Like probably all of you, I spent most of last night constantly refreshing Twitter for updates on the Damar Hamlin situation. I wrote about that earlier this morning.
But inevitably I went looking for other sports to get my mind off the whole situation, and was able to witness the Cavs’ amazing comeback to beat the Bulls in OT. Donovan Mitchell had an unbelievable 71 points, ensuring that game isn’t forgotten for a long time to come.
It feels like there have been some insane statistical performances this season, and it’s true:
So we’ve had now 13 instances of a player scoring 50+ points in a game this season, and we’re not even to the halfway mark yet. Of those 13 instances, Joel Embiid and Devin Booker appear on the list twice and Luka Doncic is on it three times, so there have been 9 different players to score 50+ this season. There is one 60 point game and one 71 point game on that list.
But of course, the haters and detractors (most of them crusty old Jordan Stans) are doing what they do best here: claiming that nobody plays any defense in the modern NBA.
Scoring in the NBA has waxed and waned over the years. It was high during the 80s, then started falling all throughout the 90s, bottomed out in the early-mid 2000s, and then started rising in the early-mid 2010s.
However, it’s not as if scoring is significantly higher than it was in the past. The league average this year is 113.7 points per game, and 110.8 back in 1985. A common misconception about the 80s is that it was low-scoring and oriented toward defense, but in reality it was a very high scoring era. The Celtics won Game 1 of the 1985 Finals over the Lakers 148-114, for example.
The bottom line here is that yes, scoring is up around the league and this partially explains why we’re seeing such incredible individual performances. But it’s also true that the players today are way more skilled than ever. Even though scoring was really high in the 80s, you were not seeing 60+ point games on the regular; there were only 5 total instances where a player scored 60 or more points in the 1980s, and 3 of them were Michael Jordan. Then Larry Bird had a 60 point game in 1985, and Bernard King had a 60 point game in 1984.
So let’s give these players today some credit: the skill level in the league is unreal. Donovan Mitchell was draining threes left and right in overtime, and the way he actually sent the game to OT in the first place was amazing: the Cavs were down three with Mitchell going to the free throw line. He hit the first one, intentionally missed the second, but got his own rebound and put it in to tie the game. He had 58 at the end of regulation and then added 13 in OT.
This man really was unconscious last night. The craziest part is that he only had 16 at the half–55 points in the second half and OT. The Cavs at one point were down almost 20 in this game. Mitchell shot 64% from the field.
So hats off to Donovan Mitchell for one of the all-time greatest scoring performances we’ve ever seen. It’s the most points scored in a game since Kobe’s 81 in 2006, and now only three players in NBA history have ever scored more points in a game than Donovan Mitchell: Wilt Chamberlain (72, 73, 73, 78, 100), David Thompson who had 73 in 1978, and Kobe. Two other players scored exactly 71 as well: Elgin Baylor in 1960, and David Robinson in 1994.
But it turned out that the scoring was just getting started last night once the Cavs-Bulls game ended.
Out on the west coast in the later tip-off games, Klay Thompson, who is definitely not washed, had 54 points against the Hawks.
The Warriors are really something else. They’ve now won 5 in a row without either Steph or Wiggins.
It just feels like the Warriors turn every player they sign into the best possible version of themselves. It’s like it’s guaranteed that you will have the best season of your career if you play for Golden State.
It’s the depth of the roster—Looney, Anthony Lamb, Divincenzo.
They have so many players they shouldn’t be allowed to have. And technically they aren’t allowed to have them, because they’re way over the salary cap, but the only penalty for that is your owner has to pay a fine, called the luxury tax. The owner of the Warriors, Joe Lacob, doesn’t care about the luxury tax and is willing to pay whatever is necessary out of his own pocket if that’s what it takes to build a championship roster.
As a result, they have a roster full of good players. They have four guys on max contracts—and they were somehow able to pay Jordan Poole $30 million a year as well, although that doesn’t kick in til next year. They have won 5 straight without Steph and Andrew Wiggins—would a bad roster be able to do that? Of course not. People need to stop with all the “Steph has no help” nonsense.
Spotrac estimates that the Warriors’ luxury tax bill for this season will be $170 million, putting their total roster price tag at $362 million in total between actual salaries and luxury tax.
The price tag for last season was about $345 million, and it was a major part of the reason they won the championship.
But it wasn’t the whole reason. The Warriors also have the best coach in the NBA, and arguably the best GM in the league as well. GM Bob Myers is great at finding players that are perfect fits for Steve Kerr’s system. I’m sure he gets some input from Kerr himself on this, but the bottom line is that the Warriors are not just an expensive roster, but one of the most well-constructed rosters in the league, too. It seems like every player they plug into their system just works.
