The renaissance of Wiggins and a reascendant Thompson
Big showdown against the Nets highlights different approaches to team building
Draymond Green is hurt. Stephen Curry has spent something like a month in a shooting slump and yet somehow, magically, the Golden State Warriors are sitting in second in the West. 7-3 during Green’s absence, and with signs of Curry’s shot coming back, the Warriors are in a good spot right now; even though things haven’t exactly shook out their way so far this season.
Tonight’s opponent, the Brooklyn Nets, have had similar wobbles, but less desirable results. Kevin Durant has been extremely solid, as one would expect. Averaging 29.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game for the Nets this season, there’s nothing wrong with what Durant’s giving them. But at 29-19, sitting in fourth place, the super team that the Nets thought they ordered never really arrived.
Durant is out now, a sprained MCL that has him sidelined indefinitely. James Harden didn’t dress for the team’s previous game (hamstring)— a game the Nets dropped to the Denver Nuggets for their third consecutive loss. And Kyrie Irving? Still not allowed to play home games. Not so super (for them). Both Harden and Irving are expected to be available tonight.
On the injury front, Andre Iguodala remains out, and as of yesterday afternoon Nemanja Bjelica will be joining him and Draymond Green on the injured list:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (36-16) vs. Brooklyn Nets (29-19)
WHEN: Saturday January 29th, 2022 // 5:30pm PDT
Wiggins found a home, Thompson came back home
Agree with it or not, there’s no question that the Warriors have a plan. They’re attempting the rarest of NBA feats: a dynasty that spans multiple roster iterations. While LeBron James flits from franchise to franchise, plundering assets in pursuit of a super team before moving on, Golden State offers another model. A model that prioritizes stability of the core.
Wiggins’ post game interview on Thursday night is a mandatory listen for anyone that cares. Prompted by a sneakily deep “how was your day” question by Anthony Slater, here is Wiggins talking about his new home:
Man, it was… it was mind-blowing. You know I'll take my little pregame nap and my girl (my daughter) woke me up and said, “You’re a starter. You’re a starter!” and I thought I was dreaming for a second. I was like “what’s going on?” But it was a good way to learn that I made it. That I was an all-star.
I'm thankful. I’ve been putting in a lot of work, and I’ve found a home here.
And hopefully I can keep it going. Hopefully this isn’t the last one. We got to keep it going - hopefully we can go on this year and win a title. That’s the next step.
Again, do yourself a favor and listen to the full interview.
Wiggins says that it feels like a family, that the style of play here compliments his game. The feeling validates what my colleague Daniel Hardee has been saying from the outset: Wiggins is at home with Golden State.
From Basketball reference data, just take a look at Wiggins true shooting percentages (TS%), there are three data points since Wiggins’ arrival, and they tell the story of a player that is thriving in his new home.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Wiggins… oh sorry… All-Star, Andrew Wiggins is scoring 116.5 points per 100 shot attempts. That’s nice. A career best for him (illustrated with his shooting graph above). So nice in fact that it’s the 73rd percentile, basically in the top quarter of all players at his position. He’s doing this as the team’s second-leading scorer; and while shouldering a heavy defensive responsibility every night.
Wiggins, as he said in his postgame, has put in a lot of work to improve as much as he has, but it’s also important to credit Kerr’s offense. The egalitarian ethos gets a lot of press, but it’s not just passing for passing’s sake, this team is looking for the best available options.
The Sea Captain is finding his legs
Klay Thompson in the last two games: 23 points (9-16 from the floor, 5-9 from deep), with 5 rebounds, and 4 assists; and also 15 points (6-12 shooting, 3-5 from deep, 2 rebounds, and 6 assists. It’s a sea of change from his first appearances, where he was chucking shots as quickly as he could.
Klay Thompson is back. And he looks great.
Set the grains of salt you take with this at maximum, because Thompson has only played 181 minutes on the season — about as many as Moses Moody, to date. But it sure does feel like Klay turned a corner recently and is letting the game come to him more naturally. It completes the blueprint (or it will, once Draymond Green comes back).
ESPN did a deep dive article on Thompson’s recent play, and the numbers support what my eyeballs have seen. This isn’t the same Splash Bro. He’s dribbling around more and doing way more stuff beyond scoring.
Thompson's 73 touches per 100 possessions are most in the camera-tracking era, which dates back to 2013-14, and his 1.4 dribbles per touch are his most since 2015-16 -- before former teammate Kevin Durant arrived in the Bay.
It’s not just about dribbling though.
Thompson is doing better at creating his own shot, a skill that was decidedly less needed while playing alongside Kevin Durant. Now though, even coach Kerr is saying that want/need Thompson to do more of it.
According to that ESPN article, so far this season 63% of Thompson's shots have been off of a potential assist, the lowest mark since 2014-15.
Some of this will change when Green returns, but much of it is likely to stick. If Thompson can return as a more dynamic playmaker that can create his own shot, it opens up a bunch of doors for Kerr’s offense. An offense that is ready to evolve with the new weapons available to it. The Splash Bros are back, but both are better off the dribble, both are willing and adept passers. Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins are the secondary scorers that can support a bench unit, and smart cutters like Gary Payton and Jonathan Kuminga are well positioned to feast on the chaos around the edges.
While the Warriors are finding harmony, the Nets have only uncovered new layers of turmoil. I haven’t seen Kyrie Irving play basketball in a long time though, so that will be nice; but if the Warriors can play their game, I’m not too worried about this version of the Nets.
The Nets will put a lot of pressure on the Warriors’ defense. Both Patty Mills and Kyrie are playing well enough to be trouble, even for Golden State’s top ranked defense. But I wouldn’t worry too much. If nothing else, it should be fun to see the Nets try their highly touted backcourt of Harden and Irving go up against the Splash Brothers.