Warriors inching closer to relevance with every game
Curry listed as 'Questionable' after rolling ankle in closing minutes, hopeful for return in Clippers rematch
The Golden State Warriors were right there in it.
Despite holding a lead midway through the 4th quarter, they lost their last game, but will get another crack at the Los Angeles Clippers tonight to make amends.
Stephen Curry, who rolled his ankle in the closing minutes of the previous game is listed as “probable” for tonight’s game. Note that though Kerr was extremely hopeful in his tone on Thursday, the team has formally listed Curry as “questionable” for tonight’s game.
Being that this is Curry, expect the team to lean towards caution and hold him out unless he’s clearly okay to go for this game.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Dub Nation was shook by three blowout losses to start the season. After losing to the Brooklyn Nets by 26 points, and then the Milwaukee Bucks by 39 points, it looked a whole lot like the Warriors were far removed from any sort of playoff contention - even with the return of Stephen Curry.
High profile media types and fans alike were selling their souls and advocating to blowup the roster in order to bring in someone like James Harden. By the time that the Warriors rolled into their third loss of the season - a 25-point shellacking at the hands of the Portland Trailblazers - it was DEFCON 1 for some.
But then we started to see the bright side.
Draymond Green returned to his old self, heralding the return of the sort of Warriors basketball that we’ve grown accustomed to. With crisp defensive rotations, and the brashly efficient offense humming again, the Warriors came back in a second game against Portland, and won handily with by double-digits.
Though just eight games into the season, there are some clear indications of what has been working (things we need more of), and what hasn’t. These baseball style homestands are cool because both teams will get a chance to adjust and respond to their opponents in a way that we normally don’t get to see outside of the playoffs.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (4-4) vs. Los Angeles Clippers
WHEN: Friday, January 8th, 2021 // 7pm PST
WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA
Blog Buddy: 213 Hoops
Coming to grips with strengths and weaknesses
Spoiled by years of watching what has got to be one of the very best 5-man units to ever grace a basketball court, it’s time for us all to come to terms with the imperfect negotiation that this current iteration of the Warriors roster is going to require.
In his postgame comments after the Clippers loss, coach Steve Kerr credited Draymond Green for the recent defensive resurgence:
"Draymond's return is the biggest thing. He's the best defensive player in the world. He guards everybody and keeps the defense connected."
The argument behind Green as “the best defensive player in the world” is as solid as the man’s post defense, but there’s a flip side to that coin. In around 25 minutes per game this season, Green is averaging just 2.5 points per game. According to Cleaning the Glass, Green has converted a mere 71.4 points per 100 shot attempts (PSA). For perspective, his 98.6 points PSA last season was worse than 92% of players at his position.
It’s a striking dichotomy, Green’s ability to positively impact games is at extreme odds with his scoring - and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Here is a screenshot showing points scored per attempt (PSA) and Assists Percentage (the percent of teammate’s shot that were assisted by Green). Recall that the raw numbers are in the basic font, with percentile rank shown in color; blue being bad, and orange good.
It’s Dray. The heartbeat of the team. Not only has he transformed the defense, he’s quickly climbing the teams assist total chart - second only to Stephen Curry, which is a big deal considering Green has only appeared in four of the team’s eight games.
The point here isn’t that it’s time to trade Green or anything wild like that; but to draw attention to the limitations of a roster that no longer features Kevin Durant, and won’t see Klay Thompson for another year. It’s something that is at the center of understanding this team right now: the Warriors roster has more flaws than we are accustomed to. But with those flaws comes strength.
Golden State doesn’t have to field truly bad players - these are all guys that can win games; they just need to find the right balance for combinations.
Andrew Wiggins isn’t Kevin Durant. Hell, he’s not Harrison Barnes. No, Wiggins is a unique basketball angel dropped from the heavens, unique and special, and flawed like the rest of humanity; but still worthy of love.
There are a couple of things that Wiggins is currently doing at an elite level, and the Warriors are hungry for both of them: isolation scoring, and defense.
According to Synergy Sports [and a big thank you to our subscribers for funding this new resource for the LGW squad!], the Warriors average .934 points per possession in a half court offense - a mark labelled as “below average.” Here’s the breakdown of each player’s efficiency within that halfcourt offense:
You’ll notice Wiggins is the second most used player within the Warriors halfcourt sets, likely driven in part by his huge role as the driving force on the second unit (along with Eric Paschall).
Now, here are the isolation numbers. This is an important table because of how many new faces are on the second unit. With such an unfamiliar bench, the Warriors movement-heavy offense looks too confusing, and like any new employee, a lot of the details all go by too quick to follow.
So, isolation relief valve.
Here are the team’s top isolation scorers in the halfcourt:
Wiggins has been a better iso player than Paschall?
The Warriors hung tight with the Clippers in the last game, even while the offense looked funky. This is a team that really does seem to have a lot of potential, they just need time to gel, and learn to play together - plus Oubre needs to jiggle the handle on his shot mechanics or something.
The bottom line here is that this iteration of the Warriors isn’t as perfect as it has been in the past. These aren’t all world talents, and highly lauded veterans; this is a young ensemble of exciting talent, coalescing around the core of Curry and Green. It’s going to be messy at times.
But it’s also going to be very, very good occasionally.
How to adjust to the Clippers
There are some fairly basic adjustments that we can identify from game one. First of all, the Clippers are going to load up harder on Eric Pashcall. He torched them for 19 points in 20 minutes, by far the most lethal Warriors on the night. I expect the Clippers to do…something. The backup center matchup in the first game was a disaster for LA, with Ivica Zubac racking up 5 fouls in under 10 minutes while Paschall danced his dance to the rim. The Warriors will lean into this matchup, and the Clippers will plan to send additional help.
One way for the Warriors to punish this would be to let Wiggins attack even more intentionally, but first, I’d let Paschall push through the extra attention and see what he can do.
Stephen Curry had a rough go of it - 13 points on 17 shots, including just 1 of 6 from behind the arc. The Clippers have the personnel to make life hard for Curry, but this is exactly the sort of “Box+1” defense that he and the Warriors have been planning for since watching the Toronto Raptors use it so effectively against them in the Finals. Curry shot just four free throws, so simple aggression may be the answer here.
The real question is what to do about Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. It’s not a problem unique to Golden State, the entire league is having trouble with these guys right now, and the Clippers have the best halfcourt offense in the NBA.
An optional adjustment here would be to switch Wiggins to George, and swing Oubre back onto Leonard. Wiggins has been by far the better defender this season, but with two efficient wing scoring options for LA, watch for Kerr and the Warriors to apply more switches, and be quicker to send double teams.
Sadly, I don’t feel great about this game. As much as I want to focus on how close the Warriors were last game, I think that the simple fact that it was that close, combined with lingering anger over Green’s hard foul on Kawhi Leonard towards the end of the last game make me think the Clippers are going to storm back out and send a message.
Warriors lost a tight one, 112-111.
It’s Friday, skip it if you want, but here’s some punk music I like! Here’s hoping the Warriors offense spills all over the place like a can of worms.