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23 games of regular season - where should Warriors look for improvements?
From stars to role players to the bench, it's been a mixed bag in Golden State this season
The Golden State Warriors have 23 games left in their regular season campaign. They’re sitting pretty, at 2nd in a Western Conference and sporting a 42-17 record — which is the second best in the entire NBA.
But without Draymond Green for at least 3-4 weeks, James Wiseman maybe coming back soon(ish), and the incorporation of Klay Thompson still underway, the Warriors are going to have to figure out some ways to improve. This was a team that dropped four of their last five games heading into the All Star break. If not for an extremely strong 18-2 start to their season, they would be in a significantly different position.
Three weeks out would put the date of return on March 15th — which would equate to missing 10 of the teams 23 games. Stretch that return to four weeks and Green would miss all but the last ten games of the regular season.
It’s far from a disaster in Golden State. By all accounts, Green has been steadily improving. And Thompson is likewise showing a steady progress towards the full resumption of his splash brotherhood.
Call it an opportunity then. A chance for the cream to rise to the top of a juggled roster. Stephen Curry is fresh off an epic All Star game performance. 50 points. 16 three-pointers. A timely reminder of how lethal the best marksman in NBA history can be. But as the saying goes, “many hands make light work,” so let’s take a look at how it’s gone for everyone, and where there could be some opportunities for improvement.
Now, there’s no best single way to capture how good of a season any particular player is having, but as a proxy, I pulled the team’s minutes, and net on/off impact from Cleaning the Glass (which excludes garbage time); have a look:
First of all, the importance of Curry, and to a lesser extent Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins is immediately evident. There would be no success here without Curry, so his position, both in net on/off as well as total minutes played shouldn’t surprise anyone.
And you can also quickly recognize the roles played by Poole and Wiggins. Penciled in as critical elements before the season even started, they’ve answered the call on the first ring and have been holding up their end of the conversation all season.
Then there’s the gambles that have mostly paid off. Otto Porter (playing on a minutes limitation all season) has been superb. Poole has developed into a solid off guard that can create his own shot. And perhaps most importantly, Kevon Looney has been as stout as anyone could have asked for while shouldering starting center duties.
The downside unfortunately is that some players are clearly struggling. Though Porter has been a huge success, Bjelica has been a let down. But more painfully, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson haven’t built off the success they both found here last season. Even knowing that these on/off net ratings are team statistics, it’s fair to say that neither player is doing as much to help the team win as they were last season. Maybe it’s fit, or impacts from changing roles, or some weird synergy thing. This is the nature of the sport, and the bad spell doesn’t necessarily indicate that things won’t improve.
Speaking of improvements, this team has slowly been slipping offensively. According the the NBA, the Warriors top offense is good enough to float their overall net rating to third, but the offense has slipped to 11th.
To understand what’s happening, I took the team’s true shooting percentages, and combined them with shot attempts per 100 possessions from basketball reference. The result is this image; more frequent shooters rise to the top, and players are more efficient towards the right of the graph:
Each of the outliers tell their own story. Iguodala isn’t a scorer and knows it, Payton is lethal but shy on the trigger, and Thompson has rediscovered his elite shot volume faster than his elite aim.
Overall, this still looks to me like a roster that can contend for the title in a few months, presuming health doesn’t get in the way. That said, there’s a lot of adjustments and uncertainty between here and there, and health is most definitely in the way right now — so expect coach Steve Kerr to continue tinkering.
The team’s net rating curve matches the eye test. A strong early campaign that hit stride before getting hammered by the injury bug, a Curry slump, and the turbulent but joyful return of the missing Splash Brother.
But check out the cliff they hit as the All Star break approached:
The post All Star break rest and reset will help. But unfortunately Curry won’t be seeing that All Star game defense again this season, so it behooves the team to fiddle with everything as the season winds to a close.
I’m not sure when Kerr starts to tighten up his rotation in preparation for the playoffs, but the returns of Green, Wiseman, and Iguodala are all going to be added into a heady mix — making for a wild final 26 regular season games.
With no basketball until Thursday, you can be sure there’s going to be a meeting or two behind closed doors where the coaching staff is brainstorming about what has and hasn’t worked; and what to do about it. With no roster modifications likely, it’s time to jiggle the handle a bit.