The prevailing Golden State Warriors story—despite 12 wins in 14 games and a starting lineup filled to the brim with All-Stars—has been about defense.
And for good reason, too. Head coach Steve Kerr's group is giving up 103.6 points per 100 possessions, a defensive rating roughly three points worse than last season's 100.9. The Warriors have grabbed only 73.5 percent of available defensive rebounds, which ranks second-to-last in the NBA.
On shots within five feet of the rim, the Warriors are allowing opponents to shoot 58.6 percent, an uptick from last season's 57.7 percent. And opponents' three-point shooting has climbed from 33.2 percent (second-lowest in 2015-16) to 34.2 percent (17th in the league).
The Warriors' inability to put together four quarters of competent defense has become a constant postgame refrain from Kerr. However, with added time and improved chemistry—as well as the addition of a plus defender in Kevin Durant—those numbers will start to crawl back toward the mean, something closer to last season's marks. (Plus, not everything is doom and gloom; Golden State is second in steals and fourth in blocks, and the defense, when it really matters, has been more than adequate.)
Fortunately, the offense has been proficient beyond expectation. This squad's efficiency—at 113.8 points per 100 possessions after Monday night's 120-83 drubbing of the short-handed Indiana Pacers—is 2.7 points better than any other team. If it held to season's end, it would represent one of the top offensive campaigns in modern NBA history.
On points alone, the Warriors have been dynamic. Their 117.1 points-per-game average is 7.1 points better than the next-best team, the Los Angeles Clippers (110.0). On top of that, the gap between the No. 1 Warriors and No. 2 Clippers is nearly equal to the gap separating the Clips and the No. 18 Washington Wizards (102.8).
No team has averaged even 116 points a game over a whole season since, well, the Warriors popped in more than 118 per contest some 25 years ago, during the first post-Run TMC season.
But it's the team's passing that has been the true revelation.
Golden State is averaging 30.9 assists per game and has eclipsed that mark in 10 of 14 contests. Entering Monday night's action, the Atlanta Hawks were closest with three such games, and 14 squads had yet to reach that mark once. The Warriors tallied up more than 400 assists through their first 13 games—a feat only seven other teams have ever pulled off.
And after an early slump where their per-game passes were mired in the 270s, the Warriors are averaging 309.7 passes—good enough for 11th and creeping ever closer to last season's seventh-best average of 323.1.
When the offense is clicking, if only for a play or two, the results are unguardable.
Take, for example, this sequence against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday: With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green getting their customary rest to start the fourth quarter, Shaun Livingston and David West take their place.
After Klay Thompson dribbles into the half court, West passes out of the double-team and finds Andre Iguodala with the cross-court pass—a staple of Green's offensive contribution. And once Thompson notices Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn't dropped down into the paint, he dribbles once to step forward and find a clear passing lane to an open Livingston.
The play didn't result in a basket, but that's beside the point. West (a new addition) knew to look for an open Iguodala, and Durant (the most prized addition of all) could've taken advantage of the Matthew Dellavedova mismatch but kept the ball movement alive. Running these kinds of plays will keep opponents honest.
Sure, the Warriors could set up quasi-open three-pointers all day, but you have to keep going inside, and sets like these make an entire offense all the more lethal.
And this wasn't even Golden State's best five-man configuration. Of all lineups that've played more than 60 minutes this season, the Warriors boast three of the top nine. It was just about a year ago that the freshly named Death Lineup (then featuring Harrison Barnes) was running roughshod.
Golden State racked up a 24-0 start en route to 73 wins and—well, we know what happened.
This year has required more of an initial adjustment, but when this new Durant-infused version is armed and fully operational—call it the Death Stars lineup—there may not be an NBA rotation that can stop it.
There is no weak link within this quintet, especially now that Iguodala is back to form, averaging 9.3 points a game over his last four (including 7-of-13 from deep). Not to mention, the Durant upgrade over Barnes should only become more evident over time.
There are myriad other ways the Warriors' efficiency should improve: Their three-point percentage thus far is 36.9 percent, down from last season's stellar 41.6 percent. That said, they've made at least 13 threes during seven of their last eight games after only reaching that mark once over the first six.
And Kerr is still tinkering with rotation minutes. On any given night, West, Kevon Looney, James Michael McAdoo or JaVale McGee could be the first big off the bench. As the campaign gets deeper, those minutes should stabilize into familiar patterns.
But whatever Kerr has tried has worked. Heading into Wednesday's matchup against the Lakers, the Warriors have won eight straight games. Over that time, they're averaging 120.6 points per contest and a margin of victory of 16.3 points.
Good thing, too, because the post-Thanksgiving schedule figures to be a bear, with games against the Houston Rockets, Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves (twice) and Los Angeles Clippers all on tap over the next three weeks.
It's all a prelude to the Christmas showdown in Cleveland against the defending champion Cavaliers. And with an offense like what they've displayed thus far, the Warriors would love their chances for revenge that day.
Warriors Insider's Notebook
Freedom Ain't Free (Throws)
For all the early-season hullabaloo that was made about Thompson's shooting woes, the one constant since opening night has been free-throw shooting.
A career 85.5 percent player from the charity stripe, Thompson has made 27 of 29 free throws so far, good for a 93.1 percent clip. Among players who've made at least 25 free throws, that ranks sixth-best in the league.
And as for all the talk about his extended long-range slump, when all his friends were texting to ask if he was OK?
After this road trip, Thompson is shooting a more manageable 34.9 percent from distance, and his 38 threes rank second on the team behind Curry's 56.
Keepin' It Real
ESPN unveiled the first rankings of its Real Plus-Minus metric, which strives to accurately account for all of a player's contributions. The Warriors are well-represented in the early going.
Curry (No. 6), Durant (No. 8) and Green (No. 11) are all included among the top of the leaderboard. By position, Durant is fourth among small forwards, Curry is second among point guards (below only Chris Paul) and Green is tops among all power forwards, edging out Blake Griffin and Kristaps Porzingis.
Kevin Can Wait
Through 14 games, Durant is playing at a higher level of efficiency than at any other point. His player efficiency rating of 30.2 would be the highest of his 10-year career. His 2.2 turnovers per game would be a career low. And no one has scored more points in transition this season (93).
But Durant's overall shooting has been sensational. And his percentages from the field (56.3 percent) and three-point land (42.0 percent) would place him in rare company.
The only players to go a whole season topping 55 percent from the field and 40 percent on threes (minimum of 25 made threes) are Chris Mullin in 1996-97 and LeBron James in 2012-13.
A Good Omen
Damian Jones, the Warriors' first-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt, was formally assigned to the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA D-League and will play Friday. Jones has been rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle, but the Warriors liked his agility and length enough to take him at No. 30.
At 7'0" and with athleticism to spare, Jones could provide a nice end-of-season boost to late-game lineups, even if it's unlikely he'll play many meaningful minutes in Kerr's stacked rotation.
Erik Malinowski is the Golden State Warriors lead writer for B/R. You can follow him on Twitter at @erikmal. All stats via NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate through Nov. 21, 2016.