Preview: Warriors inexperienced cast thrown into the fire without Green
Nets are going to be a problem for the entire league, the Warriors are just lucky enough to get the first shot
Like all the best stories, it’s not hard to pick where exactly to start with the Golden State Warriors 2020-2021 season: Stephen Curry. This is a man who has been on every All-NBA team as well as an All-Star every season since 2014. Three championship rings, the only unanimous MVP vote in NBA league history… and now he’s about to start a season where none of that matters.
Stripped of his All-Star cast, with the exception of Draymond Green, Curry leads a group of unheralded young players into the teeth of one of the weirdest NBA seasons ever. It’s not a gentle entry either, as Curry and the Warriors kick off against the Brooklyn Nets, followed by a Christmas Day battle against the Milwaukee Bucks - currently the #2 and #3 odds favorites to win it all.
But this is Stephen Curry we are talking about. Unfettered as he hasn’t been in years, and with nothing to lose. No matter what happens this season, it’s mandatory viewing for fans of this team.
No Draymond Green tonight, as he’s out with a foot injury that the team is calling a “mild muscle strain” in his right foot. Will coach Steve Kerr get crazy and throw rookie James Wiseman out as the starting center?
If not now, then soon.
“Yes,” Kerr said. “Yeah. James is going to be our starting center before too long. It might happen Tuesday. But clearly, he is our long-term starting center. When we feel he’s ready for that, we’ll put him out there. Then it’s a matter of minutes, how long he can play.”
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Brooklyn Nets
WHEN: Tuesday, December 22, 2020 / 4pm PST <— EARLY!
With Curry at the epicenter, how much punch can the Warriors offense deliver?
Ok, for a second let’s just entertain the idea of a fully unleashed Stephen Curry. His highest career average for scoring was 30 points per game, back in the 2015-16 season. What’s interesting about that is that his shot attempt rate during the limited snapshot we got of Curry last season was nearly identical to that 2015 season in regards to frequency of shot attempts. He knows it’s time to shoot freer than he has in years.
Curry is adaptable to his team, almost to a fault. He subsumed parts of his game in order to make room for Kevin Durant for years - both benefiting from an easier path to offense alongside each other. That’s a crutch that has been kicked out from under the Warriors, and now the team will heavily lean on Curry in a way that they haven’t had to before.
Coach Steve Kerr talked about his realization that Curry can operate under a different set of rules, just last year:
"My first year of coaching him, he's taking shots night after night that every coach I ever had would have called horrible shots. And they were horrible shots for every player in the history of the game until Steph Curry. And I realized before too long that Steph was going to take some crazy shots and they were going to look insane and I was going to feel silly for allowing my player to take shots like that and oh yeah, he's at about 45 percent from 3. So finally I just realized I had to get my old coaches out of my head, and this guy is a new deal who's different from anyone else who's played the game, and I have to not only allow what he does but accommodate it."
Curry can do a lot. He is an efficient shooter - reliably ranking in the top three percentile for points scored per shot attempt, via Cleaning the Glass.
Here’s Kerr more recently, on how the offense will look different this year, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic:
“We’ll look a little bit more like other teams,” Kerr said after Monday’s practice in Brooklyn. “Most of the league is playing this spread-five offense, trying to get around the 3-point line. Take a lot of 3s, have our big guys dive and rim run and draw help there. It’s almost impossible not to play that way these days.”
Curry is a threat in his own right, but the real secret ingredient to his greatness is how he also makes the other players he shares the court with more dangerous. Yes, Curry will be the focal point, and I’m looking forward to his newfound profligate relationship with three-point attempts, but this is a Warriors team with other offensive options.
The next two players behind him on the scoring load list are Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre. You can’t replace Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, but if you’re forced to try, pairing two long-armed, dangerous offensive/defensive players like Oubre and Wiggins is as good an attempt as any.
