Pardon our dust: Warriors still under construction
Golden State is a work in progress, but hopefully they can win and develop at the same time
Four games into an NBA season isn’t a lot - but the Golden State Warriors clearly don’t have it all together yet. Following the ejection of Klay Thompson, the team watched the game evaporate into the desert air. And though hope is far from lost, the faithful of Dub Nation find themselves leaning more on that faith than evidence… at least so far this season.
Is it time to turn it around and chase some wins? Or can the team even manage to turn the corner right now? Tonight, they’ll get a potent test when they welcome Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat to San Francisco.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (2-2) vs. Miami Heat (2-3 )
WHEN: Thursday, October 27th, 2022 // 7pm PDT
WATCH: NBCSBA; NBATV
Injuries: Status quo, same two guys are out.
What happens after Looney on the depth chart
Yes, yes, nothing really matters just four measly games into the season but let’s go ahead and take a look at what is - and isn’t - working so far. That Suns loss was a blowout. A massive 29-point smashing that exposed a lot of structural weaknesses that have been recurring through the first four game salvo. Whether they matter or not in the long, let’s at least take a look at what could use some fixing.
The Warriors were outscored once Klay Thompson left, but in general (if you can apply that term to four games), the Warriors’ starting unit is doing just fine. They are pushing the pace at an unprecedented rate and have still managed to look occasionally dominant while also stumbling into a .500 start to the season.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone that has been watching this team for a few years or more. The core is foundational. It’s what the entire franchise is built on. And again, for the love of Klay Thompson’s boat, remember that we are talking about a tiny sample size right now.
Behind the starters, Jordan Poole is also rounding into form after a couple of low-scoring games to start the season. After that, it gets iffy. But we kind of knew that coming into the season. Here’s the total distribution of minutes played so far - and remember that Iguodala is out, and both Thompson and Draymond Green are playing on minutes limitations:
The core issue here is that the Warriors answer to “what happens after Looney on the depth chart” last season was a valuable and switchable trio of bench players in Damion Lee, Otto Porter, and Gary Payton II. So this season, like many before it recently, is going to be about finding someone to emerge from the bottom of the list of names above.
Assuming Iguodala comes back, that’s seven deep. Add in one or two of Moody, Kuminga, DiVincenzo, Wiseman and JaMychal Green and the playoff rotation is covered. The Warriors know this, and have been prioritizing minutes for the youth movement. But it’s not the preseason. Results - to put it mildly - have been mixed at best.
As fans do, people are freaking out. The Warriors have pulled this trick off often enough that the complaints aren’t finding the same traction - but it’s rough to watch the champs get smashed by 29 points. With DiVincenzo and Iguodala out, it will hopefully mean more minutes for Moses Moody. Both he and Kuminga showed a lot of promise and yet both have been a little bit out of the rotation. It could be that Kerr and the Warriors trust them more, so are spending these early minutes on the newer or more unknown edges of the roster. My money would be on both of these players stepping up in the rotation sooner rather than later.
My Wiseman theory
James Wiseman is doing better this season. It looks like the game has slowed down for him, and the team has simplified their approach around him. Though the eventual plan is to have him do much more, Golden State is content right now to get him as many successful minutes under his belt as possible. The results haven’t been working out, but on the other hand, Wiseman is averaging 22.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. His efficiency is second only to Kevon Looney (.690 versus .705 TS%, respectively)
And yet somehow, Wiseman has the league’s worst net impact. Watch this play though, before you get too mad (and then feel free to get mad).
For those that don’t want to click through, it’s a simple defensive breakdown. The Suns are running a fancy two screens at once play (probably not the technical term, but I’ll leave that to the experts).
This is a schematic breakdown here. With both bigs (Green and Wiseman) pulled up to the top, and Thompson isolated out on the wing, it leaves Curry and Poole on an island. A simple little two man game has Poole and Curry confused about who should stay low. Neither player is naturally inclined to do so.
Curry thinks he’s manning the top of the action, and Poole thinks his job is to chase his man over the screen. Poole is a tremendous offensive weapon, but his defensive acumen is still very much under development. Here, the end result is a wide open backdoor cut for an easy layup.
Plays like this will reflect poorly on Wiseman’s net impact, even though the real advantage created here had little to do with him. But it illustrates how complicated these problems are. It’s all too easy to boil it down into statistics, but statistics need context.
The context here brings me to my theory about Wiseman.
It’s not a unique perspective that I came up with on my own, but the Warriors aren’t exactly friendly to traditional centers. It’s one of Kerr’s most common post season adjustments, pulling the center and going small. And because of that (or vice versa, let’s focus on correlation, not causation) the players are used to running the offense; if things get tough, get rid of the center.
When the team does stay big, their most successful player is Kevon Looney - officially listed at 6’9” and one of the headiest and most fundamentally sound defenders in the league. So Wiseman is the first time that the core is forced to play alongside a developing big. It’s tricky. But mostly, I think Wiseman’s struggles are overemphasized because he’s surrounded by a system that isn’t built for what he is right now.
I’d also add a second guess that factor 1A could definitely be a bit of lack of harmony following The Punch.
One way or another, the Warriors know they have some things to figure out. It’s still early, but the clock is ticking.
I’m not sure the Warriors are ready to turn it all the way around just yet, but those big losses are tough to swallow. At a minimum, I’m expecting a more dialed in defense. May as well win the game too.