Warriors at Bucks Preview: Hoping for a good present
Draymond Green out again, but should be returning soon
The Golden State Warriors did not get much mercy from the schedule makers. They’ll take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas day - a rough opening salvo after being the ribbon cut with overly large scissors by the Brooklyn Nets at the formal opening of their championship chase.
No Draymond Green for the second consecutive game, as he and the team cautiously negotiate his return. Coach Steve Kerr said "the hope is that he'll play in Chicago or Detroit." It sounds like Sunday in Chicago is emerging as the most likely scenario.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (0-1) at Milwaukee Bucks (0-1)
WHEN: Friday, December 25th, 2020 // 11:30 AM PST
Who is the second most important player for Golden State this season?
Curry took more shots against the Nets than he did during his 2015-2016 MVP campaign. It’s not the quantity of Curry’s shots that will change, but some adjustment needs were clearly evident against the Nets. Here’s Curry’s shot attempts every season, normalized for pace of play:
So don’t worry about Curry, he’s getting his looks and we can rest assured that he’ll be hitting those at a better percentage moving forward - what the team really needs now is someone to emerge from the crowded bench and show themselves as an impactful second offensive option.
While we haven’t seen Draymond Green yet, and won’t get to see Klay Thompson at all, this is a Warriors team that is still very much in search of reliability behind Stephen Curry. Curry, who shot poorly on opening night (2-10 from deep, and 7-21 overall) resulting in just 20 points on 21 shots. The Warriors lost to the Nets on opening night for a lot of reasons, but high on that list was the fact that the supplementary offensive weapons misfired as bad as Curry (or worse).
Like the candy coating on a pill, the emergence of James Wiseman onto the NBA stage sure did make swallowing that first loss of the season go down easier. While his youth leads our eyes and minds to the future, the present isn’t looking so bad either!
With 19 points and 6 rebounds in just 24 minutes of action, Wiseman showed flashes of what was at the root of all the gushing praise he was receiving from those that had previously seen him.
I ended up pulling out a whole section of the preview that discussed what the area of focus should be for moving the team forward, and whether Kerr needs to drastically reinvent the schemes, but I think there’s a simpler answer - but it requires someone to emerge as a second fiddle.
If that is to be Wiseman, then it’s a fairly mild adjustment to initiate more pick-and-rolls with Curry. Heck, even if Wiseman never does emerge as a legitimate star, there’s a solid argument to work the Curry/Wiseman pick-and-roll into the offense more frequently.
There are some other options for second-most important Warrior, and Draymond Green is probably the most likely candidate, but since we haven’t seen him yet, and won’t see him for this game against the Bucks, it’s a moot point at the moment.
In a series of unfortunate events, Andrew Wiggins got pushed into the role opening night, and fell a bit flat (13 points on 16 shot attempts, 1 assist, 4 turnovers in 31 minutes of action). Obviously, Klay Thompson’s return would have simplified the dynamics, but Wiggins showing in limited games last season was promising enough to show that all hope is not lost.
Here’s Anthony Slater, of The Athletic writing about the pressure on Wiggins to deliver:
Wiggins, without Curry, Thompson and even Green at times, did have a really encouraging 12-game run for the Warriors last February and March. It wasn’t about the 19.4 points per game on 46 percent shooting. That is Wiggins. It was the 10-assist game. It was the five-steal and four-block game, tying career-highs. It was the way he guarded big names on a nightly basis at a wing spot where the Warriors were craving competency.
Just one bad game, and a team slated for the bottom of the playoff bracket like this season’s Warriors can afford those. So much of this season’s trajectory is contingent on Golden State getting the best version of Wiggins, he’ll need to show more than those occasional flashes that Slater describes above. The shots he got weren’t bad, so it’s not like this is a totally broken option:
Meet the new look Bucks
I’m a big fan of Jrue Holiday, the Milwaukee Bucks’ key offseason addition. Though he has struggled mightily with injuries throughout the course of his career, Holiday is an excellent, long-armed defender, and dangerous offensive weapon.
His debut with the Bucks was in line with his history: 25 points (on 16 shots), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block; to go along with a ton of excellent, but non-quantified defense. He will add another layer of excellence to a Bucks team that keeps sniffing around the edge of greatness.
After putting in a couple of dominant regular season performances, the Bucks have flamed out in two consecutive playoffs, in a troublingly similar way. Antetokounmpo is an athletic gazelle that gallivants through transition defense, that can struggle in the half court set.
One year removed from an MVP award, he averaged career highs last year and then followed up by averaging 26.7 points and 13.8 rebounds in the postseason… before getting crushed by the Heat. Antetokounmpo hurt his ankle and was out for the final elimination game, but the Bucks were struggling even with him in.
Milwaukee lost their first game. It was a wild game-ending sequence that featured an unintentional bank shot three-pointer by Jason Tatum of the Celtics, and eventually ended on a badly missed free throw from Giannis (72% career from the charity stripe) - a problem that is emerging as a concerning pattern:
Antetokounmpo shot just 13-for-20 from the free throw line in clutch situations last season for Milwaukee, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information, and his career percentage in those situations -- 68.2% -- is below his career free throw percentage overall.
Now in his eighth NBA season, the clock is ticking on Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to do something in the post season. He put up 35 in the opener, and will likely dunk all over the Warriors soft interior again on Christmas day, but he’s risen to a height that can only be truly exceeded by pushing deeper and deeper into the playoffs.
Firstly, it sounds stupid, but the team has to simply make their shots better. Wiggins hit 25% of his 16 shot attempts; Oubre hit just 21% of his 14 attempts. Neither player is that bad. So, that will get better.
Eric Paschall looked bad on both ends of the court in game one, but I think Kerr will stick with him as the starter. Looney or Juan Toscano Anderson will be waiting in reserve, and no matter who starts, Kerr will employ all of the options at the forward position against a tough Bucks team that isn’t especially deep on their bench.
Mychal Mulder looked fantastic in the opener, and Kerr said that he’d be allotting more minutes to the sharp-shooter. Though his size presents some matchup problems, he chipped in 8 points in 9 minutes off the bench and his two made threes represent 20% of the team’s total makes from deep.
Warriors can’t handle Bucks top end, but make it more interesting by showing strong against Milwaukee’s reserves; Dubs drop to 0-2 but it’s closer than it was against the Nets.
On behalf of myself, and the entire LGW team, I’d like to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year. 2020 sucked in a lot of ways, but I am extremely thankful for all of you for reading and participating in our new venture here.
Seeing this community kick off just a few weeks before the pandemic shut the world down, and yet somehow survive and thrive through the long offseason, warms my heart. So a truly heartfelt “thank you” from me and the rest of the LGW crew to you, the folks that make all the work feel like something valuable.