the 2016 team has is better shooting numbers, mostly due to Stephen Curry, who became the league’s first ever unanimous MVP, joining the 50-40-90 club (at least 50% FG%, 40% 3P%, 90% FT%).
Last year, Curry averaged a career-high 32 points per game and almost took home his third MVP award as he carried the Warriors from the league’s worst team in 2020 to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. However, last year’s team was ultra dependent on Curry, and the Warriors w
ere nearly guaranteed to lose if Curry did not play to his usual superstar level. Even though their roster has stayed largely similar, the Warriors have changed this narrative with some key additions and growth from within.
The Warriors have forged newfound offensive impacts from Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. The pair averages nearly 40 points a game, only around eight points less than the combined production of Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green in 2016. However, this Warriors team has won a majority of their games via suffocating defense. Excluding overtime, the Warriors have held exactly half of their opponents to less than 100 points in a single game.
One name has been notably missing from most of this article so far. Possibly the craziest stat is that the Warriors have done all of this without Klay Thompson, Curry’s right hand man who consistently averaged 20 points as the second or third option throughout the Warriors’ five year span of championship runs. Klay’s impact has been dearly missed, but the Warriors front office have made a number of great decisions to help alleviate his absence.
In 2020, the Warriors traded D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans III, and Omari Spellman for Andrew Wiggins, and 2021 first and second round picks. The Warriors offloaded D’Angelo Russell for a struggling Andrew Wiggins on an unfavorable contract and received a first round pick in order to take on Wiggins’ massive deal. Considering Russell wasn’t a great fit with Curry and they effectively received him for free as part of Kevin Durant’s sign-and-trade deal to join the Brooklyn Nets, the trade was considered a win anyway as the Warriors really needed help on the wing in the absences of Thompson and Durant.
One year later, the Warriors have come up as massive winners of the deal, as Wiggins has transformed his play into a much more confident, aggressive slashing style that had him drafted first overall in 2014. The Warriors also ended up receiving the 7th overall pick in the 2021 draft, selecting Jonathan Kuminga, who has not received much playing time due to the Warriors’ loaded bench but has shown flashes of stardom when he gets the chance to step on the court. Wiggins took a massive step this season, and has become better than the wing that the Warriors desperately needed when they traded for him. They also benefit from the talents of Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica, two free agency pickups that have not only provided great depth, but have also shown their ability to get hot and contribute with double-digit scoring in limited minutes.
The Warriors have also been without James Wiseman, the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, which gets me to my favorite signing of the past year. This offseason, the Warriors signed Serbian coach Dejan Milojević to their staff. Most fans would glaze over this, but Milojević has a very interesting line on his resume. He coached Nikola Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP, in eastern Europe’s Adriatic League from 2012-2015, transforming Jokic from a fat teenager into their league MVP. Throughout Jokic’s NBA career, he has credited Milojević for teaching him how to become the dominant player he is today and counseling him through his early years in the NBA. Now, James Wiseman gets to work with Milojević and the Warriors’ future looks incredibly bright as they might have the league’s next dominant center sitting in the sidelines.
Although Wiseman has been injured, Milojević’s impact has already been seen within the Warriors. Bjelica has had Jokic-esque performances, demonstrating the confidence to take difficult shots and the passing ability that allows the Warriors to stretch the floor and create space for their shooters, eerily similar to the way the Nuggets utilize Jokic. Kevon Looney, the Warriors starting center in Wiseman’s absence, has also seen a tremendous improvement, which can be attributed to Milojević’s coaching. He has looked amazing running the pick and roll with Curry, and has found himself positioning himself better than he ever has on the court, as he’s getting to the rim more consistently than he has in years and finds himself with a career high in rebounds.
Gary Payton II’s contributions off the bench can similarly not be ignored. He has quickly become a favorite amongst Warrior fans, and although he might only average around 14 minutes a game, he’s been a lockdown defender and has gone viral for pickpocketing Zach Lavine and finishing with a highlight dunk on the fastbreak two separate times. Payton II was the last man to make the roster in training camp and has proven his value to the league and everybody who overlooked him. The Mitten’s (a play on his father’s nickname, The Glove) perimeter defense has been one of the biggest reasons for why the Warriors have the best defense in the NBA.
The Warriors may only be a quarter of the way through their season, but so far they are statistically better than they were in 2016. Some may argue that it’s hard to play at such a high level for the entire season, and they’re definitely right. Their opponents will improve, gain more chemistry, and start to have a better feel for the game once midseason hits. However, the Warriors will also benefit from these factors, and no team will make any moves better than adding Klay Thompson and James Wiseman. If any team is set to grow and stay stable throughout the year, it will be the Warriors with the veteran leadership of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Igoudala. This core has already been successful in chasing history before, and they might be better equipped than ever to do it again.
The Warriors will travel to face the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, who have tied a franchise record with 16 straight wins and miraculously sit one game behind the Warriors at 17-3. These heavyweights will battle for the first time this season in what could be an early preview of the Western Conference Finals if things hold in the West.