In the first quarter of a win over the Orlando Magic this week, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry made a sloppy turnover in the backcourt that led to an Orlando layup.
Curry promptly took the inbounds pass, dribbled up-court under pressure from Magic guard Gary Harris (long known as a solid, veteran defender), and matter-of-factly sank a contested halfcourt runner at the buzzer.
Scenes like that are of course not out of the ordinary throughout Curry’s career, but what has returned this season is Golden State’s uncanny ability to overwhelm and break the spirit of teams they’re playing against. Two straight seasons of missing the playoffs and serious injuries to Curry and Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant departing in free agency, and Draymond Green struggling through some shooting issues and minor injuries himself, it appeared the Warriors championship window was just about closed.
In the offseason, when the Warriors failed to package last year’s lottery pick James Wiseman and two lottery picks this season into an additional star player, it appeared that Golden State, if they could keep everyone healthy, would possibly compete for a playoff spot but not necessarily a championship.
Golden State has proven that theory wrong so far, though as evidenced by a serious rise in the NBA futures market. The Warriors started the season by winning 20 of their first 24 games and are tied with Phoenix for the best record in the league. Curry is playing like an MVP. He’s second in the league in scoring at 27.7 points per game and is just 10 three-pointers away from surpassing Ray Allen on the NBA’s all-time three-pointers made list.
The scary thing for the rest of the league is that the Warriors aren’t even at full strength yet. Thompson is nearing his return to the lineup but hasn’t played yet, and Wiseman has also yet to see the floor while he recovers from an injury. Both will significantly bolster the team’s depth when they are back in the lineup.
But along with Curry’s continued brilliance, here are three other reasons the Warriors look like a favorite to win the championship right now.
Draymond Green Has Found His Shooting Touch
Green’s lack of confidence in his perimeter shot the last few seasons has been no secret. He’s passed up plenty of open looks and in some cases, his unwillingness to even take open threes has made the Warriors a much easier team to defend. This season, Green isn’t shooting great from the perimeter, but he’s hitting 32 percent of his threes, which would be his highest percentage since 2016.
He’s been efficient inside the three-point line, making 56 percent of his shots overall, which would be by far the best percentage of his career — he’s never shot over 50 percent for a full season in his career.
Green remains a do-it-all force and a key figure in both Golden State’s offense and defense. He’s averaging 8 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, a block, and a steal per game and entered the season in great shape, which has been a huge advantage for the Warriors. Green has developed a habit in recent years of starting the season slow as he plays his way into shape.
And Speaking of the Defense …
A healthy Green has meant that a trademark element of Golden State’s championship teams has returned — a smothering defense.
Green is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he has not been the only one helping the Warriors dominate. The team leads the league in fewest points allowed per game, they’re holding opponents to just 42 percent shooting overall (best in the league), and 32 percent three-point shooting (second-best in the league).
Andrew Wiggins has been a strong perimeter presence, Kevon Looney protects the rim and is athletic enough to switch onto smaller, faster players on the perimeter, and Gary Payton Jr has been a major find with both his defense and his exciting finishing ability on offense. Adding Thompson, who was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league prior to his injury, and Wiseman’s shot-blocking ability back to the lineup should only make this defense scarier.
They’ve Found a Bench
Golden State has done a good job of patching together some depth. Wiggins has found a great niche on the team as a defensive presence and complementary offensive force. He’s averaging 19 points per game and making 42 percent of his threes.
Jordan Poole has stepped into the starting lineup while Thompson recovers and has had big scoring games. His perimeter shooting has cooled a bit, but he’s averaging 18 points per game.
Veterans Otto Porter Jr and Nemanja Bjelica have both provided reliable scoring off the bench, Payton has emerged as one of the best finishers for his size in the league, and rookie first round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have even received some minutes here and there to help with their development.
Depth was a huge question for the team entering the season, and it has become a strength so far. It also should allow Golden State to strategically rest veterans in preparation for the playoffs.