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Warriors' schedule starts to turn difficult as they welcome Hawks
Proof of concept is in place, now Golden State's path gets a bit tougher
The Golden State Warriors find themselves in a unique place. Sitting atop the Power Rankings while also defending themselves from criticisms based on what has been one of the league’s softest schedules to open the season, Golden State and their fans are all pleased as punch about the way the season has started.
On the opposite end of the schedule Gods spectrum, the Atlanta Hawks find themselves pointing towards the strength of their opponents and excusing the team’s less-than-stellar start to the year. This is the same squad (more or less) that made it deep into the playoffs before eventually succumbing to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
No injury updates, but Golden State is coming into this game on the second half of a back-to-back - though the recent easy wins have meant a lighter than normal workload for the Warriors’ veterans. Andre Iguodala was held out of the last game for rest, but is expected to be ready to go this evening.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (8-1) vs Atlanta Hawks (4-6)
WHEN: Monday, November 8th, 2021 // 7:00 pm PDT
Silencing the haters (when possible)
Talking about the NBA is a funny thing because everything comes with a caveat. With five players on the court at a time, but constantly shifting lineups and opponents, it’s tough to parse out who gets the credit (or blame) for whatever is going wrong and/or right.
So it isn’t all that wild to me when I stumble across some slander online. But just for the record, Stephen Curry is playing well. He is a top-ten scorer, with 25.1 points per game, and is delivering those points at an elite efficiency (91st percentile in efficiency, via Cleaning the Glass). The offense is 10.5 points better with him on the court - which is in the top 12% for players at his position.
But this team isn’t just about Curry. Maybe that’s part of what people are seeing. For the first time in a good long while, the Warriors have assembled a supporting cast that doesn’t hemorrhage points whenever Curry sits.
Via Basketball Reference, I took the liberty of pulling all the rate-based statistics for the team; check out the top scorers per 100 possessions:
Importantly, it’s the edge pieces that have been coming through in the biggest way. New acquisitions and marginal players that have developed here are a key part of what has thrust the Warriors way up the power rankings - and it’s nearly mandatory for a salary cap constrained team like Golden State.
Gary Payton II stands out to me especially. Brought in for his defensive acumen, he’s turned into one of the Warriors most lethal punching weapons off the bench.
Here’s Kerr, talking about what an elusive goal it has been for a team that would love to have a strong bench, but doesn’t really have the financial position or playing time available to make it happen.
But really, so much of what is happening when Curry sits is directly related to the emergence of Jordan Poole as a legitimately concerning threat on offense.
Though some of his individual efficiency numbers aren’t all that impressive, this feels like a case where points per game does a better job of reflecting the threat level of a shooter than his raw efficiency (he’s above average, but only around the 61st percentile in scoring efficiency for his position). But when he’s pulling defenders out of place left and right, it sets up players like Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica to capitalize on open looks; or players like Payton and Kevon Looney to eviscerate the scrambled defense by off-ball cuts to the basket.
Checking in on the Hawks
I won’t do this all the time, but for me, I’m always curious about a new opponent’s season whenever the first matchup is. If you’ve been following us here at this site, you’ll know that my colleague, Daniel Hardee has judged me harshly (and repeatedly) for giving Golden State a lowly B Grade for their offseason. In retrospect, I was wrong (as the results are showing), but I found it funny that the struggling Hawks were judged to have an A Grade offseason by ESPN.
Although it was a relatively quiet offseason for the Hawks, I liked the way they tweaked their bench after last season’s unexpected run to the Eastern Conference finals. Atlanta swapped little-used Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando for top-tier backup point guard Delon Wright and added Gorgui Dieng on a one-year, $4 million deal to fill in at backup center while Onyeka Okongwu recovers from shoulder surgery.
The Hawks also ensured their core stays together by re-signing restricted free agent John Collins to a five-year, $125 million deal without much drama and extending Trae Young as a designated player. Add in a long-term contract for coach Nate McMillan, removing his interim tag, and Atlanta wisely rewarded key contributors to the playoff run.
Here’s a screenshot from Basketball Reference. The top line is the team’s basic numbers, and the bottom row is where those numbers rank in comparison to the rest of the NBA.
The Hawks don’t play fast, but they also don’t play loose either, with the second-best turnover rate on offense. But with a slightly above average offense, and one of the worst defensive ratings in the league (both via NBA Stats), this is a game that the Warriors should win.
These games aren’t just played on paper. Expect the Hawks to look at this game as a chance to redeem themselves after dropping three games in a row. I’m really excited for the Payton versus Trae Young battles too. Young leads the Hawks in scoring (23.3 points per game) and assists (9.6 per game, second in the NBA), so if the Warriors can slow him down, it will go a long way towards ensuring victory.