OAKLAND, Calif. -- Draymond Green stood before the media, arms akimbo, and gave the motto. "The one thing coming into training camp, Coach Kerr's one go-to line was 'next level,'" he declared. "Next level in the offense, next level in the defense, next level in focus, next level in intensity."
This level isn't supposed to exist. After a 67-win season and subsequent championship, the Golden State Warriors weren't expected to get better. That'd be lunacy, especially in a climate in which many basketball pundits are still slow to accept last season's greatness. Lunacy might be reality, though.
After beating their first four opponents by more than anyone has (plus-100), after strangling the Memphis Grizzlies into a 26-of-96 shooting night and 50-point loss -- 119-69 -- the champs are looking better than ever. They're doing it without head coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut, and both could return at any moment.
Stephen Curry has been beyond impressive, scoring more points (148) through the first four games than anyone since Michael Jordan. He has also done this in 127 minutes on 84 shots. He scored 21 points in the third quarter, a game after he scored 28 points in the third quarter. As impressive as those numbers are, they pale compared to the experience of watching a man create more highlights in a game than some All-Stars will produce in a season. His coup de grâce was wrapping the ball around his waist for seemingly no reason before threading the needle for a James Michael McAdoo dunk. Why did he do this? The answer increasingly is: Because he can.
"It's about us, it's not about sending a message really," Curry said of Golden State's recent approach. It's easy to draw conclusions from how the Warriors have battered former playoff opponents, but Curry insists their motivation is internal. "We know that we're capable of being a better team than we were last year. We have so much potential in here and so much talent that we don't want to waste it."
Curry will draw the lion's share of accolades, but some space should be reserved to praise Green, who has been incredible defensively in this early season.
"Draymond's been awesome," undefeated interim coach Luke Walton said after the game. "It's why we paid him $82 million. It's why we value him so much. He does all the things on the basketball court, including bringing energy, being a defensive leader, being vocal, and guarding five men, switching onto point guards, and doing a great job of it."
For much of the game, Green, 6-foot-5¾ in socks, expertly guarded the hulking Marc Gasol. He and Festus Ezeli viciously protected the rim, contributing mightily to why Memphis went 14-of-51 in the paint. In the second quarter alone, Golden State blocked seven shots, with two of each claimed by Ezeli and Green.
The Golden State defense has grown more comfortable, and they're dabbling in new tactics. This early season has seen a lot of blitzing double teams from the baseline and traps further out. When asked about the trapping, Golden State assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said, "We're being a little more active this year in that regard." He continued, "We can play in different ways defensively. I would say this about our defense: I think we have grown, and we're still growing. That's exciting."
Adams must have been his version of excited on Monday night. He slowly clapped twice after Ezeli deflected a pass out of bounds. For Ron Adams, a man whose bench demeanor evokes, "Buckingham Palace guard in a downpour," this was a celebration indeed. For comparison's sake, Adams didn't flinch after Harrison Barnes' dunk over Dwight Howard, or even after Stephen Curry's game tying corner-3 in Game 3 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The defense is rolling, though, and it's difficult to be unhappy with the results. It's also easy to be excited about what an improving Golden State Warriors team might mean.
"I think we're trying to get to that next level," Green repeated, "but there are still more levels to get to."
Even more levels beyond this one? Now that's an exciting prospect.