If you’re wondering how the Warriors have gone from a team that had to scratch, claw, and streetlight to make the play-in tournament — and then couldn’t escape it — last year, to now being a team that is arguably the best in the NBA, the last two games tell you everything you need to know.
Curry is playing at an MVP level this season. He’s second in the NBA in points, and is pulling down six rebounds to go with his 6.5 assists per game. Is it the best basketball he’s ever played? Perhaps. The only hesitation there is that he has played so much brilliant basketball in his 13-year career.
But without him in the lineup for the first time this season on Friday in Detroit, the Warriors were able to win.
And without him doing crazy Steph Curry things on Sunday — he had two made field goals against the Raptors — they were able to win again.
Last season, when Curry didn’t play for the Warriors, the team went 2-7, including a game against Toronto where the Warriors were beaten by 53 points.
In all, there were 34 games last season where Curry either didn’t play or didn’t score at least 30 points
The Warriors only won 13 of those games.
But this season, they’ve already won 10 such contests, losing only once — at Charlotte on Nov. 14.
Yeah, I’d say things have changed a bit in San Francisco.
Now, this isn’t to insinuate that Curry’s value to the team is anything less than immense this season. He is still creating for the Dubs, even if he’s not the main scorer on a given night.
Sunday against the Raptors, Curry used the defensive attention coming his way to dish out eight assists and three hockey assists. NBA’s Second Spectrum stats system had him pegged for 12 potential assists in the game.
Draymond Green took advantage of that space and attention Curry was creating, too — he had 23 potential assists in the game, a stupefying number.
But while the system continued to function, the ball still needed to go into the hole for the Warriors to win. As anyone who watched last season can attest: What good is the set-up if the finish stinks?
With Klay Thompson out of the lineup, the Warriors didn’t have a secondary scorer on the team for the vast majority of the season.
But this season — with Thompson’s return looming — they have found two.
And both had great games vs. Detroit and Toronto, when the Warriors really needed them to come through.
It was no coincidence that the Warriors started finding success late last season when Jordan Poole began to find his game. The final 20 games of the regular season signaled a shift change for the Michigan Man and the Dubs. Whether the Warriors coaching staff wanted to do it or not, they entrusted Poole with the ball more often late last season. And not only when Curry was on the court, but when he was off it, too.
The Warriors went 15-5 in those final 20 games and Poole averaged 14.5 points per contest on 11 field goal attempts.
For a player who was in the G-League months before — right on the cusp of being labeled a bust — it was a career-defining stretch.
There was also a less noticeable jump, but a jump nevertheless, from Andrew Wiggins late last season. Wiggins played in 19 of those final 20 games and averaged 20 points per game — a bucket or two more than his previous 50 contests.
Combined, that pairing provided the Warriors with some secondary scoring. The minutes were Curry was off the floor were no longer a full-blown nightmare — they were only stressful now.
Both have carried that form into this season and improved upon it.
Poole remains exceptionally confident and with the ball in his hands, he’s creating good shots for himself and others. His stroke from distance is pure and his drives to the basket are underrated.
Speaking of drives, Wiggins is going to the hoop more often as of the last few weeks. It’s as if he has realized that he’s the best athlete on the floor in 99 percent of NBA situations and that no one can reasonably guard him one-on-one if he’s an aggressor.
The new, activated Wiggins is a force and the Warriors love it.
“He’ll continue to play aggressive. I’ll make sure of that,” Green said.
In the last two games, Poole and Wiggins have been the Warriors’ dynamic duo, scoring a combined 59 and 65 points on Friday and Sunday.
Add that to the Warriors’ dramatically improved depth — the Dubs have become so much deeper that Juan Toscano-Anderson, a critical player in that final 20-game stretch of last season, is no longer part of the regular rotation — the Warriors have even more insulation.
The Warriors still have 65 games — 80 percent of the season — to play. Not a thing is set in stone.
But having a modicum of shot creation outside of Curry, via Poole and Wiggins, could prove to be the foundation for this Warriors team in 2022.
The results so far are clear. These Warriors aren’t an early-season fluke.
And with arguably the second-greatest shot-maker of all time’s return looming, who knows how high this team can go?