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Four reasons why it isn't too early to call Warriors legit

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One thing Steve Kerr has been consistent about this season is insisting it is pointless to reach any conclusions about this version of the Warriors until it has played 20 games.

Well, coach, Game 20 came Sunday, a 105-90 victory over the LA Clippers that pushed the record to 18-2.

Conclusion time: The Warriors are legit.

After missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, they blazed through the first quarter of this season with the best record in the NBA. They won’t maintain that pace; no team is going to win 90 percent of its games this season. The schedule gets tougher, and there will be more road games.

They’ve played only one championship contender, the Brooklyn Nets, who were without two starters. The Warriors haven’t seen the Utah Jazz or the Milwaukee Bucks or the Miami Heat or the Phoenix Suns -- whom they confront in Game 21 on Tuesday in Phoenix, with a rematch in Game 22 Friday in San Francisco.

So, no, the Warriors are not going to win 70 games. They are, however, good enough to blow past most preseason predictions, which had them between 45 and 50 wins. The Vegas over/under total for wins was at 48.5 -- same as the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets -- and Golden State will hit the over by playing .500 ball over the final 62 games.

I had them at 54 wins, with a top-four seed in the Western Conference. Though it was an objective analysis, the general reaction was that this was a reach. Then, too, there was widespread belief that the Los Angeles Lakers were the best team in the West.

 

Truth is, I might have underestimated the Warriors. They’re very deep, soon to get deeper, and they have the goods to hit the 60-win mark for the first time since 2016-17. Here are four reasons why:

1. Steph Curry is playing at an MVP level

The last time Curry had teammates of this quality and was such huge part of the offense, the Warriors won 73 games. He’s healthy, stronger than he has ever been and it shows. He’s rebounding at a career-high level and is averaging more assists than he has since 2014-15. 

He’s a top-five scorer and likely to remain there because his field-goal percentages are slightly below career levels. The most notable difference in his game is on defense, where he has been solid in his assignments, terrific within the team concept and takes fewer plays off.

Prediction: If the Warriors reach 60 wins, Curry will be at or near the top of every MVP ballot.

2. Draymond Green is playing at a DPOY level

The title of one chapter in the book chronicling the 2021-22 Warriors has to be “How Draymond Got His Groove Back.” After two seasons in the NBA wilderness, with the Warriors light years from championship contention, the power forward/point forward/center is back in his happy place. That the Warriors have the No. 1 defense in the league by a substantial margin is a direct reflection on Draymond’s hyperactivity and broad influence. He’s guarding all five positions, advising his teammates in real time and pushing everyone to strive for his level.

Prediction: If the Warriors win 60 games, most of the credit should go to the defense, of which Draymond is the heart and hub.

3. The depth is outlasting opponents

The Warriors come in waves because they have enough capable players to get away with it. Fourteen players have gotten meaningful minutes, and they’re all committed to defense. The reward for their effort on that end usually comes in the second half. The third quarter, in particular, is when they seem to launch an all-out assault best measured by their 89.7 defensive rating in that quarter. Keep hitting opponents with a phalanx of determined defenders who also have decent-to-excellent 3-point shooting ability, and they will begin to crumble.

Prediction: Depth will allow the Warriors to post the best second-half defensive rating since the 2003-04 NBA champion Pistons.

4. Thompson, Wiseman add new distinctive elements

As deep as the Warriors are at the dawn of December, wait a month. The most surprising thing about Golden State’s 18-2 record is that Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, both expected to be activated in the coming weeks, have yet to play a minute. Once cleared to play, there will be no duplication.

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As the best low-usage-rate scorer in the league, Thompson can slide right in without others having to adjust.

And Wiseman’s combination of length and athleticism brings a dimension not currently on the roster.

Prediction: If the Warriors ever have a fully healthy roster, the team will peak in March and Kerr will be sitting players who have been significant contributors.

 

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