The Golden State Warriors are still the best team in basketball. Following their first loss of the season and more dominant play from a longstanding title contender, though, one common, all-encompassing stat suggests the reigning champions have company at the top of the NBA.
After the San Antonio Spurs drubbed the lethargic, short-handed Utah Jazz by a score of 118-81 on Monday night, Gregg Popovich’s team became the league leader in point differential at +13.2. Where do the Warriors rank? One tenth of a point behind the black and silver, naturally, at +13.1.
This doesn’t really matter, of course. San Antonio and Golden State are likely to toggle between first and second in this statistic for the season’s duration. Plus, the more telling representation of a team’s performance with respect to the rest of the league, net rating, still ranks the Warriors as basketball’s best team. Their +14.8 disparity between offensive and defensive rating bests the Spurs’ by just less than a point.
But San Antonio overtaking Golden State in one catch-all metric is an opportune time to mention what many seem to be overlooking: That the Spurs have emerged as by far the Warriors’ biggest obstacle to repeating as champions over the season’s first seven weeks.
San Antonio is every bit as dominant defensively as Golden State is on the other end. And offensively, the Spurs still rank third overall and fifth in assist percentage despite adjusting to Leonard’s new role and the integration of LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Warriors are title favorites, and rightfully so. But the gap between them and the Spurs isn’t nearly as big as the one between the Spurs and the rest of the league – and now there’s a basic stat conveying that reality.
*Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats.