Warriors have a chance to make up some ground with games against tanking Thunder and Cavs
Whittled down to just the sharp edges, this thinned out Warriors roster is more dangerous than it's been all season
With Stephen Curry’s 53-point explosion, you could feel the lassitude blasting away. Even knowing that the Golden State Warriors were looking towards the future, there was an oppressive weight that had settled on to the shoulders of Dub Nation – even as we watched our superstar hero do heroic things, there was a non-immediate priority that felt at odds with watching Curry in his prime.
But with the unfortunate injury to rookie James Wiseman, the future concerns were tucked away in a drawer, as the entire franchise took a breath in a re-assessed the problem on their desk. The Warriors, still fighting for a playoff position, were suddenly freed of developmental obligations, blinked away the extra priorities to the periphery.
Back to basics now, this is a lean roster, stuffed with veterans and players hoping to make a name for themselves; and it couldn’t have hit at a better time. After defeating the Nuggets, the Warriors now turn to their next two opponents, the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by the even more tanking Houston Rockets.
Still no word on the return of Kelly Oubre. Though he was slightly upgraded, the prognosis still appears to lean very much towards “nah.”
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder
WHEN: Wednesday, April 14, 2021 // 6:00pm PST
Ninja + Godzilla = Stephen Curry
After his 53-point explosion, Curry has now scored at least 30 points in seven consecutive games, a push that has thrust his average up over 30 points per game. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s scoring 134.3 points per 100 scoring attempts, a mark that is in the 100th percentile. If scoring was a class, Curry would be getting pulled out and placed in special school.
Even more phenomenal, Curry is turning in these results despite playing with some of the worst spacing in the league, and carrying the offense. But this isn’t the same guy that got confounded by the Box+1 zone defense. He’s learned to become an artisan of offensive decision making. Whether it be passing to an outlet and then relocating, or splitting through a double team with his dribble, or simply looking at the defense with disdain before raining a three over their helplessly outstretched hands, Curry is doing damage.
But he’s not just rampant destruction. There’s a sharp edge at the end of Curry’s offensive blade that slices the points onto the scoreboard.
Not quite a scalpel though.
There’s an enormous scale to Curry’s game. The way-out threes, the flurry of buckets from all over the court, the almost magical ability to elude defenders and leave them looking silly while the scoreboard ticks up another point for the good guys.
Curry has nine 50-point games in his career, three of those came this season - his twelfth year in the league.
Fully powered, and freed now in a way he hasn’t been in years, Curry is a scary basketball thought. Scary enough to get the owner of a potential play-in tournament rival team to start wondering aloud if maybe the play-in tournament wasn’t such a hot idea after all.
For many of us that grew up watching this team be bad, it feels almost more natural to be the underdog - and it makes it even more fun watching other teams start to panic at the idea of facing Curry and the Warriors.
The duality of shortened rotations
While the Warriors would love to have everyone back, the reality of the roster is that this is now a team that has removed all the extra parts.
Like that scene in the 80’s cartoon Transformers movie where the Decepticons barely escape after raiding Autobot headquarters, and then they start throwing guys out of the space ship to conserve fuel - there’s a harsh survival mechanism at work as the Dubs close in on the final days of their playoff hunt.
The brutality of the compressed schedule has crushed pretty much every team in the league to some extent, but for the Warriors, it’s trimmed all the softest edges away and left a lean chopping edge.
Curry got the headlines (rightfully), but Draymond Green scoring a season-high 18 points (to go along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists) helped; as did Andrew Wiggins (17 efficient points) and Kent Bazemore (14 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists). With Curry embracing more of the scoring load, the team is already going to get more efficient, but without the rest of the rotation, coach Steve Kerr revoked Green’s “we don’t need you to score” card.
"[Steve Kerr] told me earlier today at shootaround [when] you catch the ball -- shoot it, [and when] you drive to the hole -- score.”
In fact, Green was the most efficient scorer on the team last night. A welcome departure from a player that tends to look for others much more frequently than he looks for his own shot.
Those 18 points were a big reason why Curry's 53 wasn't wasted.
With Damion Lee and Jordan Poole as the only backup wings, the Warriors role players get to enjoy a bit more slack than normal. While mistakes are always allowed, you are also going to get judged on them - but now, there’s not really any other option.
Juan Toscano-Anderson was the Warriors most utilized bench player last night, logging 24 extremely solid minutes. What he lacks in scoring punch, he more than makes up for with basketball IQ, and his heady play feels very much like a long-term fit with the team.
Bazemore is so damn chaotic that it’s often hard to know how much he’s helping or hurting, but when he settles into these longer and more secure rotation minutes, the gambling goes down.
So as much as we would all love to have Oubre and Eric Paschall (and all the rest) back, there really is some benefit to how the Warriors edges have been whittled down. Nothing but sharp edges left.
Meet the tanking Thunder
It’s hard to rebuild, but the Thunder look like they’ve got a nice head start on building back a team that once held Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. By hoarding assets and embracing the tank, the Thunder have already snagged one of the most exciting young players in the game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s out for an extended period with plantar fasciitis. And as alluded to above, it’s hard not to look at the compressed schedule this season and wonder if too much is being asked of these athletes:
[T]here is no set timetable for Gilgeous-Alexander's return -- only that it's "not day-to-day; it's going to be a more significant amount of time."
The coach indicated the injury didn't happen on a particular play and in all likelihood is "a little bit more cumulative" from the wear and tear of the condensed season.
Gilgeous-Alexander, who leads Oklahoma City with 23.7 points per game, is averaging a team-high 34 minutes.
"Like I said, he's a higher-minute player that's tracked a lot of miles so far this season after a short offseason," Daigneault said.
The team was making successful noises earlier in the season, but now the Thunder are stumbling across the finish line and/or tanking. It looks like rookie Aleksej Pokusevski will be the featured player, if he’s healthy. POKU!
Though an extremely intriguing player, “Poku” is 7 feet tall with a listed flimsy weight of 190 pounds. He’s missed time recently (hip, and then arm) after getting bumped around.
Overall, this is a team the short-handed Warriors should be able to handle fairly easily, though if that’s all the outcomes were based off of, Golden State wouldn’t be coming in to this game riding high after beating the Nuggets.
The Thunder are going to be playing the second game of a back-to-back, after losing to the Jazz. Lu Dort, noted defensive specialist put 42 points up on the Jazz defense, so this is a team that still has weapons.