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Even more interesting is that Embiid’s offensive game is still improving, and despite the traditional start-of-season punishment, his projections are increasing. According to DARKO’s DPM, Embiid is in the top 10 in offense, top 5 in defense and second only to Giannis Antetokounmpo in overall DPM. Hofmann: Part of the reason for that is probably the amount of damage he does at the free-throw line. We talked about his midrange proficiency, and while it’s probably not always the most fun aspect to watch for a neutral party, he leverages the threat of that jumper into fouls. Kevin Durant gets credit as the league’s preeminent rip-through artist, but Embiid is right there with him. His foul-drawing expertise is a combination of old- and new-school techniques.
Harden is taking only 14.4 shots per game, over two fewer than a year ago and a whopping 10 below his career high. (Tallying fewer than 20 points in a game isn’t the sole mark of irreversible decline, but it’s a neat round number Harden once crossed in his sleep. This season he’s failed to reach it 11 times in 21 tries. Last year it was 13. The season before? Seven. The two seasons combined prior to that? Six.) Thanks to the three-point line and some stellar work in isolation—albeit at half the volume of what it was just two seasons ago—Harden’s true shooting percentage is more or less very good (62.3% over the last 10 games). And after a slow start, he’s beginning to draw fouls and get to the line like he used to. His free-throw rate is one of this season’s 15 best, and the percentage of his points earned at the line jumped from 22.5 in Brooklyn’s first 10 games to 36.5 in 11 through 20—a mark that’s high even for him.
Some of the usual suspects are anchoring Golden State’s defensive effort. Draymond Green has held opponents to a field goal percentage 4 points lower than their usual averages, one of the best rates in the league, and though Andre Iguodala has been battling injuries, he has an outstanding +7.1 defensive RAPTOR in his return to the Bay Area after two seasons away. Warrior mainstay Kevon Looney continues to be one of the most underappreciated defensive big men in the game, putting up a better-than-average RAPTOR at that end for the sixth consecutive season. But Golden State’s newcomers are also playing a huge role. Bolstered by Otto Porter Jr. (+2.9 defensive RAPTOR) and Nemanja Bjelica (+3.1) in the frontcourt, the Warriors’ newcomers3 have combined for a collective +3.2 defensive RAPTOR, which ranks No. 1 among all teams’ new additions this season. (Meanwhile, our preseason forecast had projected both Porter and Bjelica to be below-average defenders.)
To illustrate that point, Golden State is leading the NBA in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and threes made per 100 possessions, a deadly combination that harks back to the Durant-era Warriors offenses that were among the most unstoppable ever. Again, some of that owes to Curry returning to his peak 2016-era form: When your best player is scoring 28.6 points per game with a .645 true shooting percentage, your offense is almost certainly going to be dominant. But Curry’s teammates are also doing more this year, shooting for an effective field-goal percentage (55.6 percent) more than 2 points higher than they did last year (53.5), including a scorching 63.5 percent off of direct passes from Curry himself, according to Second Spectrum data.