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Assessing Warriors depth chart/roster after close preseason loss to the Kings
Waiting on Wiseman, Warriors facing decisions on Mulder, end of bench
The best and happiest takeaway from last night’s 113-114 loss to the Sacramento Kings is that the Golden State Warriors point guard is still one of the best players in the world.
Stephen Curry scored 29 points in 28 minutes, including 5 made threee-pointers, and looked every bit as dominant as his history and accolades would suggest. But the questions swirling around this team were never about Curry. No, the questions - and there are plenty of them - involve pretty much everyone else.
The Non-Steph nosedive
In Curry’s 29 minutes on the court, the Warriors outscored the Kings by seven points. Sure, Golden State can bump his minutes up, Kerr has repeatedly stated that the goal for Curry is around 34 minutes, but will that be enough?
When Curry sat at the end of the first quarter, the reserves took a nine point lead and turned it into a four point defecit in less than five minutes of game time. Over the course of the season, this is a reality that will be an ongoing concern: can the team be good enough while Curry is on the court to survive the minutes without him.
Assuming he plays around 34 per night, that still leaves over a quarter of the game. The phrase “Stephortless” may take on a whole new meaning this season. When Curry is around, it makes the game easier for everyone; but the unpleasant flip side of that coin is that when Curry sits, the team isn’t just sitting talent, they’re sitting Curry’s broader impact.
The best and safest bet for support in these minutes would seem to default to the wing players, but both Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Last night, both players chipped in 12 points (in 26, and 24 minutes, respectively) but neither was especially efficient or threatening.
As Kerr said after the game though, a single preseason game isn’t cause for panic in regards to Wiggins (a player on a max contract): "[H]is defense has been really good and that's been our focus. We want him to be a big time defender. Offensively, it's been fine. Kind of a typical preseason. Just getting his legs and his rhythm."
Still, for a max contract player, any flaw is amplified.
It’s also fair to point out that the Warriors came into this game without key reserve Eric Paschall, a player that figures to feature heavily (if not entirely drive) the Warriors second unit.
One other bright spot that can provide a ray of hopefull sunshine is that the Warriors frontcourt seems to be in a pretty good place. With rookie James Wiseman rumored to be making his first appearance at full team scrimmages, and Draymond Green expected back, there is a lot of help coming. Kevon Looney played well in the first preseason game, and this time out, it was Marquese Chriss’ turn.
Shaving down the back end of the roster
In the NBA, teams are allowed 15 players during the regular season - but may carry up to 20 during the offseason (which is where the Golden State Warriors roster currently sits). With the regular season starting less than a week from today, it’s crunch time on the deep end of the Warriors bench.
Of those 15 allowed contracts, up to two of them can be two-way contracts - which allow the players to float between the developmental G League, and the main NBA team.
So the math here isn’t hard to see. The Warriors have to cut at least 5 players in the coming days. The problem is that for a team in desperate need of outside shooting (the Warriors shot around 30% as team from deep last night), a player like Mulder would be a really smart bench player to have.
Because I haven’t found a great place where this is all spelled out, here’s the Warriors roster as it currently stands. Remember, the team can only carry 15 players into the season.
Nico Mannion (two-way doesn’t count against roster total)
You can see the problem right away.
The Warriors have one open roster spot left and two players (Mulder, Toscano-Anderson) on partially guaranteed deals.
If you are (like me) hoping that Mychal Mulder makes the roster, then thedecision is easy enough. But if the Warriors feel like they have enough depth on the wings, then Mulder might be seen as redundant. Alternatively, Golden State could cut everyone below that dotted line and leave a spot open for a mid-season addition.
One way or another, these are moves that are going to have to be made within the next few days.
[EDIT: Paragraphs above were revised to reflect the fact that Mannion’s two-way contract does not count against the 15-man roster limit. Thanks Twitter friend!]
Of the names above my cutoff line above, Alen Smailagić is frequently cited as a candidate for release, but the Warriors have already invested in him as a player project, and given that he hold a contract that is already guaranteed, the financial impact is non-trivial, given the Warriors tax situation (it’s bad, even after considering the recently agreed upon tax relief).
We knew this was coming, an easily forseeable result for a team that has committed $130.1 million to four players: Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, and Green. It’s just a bad reality for a team looking to discover gems at the bottom of their depth chart.
Warriors will conclude their abbreviated preseason with another bout against the Kings tomorrow. Via Anthony Slater of The Athletic:
Kerr said it’s highly unlikely Wiseman or Green will be active Thursday, but he still felt like Saturday’s planned high-intensity scrimmage could be the final piece of prep they need to be cleared, which could set the stage for their return in time for the season opener Tuesday.