Ranking the 5 Best and Worst Lineups In the NBA

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 18, 2022

Ranking the 5 Best and Worst Lineups In the NBA

0 of 10

    SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 24: Andrew Wiggins #22, Stephen Curry #30, Draymond Green #23 and Jordan Poole #3 of the Golden State Warriors face the Sacramento Kings on October 24, 2021 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    One of the main tasks for every NBA team during the regular season is testing out which lineup combinations work best. Playoff hopefuls need to know which units optimize their chances to win when the games matter most, and rebuilders search for groups that have the chemistry and complementary skills that could eventually get them back to relevance.

    There are plenty of ways to assess the quality of a lineup, but we'll keep things relatively simple by using net rating, a measure of how many points per 100 possessions better or worse a lineup performs than the competition.

    Volume matters, so we'll exclude any five-man combos that have played fewer than 210 non-garbage-time possessions together. We'll also note anything that seems fishy or unsustainable about each lineup's statistical profile.

    For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers' most-used fivesome will not continue to get so badly outscored over the balance of the 2022-23 season. But this is a measure of how lineups have performed so far, and there will be no escaping the numbers for rankings purposes.

    Oh, and one last thing, lest any particular fanbase exults or panics based on these results.

    /Climbs to mountaintop, raises bullhorn to sky: IT'S STILL EARLY!!!

No. 5 Worst: Dosunmu, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams, Vučević

1 of 10

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 04: Zach LaVine #8, Nikola Vucevic #9 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of a preseason game at the United Center on October 04, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Possessions: 272

    Net Rating: Minus-6.2

    This certainly isn't the Chicago Bulls' preferred high-usage unit, but Lonzo Ball's lengthy recovery from multiple knee surgeries has forced this group into more than twice as many possessions than any other lineup on the team.

    It'd be easy to point the finger at Ayo Dosunmu, the second-year combo guard thrust into starting duties that he may not quite be ready to handle. But he's provided energy, top-flight rebounding for his position and a true shooting percentage (58.1) above the league average. We can't blame him for this unit's abysmal offensive rebound rate (fourth percentile) or rock-bottom effective field-goal percentage (32nd percentile).

    What's strange is that every member of this group has been productive and efficient on an individual basis. DeMar DeRozan is shooting 52.3 percent overall. Zach LaVine is canning 38.2 percent of his 8.1 three-point attempts per game. Nikola Vučević is drilling 39.4 percent of his treys. Even Patrick Williams has been fine in his typical ultra-low-usage role, posting an efficient 46.5/38.1/92.9 shooting split.

    It's just that this quintet hasn't put it all together when they're, well, together.

    You'd think a collection of offensive talent that includes DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević would be ripe for positive regression. Last year, those three produced 114.1 points per 100 possessions (in the 64th percentile leaguewide) on offense across a 2,471-possession sample. But it's jarring to note that whatever offensive course correction we might expect will likely be accompanied by severe defensive slippage.

    This Bulls lineup has defended reasonably well so far, limiting opponents to 108.1 points per 100 possessions. That's a surprise considering the team's stopping power basically disappeared when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso weren't involved last season.

    Opponents are shooting 43.9 percent from distance against this lineup, which should come down, but the real point of concern is the parade to the rim. These guys allow opponents to take a whopping 37.8 percent of their attempts at point-blank range, which is no way to survive on D.

No. 4 Worst: Ivey, Cunningham, Bey, Bogdanović, Stewart

2 of 10

    DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 11: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons, Isaiah Stewart #28, and Jaden Ivey #23 celebrate during a preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on October 11, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 458

    Net Rating: Minus-6.3

    The optimist's takeaway here is that the Jaden Ivey-Cade Cunningham tandem looks like it's going to work out just fine.

    Their vastly different skill sets—Ivey is the explosive athlete; Cunningham the can't-be-sped-up dissector of defenses—already appear complementary, and Ivey has signaled lately that he might have the game to be a primary on-ball shot-creator. With Cunningham out last weekend, Ivey put up 26 points against the Boston Celtics and scored 21 while drawing 10 free-throw attempts against the rangy Toronto Raptors defense.

    Overall, this unit's offensive production has been impressive. It's the only lineup among our five worst with an offensive efficiency above the 50th percentile. The other end is where things get messy, as a painfully young group is getting absolutely clobbered on D. They're giving up 120.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 13th percentile leaguewide.