Wiggins had a significant leap in efficiency last season, going from a career .521 TS%, to a .542; meaningful because it pushes him towards league average. According to Cleaning the Glass, he was in the 48th percentile for scoring efficiency at his position - his previous high was just the 39th percentile.
Oubre isn’t known as much for his scoring, but hidden behind his electric dunks is a sneakily efficient player. Compared to Wiggins, Oubre takes more three-pointers (7.4 per 100 possessions for Oubre, versus 5.0 for Wiggins). A side-by-side comparison makes it easy to see how easily Oubre could leap up to Wiggins production this season - check out their career production per 36 minutes.
Though neither is an especially dangerous shooter from outside, they are good enough to make a defense care. Wiggins hit around 34% from deep last season with the Warriors, and Oubre 35% last year - a career-high for him. All these two need is for their outside shot to be dangerous enough to force the defense to cover them out to the three-point line, their agility can take it from there.
Beyond the trio of Curry, Oubre, and Wiggins, the Warriors will look for some scoring punch from second year player, Eric Paschall. Expectations are high for the second year player - the first Warrior to be named to the NBA all-rookie team since Klay Thompson.
The Golden State roster is replete with guys that can do three things: dribble, pass, and shoot. Kerr will utilize plenty of his signature off-ball movement to ensure that everyone gets to touch the ball, but this team will have a pretty clear order of preference when it comes to the offense - which will run faster, and look for more threes than in previous years.
Matching up with the Nets? HA!
We never got to see the Durant and Kyrie Irving pairing last season, but they’ve come out on a path of destruction during the preseason this year. For a Warriors team playing without Draymond Green (who will be sorely missed), it may be a case of “damage control” on defense. Just be as pesky as possible, try to limit fouling, and make shots as difficult as you can.
At the point of attack, expect both teams to be fairly free switching defenders. The Warriors and Nets squads are built with redundant, flexible defenders - which will be needed against a team as deadly as the Nets.
In Marquese Chriss and Kevon Looney the Warriors have a pair of reliable centers, but what we do not know at time of writing is whether rookie James Wiseman will play; or if he does, how he will look out there.
Regardless, the Nets are going to be a problem for the entire league, the Warriors are just lucky enough to get the first shot at them.
While the Warriors are well staffed, this is going to be like one of those ugly scenes from a retail nightmare - worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad fighting over Turbo Man.
Here’s friend of LGW, Matt Brooks, with some basic video concepts of how Brooklyn will look to initiate their offense:
Durant and Irving will be the drivers of first-year coach Steve Nash’s offense, and it would be dangerous enough with just those two guys and a bunch of minimum contract players around them. But this is largely an intact Nets roster that made it to the playoffs last year. With Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert alongside sharpshooters Joe Harris and Landry Shamet the Nets would be tough to handle even without Durant and Irving.
Without Green, Durant is going to have a number of options, as far as who to cook, offensively. Though, to be fair, he was probably going to cook Green as well. I’m sad we don’t get to see those two go against each other.
Assuming James Wiseman makes an appearance, he’ll have his hands full with Jarrett Allen, the promising young Brooklyn center that just yesterday announced that he’ll be testing free agency after this season.
Oh, I think the the Warriors are going to get absolutely demolished. It’s not so much how the teams stack up on paper as the historical inertia at work heading into the game. The Nets are a playoff team that just added Durant and Irving, and they looked like it during the preseason.
The Warriors still haven’t even played a single game with their new roster. And it isn’t just some peripheral pieces missing - both Green and Wiseman are forecast to be extremely important for this Warriors team. Green won’t play at all, and if Wiseman plays, it will be his first time stepping into an NBA game.
That said, they didn’t derive the term “fan” from “fanatics” for no reason.
Warriors shock the world and open the season with a win, 120-118. Curry goes for 40+ and Wiggins and Oubre both get double-doubles.
Wiseman makes an appearance and we all overreact.
Let’s go Warriors!