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As the regular season passes the halfway point, there have been few more pleasant surprises than the Golden State Warriors. But after 30 wins in their first 41 games, the season's midpoint is also bringing the Warriors their most adversity yet this season.
Compared to the past two years, though, most fans will take the NBA's second-best record, even if it comes now on the heels of five losses in their past seven games, the possibility of an extended absence for Draymond Green and a rare shooting slump from Steph Curry.
"We understand what's going on right now. We're in a tough spot, just like every team faces every year," coach Steve Kerr said. "This is our time right now."
One message rings true up and down the organization: it's championship or bust.
"Everything we're doing right now is preparing for the playoffs," said Andrew Wiggins, whose postseason experience in seven previous seasons has been limited to single series elimination.
"It gives me chills thinking about what we can be at that point in the year," said Klay Thompson, who has four games under his belt after missing the past two years.
Before we get there, let's take a look back at how the Warriors put together one of the best records in the NBA through their first 41 games.
Offensive MVP: Steph Curry
Nobody in the NBA had a better first two months than Curry. He tore up the league to the tune of 28.6 ppg while making 46.6% of his shots from the field and 42.3% from 3-point land in his first 19 games. He made history, setting the all-time 3-point record in December, but by then, he was entering one of the longest shooting slumps of his career: 24.0 ppg on .377 shooting (34.5% from 3) in 20 games since. His scoring average has dropped to sixth in the league (26.3 ppg). Find Curry's true value, though, by looking at the leaders in plus-minus: the Warriors are outscoring opponents by 402 points with him on the floor, 40 more than the next-closest player, Utah's Rudy Gobert.
Curry is the best show in the sports, as evidenced by the "oohs" and "ahs" and "M-V-P" chants he commands even in opposing arenas. He's fallen behind names such as Giannis, Jokic and KD in the NBA MVP debate. But for the Warriors? There's no question. Curry is the man that makes Steve Kerr's motion offense go.
That said, the Warriors offense has faltered in ways their defense hasn't since early on in the season. What was once the third-rated offense has fallen to 12th in the NBA, while their defense has maintained its status atop the league.
Overall offensive grade: B+
Defensive MVP: Draymond Green
Like Curry, Green is a legitimate contender for the league-wide honor, so handing him the team award was a no brainer. Nobody within the organization would question it, either. Green is so well regarded that he won the team's internal defender of the month honor, a motivational tool handed out by associate head coach Mike Brown. It speaks to the expectations the Warriors have for Green, even if he'll occasionally rib Brown about the snubs.
The Warriors own the best defense in the NBA (102.6 points per 100 possessions), in large part because of Green. But they're now faced with the challenge of maintaining it with Green possibly out for the longest stretch of his career — at least the next two weeks — with lower back problems. Luckily for the Warriors, they also have the NBA's league leader in defensive rating — Andre Iguodala (96.9) — and eight of the league's 21 top-rated defenders between Gary Payton II (98.7), Curry (99.5), Nemanja Bjelica (100.5), Otto Porter Jr. (100.7), Jordan Poole (101.3), Green (101.5) and Wiggins (101.5).
Overall defensive grade: A+
X-factor: Offseason acquisitions
Credit to the Warriors front office for taking a look at the roster after last season and identifying the need for more spacing and a defense-first back-up point guard. The Warriors couldn't have found better fits than Porter and Bjelica, two smart players who have fit seamlessly into Golden State's read-and-react offense. Golden State knew both players could shoot, but they've also surprised in other ways, be it Bjelica's drive-and-kick ability or Porter's work on the boards and his occasional heat wave that reminds observers why he was drafted third overall nine years ago.
Payton joined the organization last season — spending the Summer League with the Warriors even as a 27-year-old without a guaranteed roster spot — but he could have been had by any of the 29 other teams all offseason or at the end of training camp. Even the Warriors, who long admired Payton's defensive game, couldn't have seen him developing a real 3-point shot (41.4%), becoming the league's best 6-3 post player and forcing his way into regular rotation minutes.
Quick side note: a shout out is deserved for the Warriors training staff, which has the notoriously frail Porter, 28, the healthiest he's been in years, and is squeezing every last drop out of the 18-year veteran Iguodala, whose best days appeared to be behind him the past two seasons in Miami but has played with a renewed vigor. Behind the scenes, Iguodala has also played a key role in getting players like Poole up to speed in the Warriors defense.
Overall first-half grade: A
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Warriors midseason review: Grades for one of NBA's top first-half surprises