    Then again, that's to be expected. Other than Bojan Bogdanović, nobody in the Pistons' most-used lineup has more than two full years of experience. Ivey is a rookie, Cunningham is in his second season and both Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey are in their third. These guys are firmly in the lump-taking phase of their careers, which means the only part of their defensive profile we can fairly criticize is a lack of forced turnovers.

    Mistakes are inevitable from a group lacking experience, but this unit isn't committing many errors of aggression, as evidenced by an opponent turnover rate of only 11.8 percent that ranks in the 20th percentile. Discipline is important in developing a group this young, but it'd be nice to see someone other than Ivey causing a little more havoc—even if it leads to blown coverages and silly fouls once in a while.

    When you're already hemorrhaging points, it isn't like things can get much worse. Gamble a little, fellas.

No. 3 Worst: Brunson, Fournier, Barrett, Randle, Robinson

3 of 10

    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 28: Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks is held back by Julius Randle #30 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks after being called for a foul during the first half of the game at Fiserv Forum on October 28, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
    John Fisher/Getty Images

    Possessions: 231

    Net Rating: Minus-8.8

    In a statement that could have been copied and pasted from last season, the New York Knicks' preferred starters aren't getting the job done. At least head coach Tom Thibodeau pivoted away from this year's disappointing group more quickly.

    In 2021-22, Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson got 19 games to bumble around and get outscored by massive margins before Thibodeau moth-balled them.

    Jalen Brunson, Fournier, Barrett, Randle and Robinson have still played the most possessions on the team by far, but that unit has seen the court for only 14 total minutes in November, and none at all since Nov. 2. Some of that has to do with Robinson's knee holding him out since Nov. 5, but Fournier got demoted ahead of the Nov. 4 game against the Philadelphia 76ers, which had nothing to do with his health.

    It's unclear whether new starters Cam Reddish and Isaiah Hartenstein will produce better overall results than the Knicks got from their original first unit. Hartenstein may not even stick with the group once Robinson, who signed a deal worth nearly four times the total value of Hartenstein's, returns. But if this is a sort of "in memoriam" for the 2022-23 version of New York's crummy starters, we should at least chronicle what went wrong for posterity.

    Prior to the shake-up, this group fouled opponents as if they were the ones who'd get free throws in the bonus. Maybe Robinson's penchant for hacking was contagious. New York also got absolutely trounced in transition with this group on the floor. Opponents generated an extra 6.6 points per 100 possessions in transition play, which ranked in the 13th percentile leaguewide. The damage was even worse on live-ball turnovers, after which opponents scored at terrifying rates.

    On offense, after an encouraging start that featured Randle making quick decisions and scrapping his mid-range jumper habit, the former All-Star returned to form and generally gummed up the works. It didn't help that Robinson also set up camp on the block, allowing an extra defender to obstruct drives, or that Barrett couldn't stretch defenses with his shooting. You've got to do a lot wrong to get outscored by 8.8 points per 100 possessions, and the Knicks were thorough in their failures.

    In the end, the best thing about this brutally bad lineup is that we may not see it again.

No. 2 Worst: Garland, Mitchell, LeVert, Mobley, Allen

4 of 10

    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 7: Donovan Mitchell #45 and Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on against the LA Clippers on November 7, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 212

    Net Rating: Minus-9.3

    I know. I did a double-take, too.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are 8-6 and join the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans as the only teams with top-10 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Even with a tough stretch following a stellar 8-1 start, Cleveland's most-used lineup slotting in here warrants the mother of all "it's early" caveats.

    The explanation for this shocking ranking lies mostly on offense, where the Cavs are scoring only 104.7 points per 100 possessions with this quintet in the game. While their transition attack has been fine, these guys are putting up only 92.9 points per 100 possessions in half-court sets. That's an especially bizarre development considering Donovan Mitchell's early MVP candidacy and Darius Garland's "don't forget about me" 51-point outburst on Nov. 13 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Opponents have also shot the lights out from deep against this lineup, with an especially ridiculous 52.2 percent hit rate from the corners. Combine that with unsustainably accurate mid-range shooting (43.9 percent; 38th percentile), and Cleveland's defensive improvement is imminent.

