Buying or Selling Warriors' Biggest Early-Season Trends

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Buying or Selling Warriors' Biggest Early-Season Trends

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors didn't simply run out of the gate to open the 2021-22 NBA season.

    Their chosen method of entry? Being shot out of a cannon.

    The Bay Area buzz saw is back, as Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and the rest of this roster has contributed to a scorching 20-4 start. For those keeping score at home, that's an .833 winning percentage, second-best in franchise history to only the record-setting 73-win squad of 2015-16.

    Not bad for a team still awaiting the debuts of Klay Thompson and James Wiseman, right?

    The Warriors look like juggernauts, but champions aren't crowned one-quarter into the season, so the true test will be the sustainability of this success.

    Among the biggest early-season trends, which ones are built to last and which could falter with time? We'll fill in the blanks with a game of buy-or-sell.

Trend: The Warriors Are Elite at Both Ends

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy the defense, reserve judgment on the offense

    You can count the number of teams playing more efficient offense than the Warriors on one hand. You can do the same with the Dubs defense—without raising a finger.

    Entering Wednesday, Golden State was perched at No. 3 in offense and No. 1 in defense. That type of two-way domination is an extreme example of the markings of a heavyweight championship contender, which the Warriors clearly are.

    But are they actually this type of two-way superpower? The smell test isn't sure.

    The defense is for real. Last season, when Green took bronze in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, this was a top-five defense. And that unit didn't have on-ball ace Gary Payton II, played through the growing pains of James Wiseman and lacked some of the veteran savvy now provided by Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica and (when healthy) Andre Iguodala. Add Thompson and a potentially improved Wiseman to the mix, and this defense could theoretically improve.

    The offense is more mysterious, though. Curry is a constant, but there are still peaks and valleys with the second scoring option, a role that shifts between Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. Maybe Thompson fills that void. Maybe Wiseman adds another dimension as a lob-finisher who can space the floor. Maybe Poole unlocks the key to consistency. Those are all possibilities, but that's too many maybes to completely buy in.

Trend: Jordan Poole Is Making the Leap

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy

    Jordan Poole spent a month of his 2020-21 season in the G League. It's getting harder to remember now, but that's a thing that totally happened.

    His NBA hiatus ended in March, and he announced his arrival with a 26-point performance in his return. From that point forward, he averaged 14.7 points on 43.3/35.4/87.0 shooting.

    Fast-forward to this season, and the 22-year-old has taken his stat sheet a step further. He's now up to 17.9 points, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from range. He's also contributing 3.5 assists against 2.5 turnovers in 30.3 minutes per game.

    Late last season, the Michigan alum emerged as a welcome surprise. Now, he's an invaluable part of this roster and, at least until Thompson returns, a mainstay in the starting lineup.

    Poole's numbers could take a slight hit if he winds up slotted into an instant-offense sixth man role, but the strides he has made as a scorer and shot-creator aren't going away.

Trend: The Rookies Are Getting Squeezed out of the Rotation

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy (insert sad-face emoji here)

    There's a universe in which Warriors rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody are both ahead of the learning curve and playing integral roles as NBA first-timers.

    We just don't live in that one.

    In our world, Golden State's position in the championship race makes it too hard to trust unproven players. Kuminga and Moody have had brief opportunities, and the fact that they didn't look like deer in headlights is a win in the Warriors' developmental book. But it hasn't been enough to keep them on the court now, and minutes will only get harder to come by when Thompson and Wiseman join the rotation.

    Mark this down as a slight bummer, because Kuminga is electric, and Moody boasts some intriguing glue-guy talent. But it's hard to get too broken up about their disappearance, since the genesis of it is the Warriors' return to full-fledged contention.