Warriors, Lakers, and the perils of going all-in on a maxed out roster
Porter and Thompson back, but Iguodala, Green out; Lakers in turmoil
The Golden State Warriors were thriving after winning nine straight in the Chair Kick era, but have now dropped two in a row and are facing all sorts of chatter. Are they too small, as Charles Barkley foretold?
Still no Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala (or James Wiseman for that matter), and it’s exposed the delicate underbelly of a roster that was built around playmaking and shooting rather than size.
Today’s battle against the Los Angeles Lakers was already going to be interesting (as these two high profile teams both stood pat at the trade deadline) — as it is any time LeBron James and Stephen Curry face off against each other — but adding in the recent trade deadline, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun Saturday night showdown.
On the injury front, both teams are pretty banged up. Once the they go through pregame shootaround, we should have a better idea of who will and won’t play. With both Klay Thompson and Otto Porter active, it looks like Golden State will be at what passes for full strength these days:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (41-15) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (26-30)
WHEN: Saturday, February 12, 2022 /// 5:30pm PDT
WATCH: ABC, ESPN2
Roster gambles: let’s take a look!
As much as I would have loved to trade some spare parts for Mitchell Robinson, the Warriors are locked in with this roster through the end of the season (barring weird stuff like buyouts or players un-retiring). The fact that no one traded for Robinson tells me that you aren’t getting him for anything less than a serious trade package. But I’m not here to proselytize about how hard it is to assemble a roster while carrying four huge contracts, instead, I thought we could look at what the Warriors thought they were getting with some of these players — and where the plan has or hasn’t met expectations.
First up, Nemanja Bjellica.
A low key, but important roster addition, Bjelica pencils in as the team’s third string center behind Looney and Green. And like that quote about testing a fish based on how well it can climb a tree, you’ve got to understand that Bjelica was never meant to be filling the role of a rim-protecting, stout rebounding center. Rather, the Warriors brought him in to provide spacing and court vision to a team that is built around such things.
Unfortunately, his shot has been missing for months now. His points scored per 100 attempts (PSA) is one of the lowest on the teams and is in the bottom third of players at his position. A career 38% from deep, he’s hitting just 33.6% of the 119 threes he’s put up this season. No bueno.
Shooting aside, he’s pretty much doing what he was brought in to do… more or less. Take a look at his assist percentage. Over 17% of the Warriors’ buckets are attributable to Bjelica while on the floor, it’s an elite value (92nd percentile); though to be fair this number is likely inflated a bit because of his proximity to the Splash Brothers Universe.
Knowing that Golden State has an extremely top-heavy roster, it’s understandable that they’ve got to fill out the depth chart somehow using bargain contracts. In the NBA, market value is a finnicky thing, but like buying houses, you can safely assume that the cheapest ones out there will have some flaws.
The Warriors have done an admirable job (in my opinion) of filling in the edges of this roster. Sure there are flaws, but look at the segment of the pie that we are talking about:
It gets messy, but I wanted to explode those thin slices, just to provide a sense of scale here. There is a lot of value that Golden State is getting out of their bargain contracts. With all the injuries to one position, the Warriors are scraping the bottom when it comes to centers, but hopefully not for much longer. Another center would be nice right now but clear how little resources the team has to fill a bunch of spots at the bottom of the depth chart.
Finally, there are some gambles with the team’s development pipeline. Specifically, I was thinking about Payton’s strong season and Toscano-Anderson’s weirdly bad one. One way to looks at the Golden State roster decisions over the offseason is to compare how some of the team’s main players have done as compared to last season.
Curry’s big efficiency dip has been well documented, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
This is an extremely top-heavy team that is going to lose some painful games. That Knicks loss hurt. So does watching the Warriors get outrebounded 153-113 in the past three games (including a sad 45 to 14 deficit on offensive rebounds).
If the top end of this Warriors team is humming, it’s not going to matter that Bjelica can’t box out.
The current iteration of the Lakers is a perfectly assembled Voltron of misfortune for Warriors fans to enjoy. Already with a built in bias against the glitzy LA team that ran roughshod over our beloved Dubs for so many years, the franchise now has the team’s primary rival, the final boss of the NBA: LeBron James.
But this season has some extra hot sauce in the haterade, as LeGM has once again helped run a franchise into a talent/salary wall. As the Warriors are demonstrating, it’s tough to maintain a winning roster. One of James’ biggest secrets to success has been hopping from franchise to franchise, chasing superteams.
After landing in LA and getting Anthony Davis on board, it was no secret that James pushed hard for Westbrook. A pattern of trading away youth and assets for a win-now core that is an all too familiar mantra to Dub Nation these days.
He pressed for Westbrook, and therefore feels as responsible for his team’s debt as Lakers team president Rob Pelinka. Pelinka didn’t get this far by telling powerful people no, and the Lakers needed something drastic to keep pace with the Phoenix Suns — while being wholly unaware the Golden State Warriors would be back with a vengeance.
Where’s the line between player empowerment and being the steward for a franchise? It’s almost impossible to draw…
And now it’s imploding. Or at least it feels like it is. Pressure was building up to the trade deadline. The game prior to the deadline was just the 18th time that James, Davis and Westbrook all played together. Barely cracking .500 in those games, “standing pat and hoping that winning percentage improves to finish the season strong is not seen as a viable option by players on the team,” according to this ESPN article.
And unless something big shifts, things are only going to get more awkward. Westbrook is struggling, perhaps more than he has at any other point in his career. Predictably, the fit in LA is questionable, at best, and with a dearth of floor spacers, Westbrook is finding that no one fears his drive, or his kickout passes. In classic Westbrook fashion, he’s using up a lot of possessions (84th percentile usage rate) and shooting ice cubes from the bottom quarter of efficiency (26th percentile). It’s gotten bad enough that the coaching staff has started to lean away from him… which in turn prompted one of the most hilariously juvenile injury explanations I’ve ever seen.
I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen this evening. Both LeBron and Davis (assuming they play) could single-handedly destroy the wet tissue paper rim protection of this version of the Warriors. On the other hand, the Warriors have been a significantly better team this season — both with, and without, Green.
But the Warriors will be at home, and the Lakers are banged up, akward, and not as good. Warriors run away early, Lakers make it a little interesting before eventually succumbing to the pressure of a Warriors juggernaut that has impressed for most of the season.