Green out; Wiggins, Iguodala back? A look at Warriors' best short-handed lineup options
Jordan Poole also clears Covid protocols, but is flying home before Golden State will assess his availability
Draymond Green is now out under the NBA’s Covid health and safety protocol. But reinforcements are coming, as both Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole have tested out of the protocols under the NBA’s revised system. The Golden State Warriors are fresh off yet another statement win after knocking down the mostly full strength Suns in a Christmas Day classic and are back at it with two games against the Denver Nuggets in the perpetually changing NBA landscape.
Green is such a unique, important player for this team in general — and even more so against Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets. I’d call it bad timing, but it seems as if the entire world has been in a Covid crash for the past two years now. A pandemic with no end in sight has got around one-third of the entire NBA out right now. One thing is for sure though: Green is going to be nearly impossible to replace, and his absence will be painfully evident on a roster already stretched to near the breaking point - even as kept players come back.
Golden State got a bit of a break yesterday afternoon, when they announced that Jordan Poole is back out of Covid protocols, followed shortly by Andrew Wiggins; and then the team upgraded Andre Iguoadala to probable. Of course, Poole has been holed up in a hotel room for a week and a half, so “out" is Poole’s availability for tonight’s game. Wiggins appears to be fully good to go!
WHO: Golden State Warriors (27-6) vs Denver Nuggets (16-16)
WHEN: Tuesday December 28, 2021 // 7:00pm PDT
What, me worry? Nuggets’ threat level and Jokic’s brilliance.
The Denver Nuggets are an up-and-coming team that got derailed a bit by a couple of critical injuries. The darling of the NBA bubble tournament, Jamal Murray is sidelined after ACL surgery (likewise, PJ Dozer is done for the year after a knee injury). Key acquisition Michael Porter is out for the rest of the season after back surgery. Even though the team has miraculously avoided Covid-related absences, they’ve still got to deal with playing short-handed.
Given all of that, the Nuggets are doing ok. Even though the 16-16 record doesn’t look as impressive from the top of the standings, it’s still good enough for the 6th seed — just a half game out of 5th. The team has lost three of their last five games, but Jokic is on an absolute tear:
Always a difficult assignment, the Warriors are going to miss Green’s defensive marshalling more than ever. Remember that the Warriors made the strategic decision to tailor their roster this season without a traditional big - at least until the return of James Wiseman. So containing a guy like Jokic was a known issue that the Warriors would count on Green to mostly handle.
Offensively, the Nuggets lean on Jokic’s post presence to generate a lot of threes: the team shoots 42.2% of their shots from beyond the arch, putting them in the top 10 in frequency, according to Basketball Reference.
Quietly though, Denver’s offense isn’t all that great. No shock given the personnel sitting out due to injury, but when deciding how concerned to be about Denver, note that the NBA has their offense ranked 19th; generating around 109 points per 100 possessions and sitting in a similar rank overall while averaging a Net of -0.6.
The Nuggets have not been an elite team this season, but they’ll still offer plenty of challenges.
No Green? No [a bunch of people]? A look at the lineups with what’s left.
One of the issues with these Covid-related departures is that while generally unknown, the minimum absences are all fairly lengthy. Green will be out through at least the new year. Wiggins and Lee could return sooner if the test clear, but the date range for them indicates a bout of Covid right now, and not just quarantine.
Thanks to Cleaning the Glass, we can parse the season’s data to remove the ineligible players to see what has worked — and what hasn’t worked so well. As with all of these CtG statstics, garbage time is removed, and the usual small sample size caveats apply. Still, there’s plenty of interesting details to see in the granular lineup data.
Here’s the list (note that this excludes Poole and Wiggins, plus Lee):
I’ve left Iguodala in these lineups. Wiggins is out of them as I’m not sure what to expect, and thought it would be interesting to look closer at the edges without the main guys in.
Notably, the most used lineup here has been one of the least effective. And at 78 minutes, it’s a grouping approaching a full game’s worth of playing time together. I’m sure coach Steve Kerr and his staff have better versions of all of this data in front of them, and combined with their new personnel, it’s safe to expect a fair amount of tinkering.
The elephant in the room here is that most of these lineup combinations are fungible. As long as Curry’s out there, the team will have a shot. Now that Poole, Wiggins, and Iguodala are back this is all a bit less important, but it’s a long season so worth looking around the edges of the roster for good combinations.
One potential priority change could be to ramp up Curry’s isolation plays. This is what happens in playoff crunch time, and it’s probably going to have value now that the team is trying to work with a bunch of tertiary pieces with main guys coming and going. Like many aspects of his game, Curry is elite in isolation:
But since Curry can’t/won’t shoot a shot to end every single possession, let’s get back into the lineups. One thing that I thought would be interesting to see is which of these marginal lineups had the best ratings — remember again though that these are all small samples of play extrapolated into 100 possessions, so weird stuff can happen.
So, with a minimum of five possessions set, and cleaned up and sorted for offensive ranks, here’s what we see. What I'm looking for here are high numbers and/or the absence of really low ones (note the -9.4 Net near the bottom that has played 78 minutes) .
The top two offensive options both include players (Iguodala, Poole) who aren’t certain to play tonight.
But look at the highlighted row. Check out the new guy! That’s exactly the sort of marginal weirdness that found enough success to warrant another look or two.
Another way to look at these lineups is to focus on what’s been most used by Kerr. Here, I’ve pulled out all the Poole and Iguodala minutes (and cleaned out the few that had Moody in them) and sorted by total possessions:
There’s that heavily used -9.4 unit we noted earlier. This is something that we see when we look at lineups this closely, so I’m not too worried that the most used version of these roster options ends up with a negative net impact. Instead, just look at these as some quick looks at the options for Kerr to roll out (or roll away from) tonight, especially if he feels like he needs some offense.
Everything is in flux. I tried to write this preview a day in advance, and then had to revise it twice before finishing as additional news came out. But my final prediction at this point is that the Warriors have plenty of firepower to blast Denver tonight.