The return of Curry! Warriors star upgraded to "probable" for tonight's game against the Bulls
Plus: digging into Golden State's defensive downturn, and praising Poole
The big news first: Stephen Curry practiced fully yesterday and has been upgraded to “questionable” for tonight. This would obviously be a huge boost to a struggling squad.
The line between patience and lack of culpability can be so fine that it’s almost invisible. And so it goes while watching the Golden State Warriors as they welcome the Chicago Bulls to Oracle Arena tonight, straddling two realms.
The youth movement that’s going to be a prerequisite to the Warriors’ climb back to relevance withstood the pressure of the trade deadline. Though there was no upgrade, Golden State spent $3.8 million to send out unused Marquese Chriss and Brad Wanamaker. It was a tax-saving investment that is demonstrative of the patience required to properly develop a new army to follow the Splash Bothers vanguard - but does nothing to soothe the concerns of a fan base that has come to expect a steady diet of wins.
I may have said the Warriors have their feet in two realms, but it’s more like a multiverse of possibilities.
Did the team not trade Kelly Oubre because they like him (and he likes us), was he insurance in case the team trades Wiggins in the offseason, or was the team not willing to part with a player that helps this season? The answer is probably “a bit of all.”
WHO: Golden State Warriors (22-24) vs. Chicago Bulls (19-25)
WHEN: Monday, March 29th, 2021 // 7:00 pm PST
If it’s all about the defense, what gives?
First, the obvious: the Warriors have played some tough games since just before the All Star break, and have badly missed Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. On top of all that, the day before a back-to-back is probably not an ideal time to vaccinate most of your team.
Brad Wanamaker falling all the way out of the rotation explains some of the drop off. Not only was he personally very solid, but the defensive impact differential between Wanamker and his replacement players is one of the most drastic that could have been possible, given the personnel.
Here's a list of Warriors defensive impact per 100 possessions. Remember, like most defensive metrics these aren't just measures of an individual, but also their impact on the surrounding defense as well. There can be a negative synergy where breakdowns at the point of attack put more pressure on a help defender that's already strained.
(also, check out Jordan Poole!)
Looking at the defense, I think this also partially explains the recent decrease in minutes for Eric Paschall. He scored 8 points in 8 minutes in the Warriors’ last game, but hadn’t played a single minute in any of the previous five outings. He’s currently listed as questionable after hurting his wrist and being held out of practice yesterday.
One of the problems with bad guard defense is that it puts a lot of pressure on Wiseman, a foul prone rookie, to cover up. But instead, he’s more likely to spread the problem out like when Tim spilled bong water on your buddy Kevin’s parents pool table at lunch time and tried to “clean it up” by spreading the mess all over with a hoodie.
Also concerning: Kevon Looney. Normally one of the Warriors stoutest defenders, what little lift he once had seems to have forsaken him, and at least as things stand now, it seems clear that Juan Toscano-Anderson is a better option in almost every instance.
It's also worth noting for both of these players - and others that are struggling- that this season is an extremely compressed schedule. The NBA has done an admirable job of reducing travel but it's still a whole lot of high level basketball night in and night out.
But this is supposedly what coaches do. These players are all getting reps. Some may not be around the team beyond this season, but many of the names on the bottom (and top) of that table above hold a significance in the Warriors’ future.
So tonight against the Bulls, with Curry (hopefully) and Green both back, rested and healthy, it should be a return to the norm that earned this team a top-10 defense this season.
Jordan Poole, success story
Before taking Wiseman with the second overall pick, most of the Warriors’ draft fortunes were late gambles. Project players that will only pan out if they defy the odds.
Over the past five games, Poole is averaging over 20 points per game, and shooting 44% from deep. One of this season’s primary goals is to develop some of the players in the Warriors roster pipeline that can be relied on as regular rotation players, and in a playoff series. If Poole continues on the path that it looks like he’s taking, his development could be one of the brightest silvers of linings on an otherwise challenging season.
Bulls start the Nikola Vucevic era
In snagging Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, the Bulls added one of the more coveted available players out there. With a sweet shot, and three level attack on offense, much of his defensive shortcomings can be overlooked.
He’ll pair well with incumbent star, Zach Lavine, as a nasty one-two punch combo on the offensive end of the court. Vucevic, despite never even practicing with the team, somehow managed to put up numbers in his first game with the Bulls: 21 points (on 16 shots), to go with 9 rebounds and 4 assists in 32 minutes. He was, however, a team-worst minus-24 in those 32 minutes. But give him and the team time to gel, and Vucevic will start performing like the upgrade that he is.
Defensively, the Bulls are going to have to figure some things out. There’s been a fair amount of scrutiny aimed at the Bulls last five years or so of drafting history. Despite having a bunch of decent picks, Chicago is struggling to find players that can stick in the NBA. Lauri Markkanen, the player the Bulls got in the Jimmy Butler trade has flatlined. Once projecting as a promising stretch big, he hasn’t shot the ball well, and is big, yes, but not all that good at defense. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Markkanen on the floor, an impact that is worse than 84% of players at his position.
Vucevic could signal the end of Markkanen’s time with the Bulls, because the new arrival is better at everything.
Steph Curry is back. The team was probably being over cautious / extra safe, but after a couple of ugly losses to bad teams, it’s time to call the captain back up to the watch and right the ship.
Wiggins has been holding the talisman of power, and I don’t think he’s ready yet to give it up to his buddy Oubre just yet. So another big game for Wiggins, with the shared power swinging back to Oubre for the next game (which isn’t until Thursday).
Also: a Draymond Green bounce back game. Dubs win, 121-105.