    We could simply point at Mobley and Allen while holding up a printout of last year's defensive rating, which ranked sixth in the league, to make the same argument. But some deeper statistical support never hurts.

    Anecdotally, Garland and Mitchell have looked at times like a perfect pairing that will punish any defense devoting too much attention to one or the other. Mobley and Allen will both likely finish the year somewhere around the top five in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Mitchell, Mobley and Allen also belong to two other high-volume lineups with laughably high point differentials, so the vagaries of small sample size are clearly the culprits here.

    The alternative is to blame Garland, an All-Star who's shooting 40.7 percent from three, or LeVert, who's putting up career highs in assists per game (5.3) and three-point accuracy (42.4 percent) for whatever's going wrong here. Those are tough sells.

    If we finish the year and don't see the Cavs' most-used lineup ranking near the top of the league, we can have a discussion. For now, their position here is just dumb (bad) luck.

No. 1 Worst: Porter Jr., Green, Gordon, Smith, Şengün

5 of 10

    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 9: Alperen Sengun #28 celebrates with Kevin Porter Jr. #3 and Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets after the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9, 2022 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 258

    Net Rating: Minus-12.1

    This should restore some faith in these rankings. While the Cavs had no business joining the bottom five, a Houston Rockets unit led by four players in their early 20s is exactly the kind of group you'd expect to bring up the rear in point differential.

    The world makes sense again when you scan the data from Houston's most-used lineup and see all the hallmarks of inexperience. When sharing the floor, these Rockets produce a turnover rate, offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage that all rank in the 20th percentile or lower. The lone bright spot on offense is a solid free-throw attempt rate driven mostly by Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Şengün, both of whom get to the stripe more than five times per game.

    Opponents make everything at the rim because neither Jabari Smith Jr. nor Şengün can protect it. But even if teams stop making nearly three-quarters of their shots at close range, the Rockets could still see this unit's defensive rating get even worse.

    So far, Houston has enjoyed significant luck on opponent three-point shooting. When those deep attempts start falling at rates higher than the current 29.1 percent figure, it'll more than offset any regression at the rim.

    Fixes aren't readily available. Jae'Sean Tate is probably Houston's most impactful defender, but he's played only three games this year and might not see the floor again until at least December while he recovers from an ankle injury. If the Rockets wanted to juice their offense, going small won't help either. When Kenyon Martin Jr. replaces Şengün and Smith slides up to center, Houston scores just 95.9 points per 100 possessions and posts an even worse minus-18.2 net rating.

    It's impossible to imagine Smith continuing to make just 31.6 percent of his shots and an incomprehensible 33.9 percent of his two-pointers, but offensive improvement from the No. 3 overall pick won't magically stop Green and Porter from throwing the ball all over the gym, Gordon abandoning the concept of rebounding or Şengün tallying more total giveaways than assists.

    Sometimes, it hurts to watch these Rockets get outclassed so consistently. But they're called growing pains for a reason. Houston's young talent has to be bad before it can expect to be good.

No. 5 Best: Young, Murray, Hunter, Collins, Capela

6 of 10

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 12: John Collins #20, Clint Capela #15, Dejounte Murray #5, and Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks huddle against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Possession: 538

    Net Rating: Plus-7.5

    Accounting for volume, you could make the argument that the Atlanta Hawks' starters have been the most effective lineup in the league. Their 538 total possessions together are more than double the totals of two other groups that will slot ahead of them in the top five, and they're more than 100 possessions clear of anyone else we considered.

    Good collective health has been a factor in these guys accumulating so much time together, but there's another reason this particular collection of Hawks has logged so many possessions. Dejounte Murray and Trae Young both ranked among the top five in total time of possession last season, and there were real questions over the summer about how they'd mesh. Right from the outset, it was clear that Atlanta planned to keep these two on the floor with the other starters as much as possible in the hope that more reps would fast-track the chemistry-building process.

    So far, so good.

    The Hawks' starters have been solid on both ends, scoring at a clip right around the league average while nudging up toward the top third of all lineups in defensive efficiency. Murray, a ball-hawk whose length is contributing to 2.0 steals per game (he led the league at 2.0 last season) and a top-five ranking in total deflections, deserves some credit for Atlanta's defensive success, but a resurgent Clint Capela is owed the lion's share.

