Poole, three Celtics late scratches due to Covid health & safety protocols
Plus a preview: Warriors, Celtics, and the need for a stable core
Author’s note: This story has been updated quickly to reflect breaking news. Jordan Poole is in health and safety protocols for the Warriors, joining a trio of Celtics. Both teams cancelled shootaround this morning. Be concerned, this is really not good.
The Golden State Warriors and star Stephen Curry have now put the three-point record behind them and are back to the business of winning games. Tonight, they travel to Boston to take on the Celtics as the first step in a back-to-back (with the Toronto Raptors on Saturday).
After that? The Warriors have three out of the next four games at home, and all eyes will quickly pivot towards the imminent return of Klay Thompson. Thompson has been widely expected to return sometime around Christmas but unfortunately, it’s not quite time just yet.
On the injury front, at time of writing only James Wiseman and Klay Thompson are listed on the Warriors’ injury report (both “out"). Though with Covid raging through the
league country, that could change at any moment.
UPDATE: the moment is now! Looks like Jordan Poole is out. We will continue to watch and update as the situation unfolds, but be advised that Poole will certainly miss multiple games.
MORE UPDATE: oh no.
Yikes. Yikes. Yikes.
One other thing to keep an eye on (or not, given the updates above): Golden State has been making noise about finding some rest time for veterans. They abandoned that hope while chasing Curry’s record, but there are rumblings that coach Steve Kerr may finally sit some key players on the tail end of this back-to-back.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (23-5) at Boston Celtics (14-14)
WHEN: Friday, December 17, 2021 // 4:30 pm PDT (← EARLY! (Location dependent))
WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA
The talent ballast that allows Golden State to play around the edges of its roster
You don’t have to be a sailor to understand the concept of ballast - it’s a substance that helps provide stability. Likewise, in the NBA, a stable core of elite talent is an exigency if you are planning on building a dynasty. It’s not just a lack of elite talent that crumbles dynasties — you not only need the top tier talent, they need to stick around long enough to serve as a core. To weather the ups and downs and come back out stable onthe far side of it.
Curry and Green have been well covered, both here and across the far corners of the internet. Their dominance is well established. Their synergy frequently on display, the two play off each other so naturally it’s like they can see a few moments into the future. Green changing his defensive switch mid-rotation to let Curry run through and take the perimeter assignment and then swirling quickly instead to block a weakside drive. Or Curry charging blindly past a Kevon Looney screen and knowing that the pass from Green will be bounced to precisely where Curry’s relocating to.
It’s not just the core of this roster that makes the team so strong, it’s how long they’ve been playing together. That sort of stability is required.
But now, let’s talk about the edges for a bit. We know Curry is elite and that the team is much better with him and Green on the court. The numbers on Curry’s impact are as high as anyone in the league. But it’s been that way for a while.
So what has changed between last season and this one? The edges of the roster.
Golden State is always fishing for bargains. Some, like the injured DeMarcus Cousins, or the foul-happy, turnover prone Kent Bazemore didn’t work out so well. But this season, through a combination of savvy new arrivals, gambles that paid off (like Payton and Otto Porter) and established bench players (Iguodala, Looney), the Warriors have finally managed to develop a bench that doesn’t hemorrhage points whenever Curry sits.
The Warriors are exactly even (0) in the 422 minutes they’ve played without Curry. They win with Curry; they hold steady without him. And it should only get better as the season goes along.
Last season, the Warriors were plus-242 with Curry (plus-3.8 per in his 63 games out of 72) last season … and minus-172 (-2.4 per game) for the season without him… And remember, he plays about 75 percent of the minutes per game, so the rate of collapse was quite high in those 12 non-Curry minutes per game in 2020-21.
They say that anything has an off button if you punch it hard enough.
I think what I’ve come to understand as my biggest oversight from the dormant past couple of years was a lack of patience regarding a team that lost Thompson, Kevin Durant, Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston at the same time… but they kept Curry, Green, and (on a longer delay) Thompson.
As long as the core remains, the dynasty will have a shot.
In the meantime, the edges of these rosters are going to mostly be built as they can. Get the big details right and it frees you to jiggle the margins. You can fiddle with lots of the side details when the ballast is keeping the ship steady.
Without the budget room to do whatever they want, the Warriors have instead (recently) focused on players that can be trusted within Kerr’s complicated schemes. Via Cleaning the Glass, here’s the entire list of players with enough possessions to qualify for their site. In particular, look at the “PSA” column. This is points per 100 attempts and the vast majority of shots that have been taken are above average efficiency (the colored boxes):
Gary Payton II is killing it. Check out his scoring efficiency.
He's in the 100th percentile - a mathematic impossibility that I dont fully understand. Technically there’s no such thing as the 100th percentile. Literal top of his position! Plus one. 144.5 points per hundred attempts. This is what happens when you have a player that can press an advantage on a team that knows how to set him up to do so.
With Thompson returning soon, and Kuminga increasingly looking like he deserves more minutes, this is a Warriors team with room to improve, even though they currently have the best record and best net rating in the league.
What’s up in Boston??
Much like the Warriors, the Boston Celtics have a core that they’d very much like to build around in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. And they’ve also been looking for creative ways to fill out the roster around them for a few years now. It just hasn’t been working.
The team has a nice enough defense, ranked 10th in defensive efficiency. But the offense has been bad. Way down in 21st place and hampered by Tatum’s offensive struggles this season, it’s not clear what the Celtics do well on offense. They drive and kick a lot (8th-most in the league), but that doesn’t do a whole lot when the shots aren’t falling.
And the shots are most definitely not falling. Here are the team’s Four Factor rankings on both offense and defense via Basketball Reference:
Shooting an effective field goal percentage of 51.2% (24th in the league) is pretty bad.
This isn’t a bad team, but they aren’t elite.
It’s crazy end of the year crunch time at my day job these days and I am stressed. I’m writing this on Thursday night, just before heading out to some hardcore. Pray for me. So just off the top of my head, here’s a song I’ve been listening to way too much. I’ve shared Grumpster here a few times before, they feel like the Green Day I used to see for five bucks. A little raw, vivid storytelling lyrics, and a kick ass guitar sound.