It's not too early to ask and answer the question: Are this season's Warriors the NBA's best offense ever?
Since starting slowly over the first week and a half of the season, the Warriors have won their last 11 games behind an incredibly potent attack. Golden State has scored at least 110 points in nine of the 11 games and had 10 in a row with 30-plus assists before that streak was snapped Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This stretch has propelled the Warriors into their expected place atop the league in offensive rating. In fact, Golden State not only has the NBA's best offensive rating this season, but the team's 115.4 points per 100 possessions would crush the 112.7 scored by the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns for the highest posted since the league began recording turnovers in 1973-74.
What does that mean for their historic offensive status? Let's take a look.
Does the best offensive rating mean the best offense?
Over the years, the league-wide level of offense in the NBA has risen and fallen based on rules changes, the emphasis on 3-point shooting and other stylistic factors. As a result, offensive rating relative to league average is probably a better measure of what is truly the best offense. Making this adjustment yields a slightly different ranking, albeit with Golden State in the same spot.
Because offense was up around the NBA in 2009-10, the Suns drop to fifth among past teams by this measure, behind the 2004-05 team that won Steve Nash the first of two MVP awards. Nash's last Dallas team, the previous season, actually comes out best in adjusted offensive rating because the league average was so low in 2003-04 before the NBA opened up offensive play by enforcing rules on hand checking.
Still, no team since 1973-74 has managed to score 10 percent better than league average over a full season. So far, the Warriors have been 11.1 percent better than the average NBA team.
Without team turnovers, we can't calculate offensive ratings before 1973-74 with the same level of accuracy. However, while writing for Basketball-Reference.com, Neil Paine came up with estimated possession totals?to compare teams from early NBA history with their modern counterparts. Paine's measure put a pair of 2000s Suns teams (2006-07 and 2004-05) at the top relative to league average, ahead of the best offensive team from the pre-turnover era, the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks.
As a result, we can comfortably say that if Golden State proves the best offensive team on record, the Warriors are probably the best offense ever. So can they keep it up?
Is Golden State's start sustainable?
Any time an analyst compares stats compiled over the first month to a full season, your first suspicion should be that small sample size is at play. In this case, a handful of other teams in the NBA.com database, including Golden State last season, have also posted what would be a record offensive rating through their first 17 games. All declined by season's end.
At the same time, there are good reasons to believe the Warriors' offense will still prove historic, starting with the fact that the team is well ahead of the pace set by the 2009-10 Suns and last season's Golden State team, which dropped off but still finished first and second in offensive rating, respectively. (The 2014-15 Dallas Mavericks are the exception in this group; they still had a 113.6 offensive rating on Dec. 18, when they traded Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright to the Boston Celtics for Rajon Rondo. Dallas' offensive rating was just 104.1 after the trade.)
The Warriors have also improved over the course of the season as they've quickly adapted to Durant's presence in their starting lineup. Their season-long offensive rating has consistently trended up since an ugly loss to the Los Angeles Lakers dropped Golden State to 4-2.
Since that Lakers game, the Warriors have posted a nearly unthinkable 119.9 offensive rating. Just twice in its past 11 games has Golden State failed to reach a 110 offensive rating.
There's also the question of just what mean exactly the Warriors are regressing toward. Having added Durant to a roster that finished with the NBA's second-best offensive rating on record last season, Golden State figured to be historically effective. No less an authority than Nash told reporters during training camp that the Warriors had the potential to be the best offense ever if they could find a way to play together.
After breaking down Golden State's unprecedented offensive talent, Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight came to a stronger conclusion: "If the Warriors offense isn't the best in NBA history, they screwed up."
So far, they haven't screwed up. Golden State has successfully integrated Durant while continuing to share the basketball and actually reaching new heights in this regard. The Warriors have assisted on 71.9 percent of their field goals, second only to the 2002-03 Utah Jazz (72.7 percent) since the ABA-NBA merger.
Golden State has managed to post a historic offensive rating without even shooting particularly well from 3-point range. In large part because of their slow start, the Warriors have made just 36.9 percent of their 3s, good for seventh in the league and down from last season's 41.6 percent accuracy. Better 3-point shooting can help Golden State compensate as the team inevitably regresses inside the arc -- the Warriors' 57.4 percent 2-point shooting would blow away the 2013-14 Miami Heat (55.8 percent) for the best in league history, per Basketball-Reference.com.
The other area the Warriors are surely due for regression is related to health. When Draymond Green missed Saturday's game because of an ankle contusion, it was the first time all season a member of Steve Kerr's core seven-man rotation sat out. Even if the starters stay healthy, they're likely to get some rest over the course of a long season.
As capable as Golden State is of filling in for a missing star, the Warriors are clearly at their offensive most dangerous with all four All-Stars on the court together. They've posted a 122.3 rating with those lineups, best in the league for any foursome with more than 150 minutes played together this season.
As the four stars eventually get time off, don't expect Golden State to necessarily keep up this offensive pace. But if the Warriors can come anywhere close, they will indeed prove the best offense the NBA has ever seen.