    The 28-year-old center has looked more active and mobile than he did a season ago, and he's the one who's reducing opponent rim-attempt frequency by a ridiculous 10.6 percentage points when he's on the floor. Capela turning the restricted area into a no-fly zone has made a massive difference for this lineup and the Hawks as a whole.

    Even with such a strong early showing, upside still exists here. Young continues to search for his perimeter stroke, and John Collins is struggling to adjust to a reduced role with Murray in the fold and De'Andre Hunter taking on a larger share of the offense.

    If Capela and Murray continue wrecking opponents on defense as Atlanta's considerable offensive talent rounds into form, this group could easily wind up atop the rankings in both volume and efficiency by season's end.

No. 4 Best: Murray, Caldwell-Pope, Porter Jr., Gordon, Jokić

7 of 10

    DENVER, CO - MARCH 13: Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets walks to the bench as Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets talk during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on March 13, 2021 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 325

    Net Rating: Plus-12.8

    The Denver Nuggets have their issues, headlined by a defense that ranks 24th to go along with the highest opponent field-goal percentage at the rim in the league. But don't blame this lineup for the shortcomings of the team as a whole.

    When Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokić take the court together, they dominate the game at both ends. Jokic has clearly made it a point to facilitate more this season, eschewing open looks he would have taken a year ago to set up teammates.

    That's probably a more comfortable approach for a player who's always been a reluctant scorer—a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 27.1 points per game in 2021-22—but the intention is noble. Murray and Porter logged a combined nine games (all Porter) last season, and Jokić is trying to get them and new starter KCP going.

    If you catch MPJ on the right nights (which is most of them), you'll leave convinced that he'll never miss a shot again. He's one of five players attempting at least 13.0 shots per game with a true shooting percentage north of 65.0 percent. Jokić is another, which is hilarious considering that he isn't overly concerned with his own scoring.

    Porter's success in tandem with Jokić underscores the connectivity of this lineup. He's shooting 59.4 percent on threes after receiving a pass from Jokić. Murray is at 41.2 percent on threes set up by Jokić, well above his overall figure of 35.5 percent, while KCP is doing just fine all by himself. He's at a preposterous 53.3 percent from long range.

    This lineup, like the Nuggets as a whole, could see some defensive slippage if opponents continue getting to the rim at high rates and finishing well there. Jokić, while generally improved, might lack the lateral footspeed and vertical burst to ever be much of a deterrent. The real issue with Denver's defense is drive containment on the perimeter, though, and most of the trouble in that area is coming with bench units in the game.

    These five players have had no trouble building leads with excellent offense and passable defense.

No. 3 Best: Smart, White, Brown, Tatum, Horford

8 of 10

    MIAMI, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 21: Jayson Tatum #0, Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics look on against the Miami Heat during the third quarter at FTX Arena on October 21, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    Possessions: 239

    Net Rating: Plus-15.5

    Given the talent involved, it shouldn't be a surprise to see this Boston Celtics lineup ranked so high. Jayson Tatum is an MVP candidate, one who forms the league's top one-two punch with Jaylen Brown. Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Al Horford provide defensive smarts, connective passing and no shortage of competitive intensity.

    At the same time, this unit played only 42 possessions last season. The feeling-out process certainly didn't take long.

    Much has been made of how the Celtics have essentially flipped strengths and weaknesses this season, swapping out what was the league's most dominant defense and an occasionally clunky offense in 2021-22 for an unstoppable scoring attack and iffier work on D this year. That narrative doesn't really apply to this group, which is clamping down on opponents to the tune of a 101.2 defensive rating (79th percentile) while scoring 116.7 points per 100 possessions (64th percentile) on the other end. So far, Bostons' best high-usage player grouping is still defined by its stopping power.

    It's scary to think that this won't even be the Celtics' most dangerous lineup by season's end.

    Last year, this same group with Robert Williams III in place of White pulverized everything in its path, running up a plus-24.3 net rating across 907 possessions. Once the Time Lord is healthy and back on the floor, Boston will have the luxury of two elite lineups from which to choose—and maybe more if it turns to a few configurations that include Grant Williams instead of Horford. The best Williams lineup last year saw him combine with Smart, Tatum, Brown and Robert Williams III to produce a plus-33.3 net rating over 225 possessions.

    Good luck with the Celtics, rest of NBA. You're going to need it.

No. 2 Best: Fox, Huerter, Barnes, Murray, Sabonis

9 of 10

    SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Keegan Murray #13 and Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings talk during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on October 22, 2022 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 252

    Net Rating: Plus-18.3

    For myriad reasons led by the existence of Danny Ainge, Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair isn't likely to win the NBA's Executive of the Year award this season. But he and the rest of the Kings front office deserve praise for finding the right supplemental ingredients to put around three holdover starters from last season.

    De'Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis got outscored when they shared the floor in 2021-22. Fox has leveled up this year, but the additions of trade acquisition Kevin Huerter and rookie forward Keegan Murray have had a truly transformative impact.

    In addition to making 52.6 percent of his 7.3 long-range tries per game, Huerter is flexing his playmaking muscles like few third-option wings in the league. He's averaging 3.2 assists per game, but his offensive impact goes beyond that number.

    Huerter has great feel and timing with the ball in his hands, and he's now putting that to use against scrambling defenses bent out of shape by Fox and Sabonis. What's more, Huerter's chemistry with Sabonis in the handoff game gives the Kings a go-to option whenever plays break down.

    Murray endured a rough stretch at the beginning of November, but he has rebounded to hit nine of his last 21 three-point attempts, and his off-ball movement is a lot for opposing forwards to handle. If Barnes ever gets going offensively, the Kings will have five threats deserving of defensive attention on the court together.

    There shouldn't be any doubt that Sacramento's offense will remain among the best in the league. But if you're skeptical about this fivesome—and why wouldn't you be, given the overall results in Sacramento over the last two decades or so?—look to the defensive end.

    Sabonis has always struggled to protect the rim, and opponents are hitting 68.9 percent of their looks at point-blank range against this group, which ranks in the 28th percentile leaguewide. Another troubling sign: Opponents are hitting only 32.8 percent of their threes, including 28.6 percent on non-corner attempts. Both figures are likely to rise toward the league average, which would put a dent in what's been a shockingly stingy defense so far.

    No lineup in our top five has held opponents to fewer points per 100 possessions than this one. Even with new head coach Mike Brown legitimately improving Sacramento's habits and effort on D, that just doesn't pass the smell test.

    This unit and the Kings as a whole will likely continue to score a ton, perhaps even enough to offset a defense that can't stay at this level all year. It's genuinely possible that Sacramento will win more games than it loses for the first time since 2006. If that happens, this lineup will be the main reason.

No. 1 Best: Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, Looney

10 of 10

    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10: Stephen Curry #30 high fives Draymond Green #23 and Kevon Looney #5 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals on June 10, 2022 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Possessions: 364

    Net Rating: Plus-21.1

    It seems like the sky is falling in Golden State. The defending champs are 6-9, have yet to win a road game and cannot figure out how to defend at respectable levels. That last part is the real shock after the Warriors finished second on D in 2021-22.

    A step backward was expected with younger players getting more minutes in the rotation, but those young players have been so wretched on defense that all of them have lost playing time. Third-year center James Wiseman was so damaging to the bottom line on both ends that he had to be shipped to the G League.

    There's good news, though: Golden State's veteran starters are still crushing it.

    Stephen Curry is doing the heavy lifting, averaging 32.8 points on a 53.1/44.7/92.9 shooting split. He already has three 40-point games in 14 contests (and one 50-spot in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday) after exceeding the 40-point mark only seven times last season.

    By any objective measure, this is the best Curry has played at least since 2015-16, when he earned a unanimous MVP award. Considering the lack of help he's had, it isn't even a stretch to say Steph has never been better.

    Andrew Wiggins remains a star two-way wing, and Draymond Green is bringing his customary five-position defense and team-best facilitation. Kevon Looney continues to function perfectly as a screener, hoarder of offensive boards and low-usage connective piece in an offense that still sings to the tune of 127.5 points per 100 possessions when these five share the court.

    Klay Thompson, who's shooting a career-low 35.1 percent from the field and struggling to stay in front of his matchups, is the only cylinder not firing. And yet, because Curry and the other mainstays have been so reliably dominant, it hasn't mattered.

    Very little has gone right for the Warriors so far, but this unit illustrates why panic is the wrong play. Once two or three reliable reserves emerge, Golden State will be fine. Its veteran core is still bulldozing everything in its path.

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through Wednesday, Nov. 16. Salary info via Spotrac.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.