Every player they get will play at the highest level he’s ever played at in his career. They maximize everyone they get. All of the sudden Andrew Wiggins went from being a disappointment who nobody wanted (“worst contract in the league”) to one of the best small forwards in the league, and many were saying he should’ve won Finals MVP last year.
In last night’s game, during the OT periods, I saw Anthony Lamb playing center and pretty much dominating John Collins. There was one play in overtime when he just ripped Collins as he was going up for a shot down low. I thought to myself, “Only the Warriors.” Anthony Lamb appeared in just two games last year for the Spurs. He’s been on 4 teams in two years, but of course now that he’s with the Warriors he’s playing his best ball.
The guy who hit the game-tying three to send the game to overtime, Donte Divincenzo, is having nearly his best season from beyond the arc shooting 37.2%, behind only his 2021 high mark of 37.9% with Milwaukee. Overall for his career, he averages 35%. I swear just being on the Warriors makes you a better three point shooter; guys just believe once they put on that jersey the Steph magic rubs off on them.
I was talking earlier about how the Warriors were missing Steph and Wiggins and still won. That’s largely because their third max contract guy, Klay Thompson, went for 54 points.
No Steph, no problem. I don’t ever want to hear again how “Steph has no help.” The Warriors are currently playing the best they’ve played all season, with or without Steph. The fact that they have a guy like Klay who is capable of going for 54 when he’s the #1 option on the team is just unfair.
The Warriors really are now starting to feel like the Patriots during the dynasty run. Tom Brady missed an entire season in 2008 and the Patriots still went 11-5. Brady was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2016 season due to Deflategate and the Pats went 3-1 in those games. It’s just plug and play–the system can succeed even without its best player.
Now, not everything is perfect in the Bay. While they typically get the very best out of their guys and have the best system in the league, I personally think Jordan Poole is awful. He’s either reckless with the ball, or holds on to it for way too long. He thinks he’s way better than he truly is. For every nice highlight play of his where he crosses somebody and sinks a three, there’s like 4 instances of him jacking up a terrible shot that comes nowhere close.
Poole is averaging 20ppg this year but he’s doing it on 16 shot attempts and 30.9% three point shooting. He’s one of the least efficient scorers in the league.
He had 28 points against Atlanta last night but was an abysmal 11-31 from the floor. 2 of 12 from three. He was so bad that the Warriors needed every one of Klay’s 54 points. He almost negated all the good things Klay did.
He’s still young, though, so it’s possible he will improve his efficiency and play smarter basketball down the road, but right now he definitely shouldn’t be anything more than a third or fourth option on that team. You do not want him taking a lot of shots. He will put up some 40+ point games on good efficiency, but more often than not it’s a 15-20 point game on horrible efficiency.
And how could I forget about Golden State’s unsung hero of the past 5 years or so, Kevon Looney? He won them the game last night as the final buzzer sounded in 2OT. Looney has been one of the league’s best rebounders for years now, and really a throwback type of inside player who doesn’t care about spacing the floor or shooting from outside, only about banging down low. Looney had 14 points and 20 rebounds including the game winning putback as the horn sounded. The game was tied at 141, Klay missed a three, but Looney grabbed the rebound, tried a putback, missed, but then got his own rebound and the second putback attempt was good as the game clock expired.
Looney currently ranks 7th in the league in offensive rebounding rate per Basketball Reference. Somehow the Warriors were able to bring him back this year. He gives them that element of toughness and interior size, and without him, they’d just be a bunch of little guys who shoot threes. Looney is so important to what they do.
Then, of course, Draymond Green:
He probably doesn’t get credit for anything there (maybe a block or a steal?) but it was a huge play in overtime to deny the easy alley-oop. Draymond Green is still a massively important player for them with the way he anchors their defense, adds that element of toughness and edge, and facilitates the offense.
Golden State really does have an embarrassment of riches. Again, part of it is simply the fact that they have a $360 million roster, but another part of it is that Steve Kerr’s system is the best in the league. They take cast-offs like Andrew Wiggins and turn them into stars.
I don’t know if anybody else in the league has this kind of depth. I would’ve said the Clippers, because they too have a ridiculously high payroll ($191 million + $144 million luxury tax = $335 million) and a lot of nice players behind Kawhi and Paul George (Batum, Kennard, RoCo, Norman Powell, Zubac, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, John Wall, Terrance Mann) but a lot of those guys have been dealing with injures. Kawhi has really not played much and looks like a shell of his former self, although as we saw with Klay Thompson it takes a while to fully recover from those serious knee injuries, so don’t count him out just yet.
I’m not sure there’s any other team out there in the NBA that is equipped to win a lot of games without two of its three best players. Hell, the Lakers were struggling to win games even when LeBron and AD were healthy, that’s how bad their roster is. The Golden State Warriors are just overflowing with talent right now, and even though their record is only 20-18, they are going to be an incredibly difficult team for anybody to beat 4 times in 7 games–especially with all their experience.