When the Golden State Warriors added the superstar Kevin Durant to the greatest regular-season team in N.B.A. history, the general reaction was that the season was effectively over. Fans, sportswriters and even opposing players began to speculate on how many more titles the Warriors would win and how many records they would break.
But with the N.B.A. season about half over, it has not worked out quite as expected for the Warriors. The team has the best record in the N.B.A., but has amassed seven losses, compared with nine in all of last season. On Monday night, they lost, 105-102, to the Miami Heat, who are enduring a miserable season at 15-30.
Klay Thompson was 8 for 18, Stephen Curry was 7 for 19 and the Warriors allowed Dion Waiters, who is averaging 14.6 points a game, to match his career high with 33.
Golden State’s 38-7 record is outstanding, but the preseason bar was ridiculously high: Normally unexcitable observers were saying Golden State would be virtually unbeatable with Durant.
It would have been hard to believe a year ago, but the Warriors are not even the team creating the most excitement in the N.B.A. this season. Russell Westbrook’s sensational run of triple-doubles has made the Oklahoma City Thunder the season’s must-watch team, despite its flaws.
So what’s wrong with the Warriors?
The team’s fundamental numbers are holding up. The Warriors are scoring 116 points for every 100 possessions, up from 114.5. That’s the best figure in the N.B.A. in decades. Their defensive figure is down only slightly, from 103.8 to 103.4. Their effective field-goal percentage, a statistic that gives extra credit for made 3-pointers, is up to .568 from .563.
Durant has been great, averaging 26 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, right in line with his recent years, and he is shooting better: His .543 percentage would be a career high. The other stars’ per-game numbers are down in a few spots, but that was expected given the addition of Durant.
Much more attention was placed on the arrival of Durant than on the departure of those who were shipped out to make room for his salary. Harrison Barnes, who was often overlooked behind the big three of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, is putting up good numbers with Dallas, but it’s hard to credit those contributions too much since the Mavericks are woeful. The Warriors are missing some big-man minutes from the departed Marreese Speights and Festus Ezeli, but no one thinks of last season’s Warriors as Festus Ezeli’s team.
The one area where there has been a clear drop-off is one of the most unexpected: Curry. Last season, he was the league’s first unanimous most valuable player, while reinventing the 3-point game. This season, it was generally considered a mistake when he was voted as an All-Star starter over Westbrook.
Curry is shooting .401 on 3s, which would be a career low. According to Basketball-Reference, 12 percent of his jumpers this season are the dreaded “long 2,” considered the worst shot on the floor, up from 8 percent last season.
Still, even if his numbers are down from the superhuman Curry of a year ago, any team in the league would still fall over itself to acquire him.
Part of the reason for the Warriors’ drop-off is that last season was so absurdly exceptional. The team started off 24-0, and while that was largely because of its tremendous play, it also involved a little luck. Though a number of those games went down to the wire, the coin landed on the right side for the Warriors every time.
After that start, the Warriors were 49-9, for a winning percentage of .845. This year’s percentage, so disappointing to some, is .844.
When the season was over, the Warriors had won 73 games, but their point differential tracked to a 65-win season. Again, their talent was key, but luck played a part as well.
That 24-0 start also led to an unforeseen consequence. With the record for regular-season wins in sight, the Warriors played hard every night. That led to the record being broken, but also to a tired team that lost in the N.B.A. finals. This season, the Warriors seem to be pacing themselves much more rationally.
It’s still only the regular season, and the Warriors are an indisputably great team. Though they aren’t the worldbeaters so many people expected, they are the deserving favorites to regain the N.B.A. title, which they last won in 2015.
Continue reading the main story