Everything’s going swimmingly for the Golden State Warriors, who have the league’s best record (10-1), best defensive rating (99.2), best net rating (plus-13.1) and best vibes (immaculate). Hours before they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 123-110 on Wednesday, team owner Joe Lacob appeared on 95.7 The Game’s “The Morning Roast” to celebrate the strong start.
“I mean, it’s back, baby!” Lacob said, about nine minutes into the lengthy interview. “That’s all I can say. We’re back! And it’s exciting. And you can feel it. This feels like 2014-15 to me. And I think it does to a lot of other people, too. I mean, we’ve got a really unique team, very deep. We’ve got all the passing going on, all the ball movement, the Steve Kerr system, everything’s feeling good. And we just need to keep the injuries away and continue to do it.”
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You might remember 2014-15 as the season when the Warriors became the best show in sports. It was Steve Kerr’s first season as coach, Stephen Curry’s first MVP season and the franchise’s first championship season since 1975. They went 67-15, with a plus-9.9 net rating, finishing second in offense and first in defense, which is about where they are right now. (Golden State’s offense ranks third, behind the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers, but its halfcourt offense and effective field goal percentage are both No. 1, per Cleaning The Glass.)
That the Warriors have managed this without Klay Thompson is a testament to their offseason and the way they grew over the course of the 2020-21 season. From April 10 onward, they went 15-5, with the league’s top defense and top net rating, while scoring a blistering 120.1 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green on the court. Having learned from prior mistakes — Lacob said in the interview that, for “a couple of the players that we brought in,” the fit “wasn’t quite right” — the front office targeted high-IQ veterans who would be able to play Golden State’s way. Andre Iguodala is back, and newcomers Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. look like they’ve been in this system for years.
“We got the right guys in the offseason,” Lacob said.
Lacob also made a point of shouting out Gary Payton II, the soon-to-be 29-year-old journeyman who logged 40 minutes for the Warriors late last season after a G League call-up and has since earned not only their 15th roster spot but a regular rotation role. Payton has been a revelation as a point-of-attack defender, short-roll playmaker and off-ball cutter. He might also be the first 6-foot-3 vertical spacer in NBA history.
Back when Golden State was storming through the league for the first time, it still had its skeptics. Some wondered if the Warriors’ style of play, based on ball movement, player movement and misdirection, would be viable in the playoffs, when the game typically slows down and gets more physical. Others simply thought they were too reliant on jump shooting. This time around, there should not be any question about whether or not the Warriors can win this way. To the degree that they have anything to prove, it’s now about whether or not they can peak at the right time.
Will they be able to integrate second-year center James Wiseman when he’s healthy? What will they get out of Thompson this season? Can Curry and Green (and Porter and Iguodala and Bjelica and Kevon Looney) stay healthy? How will the emerging Jordan Poole handle playoff pressure? None of these questions can be answered yet, but, there is indeed a distinctly 2014-15 feeling to this group early on. Unlike recent iterations of the team, these Warriors are not weighed down by expectations or limited by their roster, and there’s not a single team in the NBA that appears to be having more fun.
All of this guarantees precisely nothing 11 games into the season. It does, however, suggest that there’s a chance that this is the start of something special. Lacob has a history of bold statements, but all he’s doing now is stating the obvious.