The Warriors, going into Wednesday’s game, are 16-8, comfortably ensconced in fifth place in the Western Conference. They’ve beaten good teams at home and on the road, and are actually closer to fourth then they are to sixth.
There is some skepticism about the Warriors, however, that’s impossible to ignore even as beating Miami and blowing out Atlanta put the Warriors into the national conversation. Some of that skepticism seems justified. The Warriors have had some luck in facing multiple opponents whose rosters were denuded due to injury, particularly early in the season. The Timberwolves and Mavericks, for example, are likely to be more dangerous foes when Dirk and Ricky and Love are all healthy and in game shape.
This skepticism is borne out by the team’s pythagorean record. Pythagorean analysis projects wins and loses based on a team’s point differential, and it currently sits at 14-11. Pythagorean analysis tends to be better than won-loss record in predicting future results. Warrior fans can be happy that, after the blowout win over the Hawks, the team’s pythagorean is solidly in "winning" territory but it does still suggest that the Warriors have gotten a few extra lucky bounces along the way.
Watching the team, it’s easy to have doubts. Has David Lee finally figured out the defensive half of the court? Has Stephen Curry really put his risky one-handed passes behind him? Can a team which only plays a true center around 15 minutes a game continue to hold on to leads against furious fourth-quarter rallies?
Against all expectations, the team seems to be getting better. David Lee’s offense this last month has been the best of his career. Stephen Curry has finally gotten people to stop talking about how he’s not a "true point guard."
One of the greatest strengths of this team is their synergy. They players all have games that work well off each other. Lee, for example, thrives when Curry has the defenders heads all turned around, and Curry is unselfish enough to make sure to hit him when he’s open. Defensively, improved perimeter defending has allowed the team to hide Lee’s greatest weakness, his poor help defense. Klay is thriving getting shots off of ball movement.
And there’s the work ethic. Draymond Green is a revelation, showing how a player can be a net positive even when they’re struggling to hit shots. He always seems to be in the right place defensively, and never misses an assignment or a switch. Carl Landry has shown a renewed commitment to rebounding, collecting boards at the fastest rate since his rookie year.
These things matter. Yes, talent matters in the NBA, and the Warriors don’t have a jaw-dropping athlete or a dominating isolation player. But by working hard, playing together, and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, the team is showing that it belongs. That’s not a fluke. They’re playing the right way. It’s wonderful to see that turn into wins.